Labour’s Starmer Promises to End ‘Sticking-Plaster Politics’

(Bloomberg) -- UK opposition leader Keir Starmer vowed to end an era of “sticking-plaster politics,” pointing to ongoing industrial action and pressure on the National Health Service as evidence that Westminster’s “short-term mindset” is failing the UK.

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In a keynote speech in London on Thursday, the Labour Party leader pledged a “decade of national renewal” if he wins power in the next general election, and repurposed the language of Brexit with a promise of a “Take Back Control Bill” to revive local communities. He also insisted that Labour would repeal any new anti-strike legislation passed by the current government.

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But Starmer warned that a Labour government “won’t be able to spend our way out of this mess,” saying there was “no substitute for a robust private sector, creating wealth in every community.”

Starmer’s new year address comes just one day after Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his own priorities, pledging to repair and grow Britain’s economy, tackle immigration and improve health care. Both men are eager to hit the reset button on their leadership as they gear up for an election expected next year - and by Jan. 2025 at the latest.

The Tories will by then have been in power for 14 years and Starmer hopes to lead Labour back to victory. He is buoyed by polling that in recent months putting Labour ahead of the Conservatives by more than 20 points.

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Starmer is attempting to capitalize on voter frustration with the Tory government. In office for less than three months, Sunak is struggling to prove he has a strategy to deal with strikes affecting the NHS and rail services, while also wrestling with a record cost-of-living squeeze and an economy that may already be in recession.

Starmer reiterated a previous pledge to hand more powers to local communities if Labour takes charge, reviving a famous Vote Leave slogan from the 2016 Brexit referendum. “The control people want is control over their lives and their community,” he said. “It’s what ‘take back control’ meant.”

He was also clear in his opposition to proposed Conservative anti-strike legislation, which will be announced in the coming days and could allow employers in essential sectors to fire striking employees. “If it’s further restrictions, then we will repeal it,” Starmer said. “I don’t think the legislation is going to work.”

Focusing on a positive message after months of gloomy headlines, he said Labour wanted to “give people a sense of possibility again, light at the end of the tunnel.”

But he warned that the need for reform should not “be taken as code for Labour getting its big government checkbook out again.” The investment required to revitalize the UK must instead come from a vibrant private sector and a “completely new way of governing,” Starmer will say.

His comments — which echo Sunak’s call for a focus on innovation in his Wednesday speech — are the latest effort by Labour to portray itself as pro-business and lure back supporters who abandoned the party under the left-wing leadership of Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer promised to set out more detail on specific policy areas in the coming weeks, vowing a more “relaxed” approach to “bringing in the expertise of public and private, business and union, town and city.”

(Updates with legislation pledges in paragraphs two, seven and eight.)

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