Keir Starmer – 2022 Loyal Address Speech

The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.

Before I turn to the Address, I thank His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for delivering the Address this morning. I, too, pay tribute to Her Majesty in the year of her platinum jubilee. Her dedication to Britain has been a reassuring constant in an ever-changing world, her commitment to public duty a reminder of the responsibilities that we all owe each other, and her dignity and leadership an inspiration to all of us. She will forever have all our thanks for 70 years of service to our country. We all wish her well.

I congratulate the Prime Minister, who has achieved a new first: the first resident of Downing Street to be a constituent of a Labour council. I am sure that it will serve him well. I also congratulate the mover and seconder on their fine and funny speeches. I understand that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) owns over 900 copies of Eagle comic books. He is no old duffer. He is an extensive collector of the adventures of Dan Dare from the Inter-Planet Patrol: a comic book with a hero with a moral message, a spirit that he has channelled into his 17 years in this House. Although there is some mischief in him, as he demonstrated in his speech—I particularly liked his advice that you should not make an enemy of your party leader—so I think he is a little bit more Dennis the Menace.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) is dedicated not only to what was obviously a punishing consultation exercise on what to put into her speech but a punishing exercise regime. She is a former cox with Twickenham Rowing Club, a half-marathon runner and even an ironman competitor. Maybe she is an iron lady in the making.

I know that if they were here, David Amess and James Brokenshire would have been proud of both the mover and the seconder. We all miss them both. I know that the pain on the Conservative Benches is still raw, with their friends taken too soon, but their passing leaves us united in our resolve to defeat the evils of both extremism and cancer.

I also want to pay tribute to my dear friend, Jack Dromey. Jack picked fights on behalf of working people, and he won them. In 1975, he led the first Equal Pay Act strike. He campaigned for the rights of cleaners everywhere, from the House of Commons to MI5, and, in the last year of his life, he campaigned for a public inquiry on behalf of the families bereaved by covid. The only way in which we on the Labour Benches can really pay tribute to Jack is by aspiring to champion working people as well as he did.

Times are hard, but they are much tougher than they should be. As we emerge from the pandemic, find a new place in the world outside the European Union and transition to a carbon-neutral economy, our country faces great challenges, but at the same time, great opportunities are within our reach. We can rebuild stronger, learning where our society and our services need more resilience. We can do more than just get Brexit done; we can ensure that Britain is in the best position to thrive outside the European Union, and we can lead the world in zero-carbon industries, generating high-skilled, high-wage jobs across the country. But for that to happen, we need a Government of the moment with the ideas that meet the aspirations of the British public. This thin Address, bereft of ideas or purpose and without a guiding principle or a road map for delivery, shows just how far the Government are from that. Too out of touch to meet the challenges of the moment, too tired to grasp the opportunities of the future, their time has passed.

The first great challenge our country faces is the cost of living crisis. Inflation stands at 7% and rising; household bills have gone up by hundreds of pounds; the cost of the weekly shop has rocketed; and people are seeing their wages run out much earlier in the month and the value of their savings fall. I wish I could say that the worst is over, but last Thursday the Bank of England revised down Britain’s growth and revised up inflation. This Government’s failure to grow the economy over a decade, combined with their inertia in the face of spiralling bills, means that we are staring down the barrel of something we have not seen in decades: a stagflation crisis. That is a truly shocking legacy of this Government. It should humble those on the Conservative Benches who have ignored the red lights on our economy even while wages were frozen for over a decade, and whose complacency is best summed up by a Prime Minister whose response to the crisis was to make fun of those who were worrying about inflation.

A Government of the moment would use the great powers they have to tackle this head on and bring forward an emergency Budget with a windfall tax for oil and gas producers which would raise billions—money that could be used to slash the cost of energy bills and help businesses keep their costs down. Even the bosses at BP do not agree when the Prime Minister says it would deter investment. It is a common sense solution, but instead the Government are bereft of leadership: the Chancellor ruling the windfall tax in, the Business Secretary ruling it out, and a Prime Minister who does not know what he thinks.

It is not just about the short-term measures. A Government of the moment would take a step back from the crisis and ensure that Britain is never again so vulnerable to a surge in international prices, forced to go cap in hand from dictator to dictator looking for a quick fix of imported oil. That means standing up to those vested interests who oppose onshore wind, the cheapest and most reliable source of electricity that we have, but this Prime Minister is too weak to stand up to his Back Benchers. It means investing in the insulation we need to use less energy in our homes. That would take £400 off energy bills every year and cut gas imports by 15%, but this Prime Minister is far too concerned with vanity projects ever to prioritise investment in insulating homes. So we are left with an energy Bill not up to the moment. It is the latest chapter in a pathetic response to the cost of living crisis. Where there should have been support, it has been tax rise after tax rise on working people—the only country in the G7 to do so during a cost of living crisis.

