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Starmer sets his stall out to win over Essex Man

Keir Starmer
By Jack Olins
16 May 2024
Public Affairs

Sir Keir Starmer has today launched his six general election pledges, marking another key milestone in the countdown to the campaign. His commitments - to deliver economic stability; cut NHS waiting times; launch a new border security command; set up Great British Energy; crack down on antisocial behaviour; and to recruit 6,500 new teachers - are likely to be the first steps a Labour government would take if they won the next election.  

The pledges have some similarities with the Prime Minister’s own five key priorities, which also include growing the economy, getting NHS waiting lists down and stopping small boats, highlighting the issues both parties want to fight the next election on. 

Today’s launch event itself is a reminder that although the general election campaign has not yet officially begun, both parties are in election mode and Labour are focused on giving the impression that they are preparing for government.  

Sir Keir set out the pledges in Thurrock, Essex, where Labour made significant gains during this month’s local elections, despite the council remaining under Conservative control – a reminder that Labour still have work to do to convince parts of the country to put their faith in them. Labour don’t hold any parliamentary seats in Essex and that will need to change if they are to secure a majority at the next election: Blair’s ‘Essex Man’ remains pivotal to Labour’s route to power.  

Today’s pledges build on the five "missions" Starmer put forward last year of growing the UK economy, making Britain a clean energy superpower, improving the NHS, reforming the justice system and raising education standards. 

Starmer has also added a sixth pledge: a new border security command. This demonstrates Labour’s willingness to confront the small boats issue and follows last week’s defection of former Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, to Labour. In her statement following her defection, Mrs Elphicke said that the government “is failing to keep our borders safe and secure” and that the Prime Minister has “let the people of this country down” by not delivering on his pledge to stop small boat crossings.  

While Starmer has aimed to present himself as his own man and refused to be drawn into comparisons with former Labour leaders, this move has immediately sparked comparisons with previous Labour pledge cards, most famously the five pledges made by Tony Blair in 1997 before his landslide victory, with Starmer hoping his own will produce a similar result.  

However, previous Labour pledges haven’t always been as successful as Blair’s 1997 version. Ed Miliband famously launched the ‘Ed Stone’ in 2015, which failed to convince voters and the Conservatives ended up winning the 2015 election.  

The pledge card is light on detail and does not provide new policies, leaving Starmer open to the charge that his Labour party has failed to provide a clear idea of what they think and playing into the narrative that no one is quite sure what the Labour leader really believes.  

The Conservatives said the Labour leader was on his "16th relaunch" and had "no coherent plan".

A Labour spokesman said that the pledges announced today are “not the sum total” of their vision for the country and that their manifesto will have their full offering, with issues such as workers’ rights and planning reform not mentioned on the pledges but likely to prove central to their plan for government. 

Despite his reticence to be drawn on the past, Starmer will no doubt be hoping these pledges announced today follow the Blair route to Number 10.