By Joe Cooper
Following perhaps his most difficult few weeks as Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer today set out Labour’s vision for the post-COVID economic recovery. Starmer outlined the scale of the challenge facing Britain in rebuilding after the pandemic and said that next month’s Budget represents a “fork in the road” between returning to the “same insecure and unequal economy exposed by the virus”, and “going forward to a future utterly unlike the present”.
Calling on the Government to channel the spirit of the post-war recovery, Starmer urged the Conservative Government to set an ambitious agenda to rival the Beveridge Report, which laid the foundations for the welfare state.
Tonally, Starmer again reiterated his desire to create a new partnership between government, business and the public, while retaining support for families as the centrepiece of his policy agenda.
One of the most frequently-levelled criticisms of Starmer’s time as leader has been a lack of concrete policy proposals, and this speech sought to address these claims by unveiling two new policies aimed at supporting business and encourage savers to reinvest their money back into the economy.
The first – Labour’s British Recovery Bond Scheme – would give those who have accrued savings during the pandemic the opportunity to reinvest their money in bonds to support local investment as part of the recovery. Alongside this, Starmer also proposed start-up loans for 100,000 new small businesses, aimed at addressing regional inequalities and provide investment to regions outside of London and the South East.
These proposals follow Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds’ announcement last week that the Party would offer conversions for government loans taken on by businesses during the pandemic, enabling them to only start repayment after they return to profit, if they were in government.
A sign of things to come?
Despite being billed as the week which would turn around Labour’s recent fortunes in the polls, Starmer’s pitch to the nation this morning felt much like business as usual.
The themes of collaboration with business and support for families has been a recurring theme throughout his time as leader, with Starmer’s team acutely aware of the challenges of both restoring the party’s relationship with the business community while also striking the right balance in opposition between holding the Government to account and working collaboratively in response to the pandemic.
In contrast to what many had seen as a dense and policy-heavy offer under the previous leadership without a broader narrative threading it together, Starmer’s approach has been comparatively rhetoric-heavy but without the finer details providing the granular detail.
This has very much been a deliberate tactic, with the party keen to avoid showing its hand too soon and leave its policies open for attack from the Government years in advance of an election.
While this has been the first significant opportunity for the party to begin showing its hand, as we approach May’s local and devolved elections and Starmer faces his first electoral test, expect further policy announcements to come.