The low growth that led to the stagnation we see today is the same reason wages have been frozen for so long. Over 12 years of Tory Government the economy has grown far slower than when Labour was in power, and it is set to go even slower in coming years—the slowest-growing economy in the G7 next year. As the director general of the CBI said:

“For a country that is used to growth at 2 – 2.5%”—

the Conservative record—

“is simply not good enough.”

We cannot afford to go on like this. If the Tories had simply matched Labour’s record on growth in Government, people would have had higher incomes, boosting public finances, and we could have spent over £40 billion more on public services without having to raise a single tax.

So the second great challenge our country faces is to get Britain growing again. A Government of the moment would have grasped the nettle and set out a new approach to the economy; an approach based on a stronger partnership between Government and businesses; a partnership dedicated to growth. There would have been an industrial strategy to grow the industries of the future, with the Government providing initial investment that brings confidence and security and acts as a catalyst for the private sector to invest in gigafactories, hydrogen and steel—in high productivity jobs right here in Britain. A Government of the moment would finally abolish business rates and replace them with a fair system that creates a level playing field with online giants, so that our businesses can compete, invest and grow. And a Government of the moment would have a plan to revive our town centres with new businesses, providing finance for a new generation of start-ups in our town centres and giving councils the power to take over empty shops and fill the space with workshops and offices offering the jobs of the future.

Instead of that new approach to the economy, we have a Chancellor who thinks it would be silly to do anything different; a Chancellor who, rather than partnering with business, has loaded them up with debt and wonders why they are struggling to invest; a Chancellor who seems content to have the slowest growth of any G20 country bar one, Russia; a Chancellor whose legacy will be low growth, high inflation and high tax, and with it, the diminishing of Britain’s living standards—no hope of taking on the big challenges, no hope of seizing the great opportunities, hopeless. And because the Government are not up to the challenge of growing the economy, all those tax hikes are not going into improving public services, with no chance of a doctor’s appointment, people forced to wait months for urgent mental health treatment, and super-sized classrooms the norm again. Never before have people been asked to pay so much for so little.

The third great challenge we face is ending the poverty of ambition that this Government have for our public services. That means a Government of the moment relentlessly focused on school improvement. Labour would improve leadership and teaching standards at state schools, funding it by ending tax breaks for private schools. It means a Government of the moment that would finally deliver world-class mental health provision that matches years of empty rhetoric on parity with physical health. Labour would hire new clinicians so that we can guarantee mental health treatment in four weeks, paid for by closing loopholes to private equity firms.

Instead, we have a Government that went into the pandemic with record waiting lists and have no plan to get them down any time soon; a Government that take the public for fools by pretending that refurbishing a wing of a hospital is the same as building a new hospital; a Government that cannot hire the GPs they promised or get the GPs we have to see more patients—lost in spin, with no ambition, not up to the challenge of the moment.

It is not just education and health that need reform. Fraud has become commonplace, with 7 million incidents a year and Britain routinely ripped off, but the Business Secretary has suggested that it does not even count as crime. Fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. Victims are being let down while this Government let violent criminals off. The overall charge rate stands at a pathetic 5.8%, meaning that huge swathes of serious offences like rape, knife crime and theft have effectively been decriminalised.

A Government of the moment would say, “Enough is enough”—[Interruption.] Nobody can be proud of this record of 12 years. A Government of the moment would invest in community policing, pulling resources away from vanity projects like the Prime Minister’s ministerial yacht. They would strengthen protection for victims of crime and antisocial behaviour and increase the number of specialist rape units in the justice system so that it stops routinely failing women. Instead, we have a Government who talk tough while letting the justice system fall apart—no care for victims or their communities, not good enough, not up to the moment. We have a Government whose time has passed, a Cabinet out of ideas and out of energy, led by a Prime Minister who is entirely out of touch.

It does not have to be this way; it will not always be this way. A Labour Government would tackle the cost of living crisis head on, get Britain growing again after 12 years of failure, and improve public services so that they deliver for the people paying for them. A Labour Government would rise to the moment where this Government have badly failed.