Keir Starmer – 2022 Speech on Trust in Politics

The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, on 3 February 2022.

Thank you for hosting me here today and for that fascinating presentation. How shocking these figures are!

I want to give a few brief reflections on them and what I think they mean for politics, for government and for business in the UK.

Of course, I am concerned to see trust in so many institutions fall – in some cases to an unprecedented low.

But I also want to set out a way forward.

Because trust counts – and I’m not prepared to give up on it.

The start point is to be honest with ourselves and face up to the scale of the challenge.

Trust in government is falling.

Trust in politics and politicians is falling.

Trust in the media is falling.

Two thirds of the public think that the way politicians act undermines democracy.

Six out of ten people think politicians are likely to lie to them.

Six out of ten!

Sadly, that doesn’t surprise me given recent events.

But it does disappoint me – it frustrates me.

But honestly – I’m not surprised.

It’s inevitable when we have a government that is misleading the public and covering up their own wrongdoing to save the Prime Minister’s job.

This is a government in paralysis.

Instead of representing the people who elected them and addressing the challenges the country faces, they are intent on saving themselves not serving the country.

The cost of living is rising.

Prices and taxes are up and wages are stagnant.

While the whole country worries about how they will pay those bills when they come, this government is too pre- occupied to act.

This government has let them down.

No wonder the public don’t trust them.

But we all suffer from this decline in trust.

The appeal of democracy has always been based on two promises.

The first is that the world will get better; democracy will deliver.

The second is that people will be listened to; democracy will empower.

Both of those promises rely on trust.

And, right now that trust is in short supply.

Small wonder the public is more pessimistic than they have been in years.

They are pessimistic about their own security and standards of life.

They expect things will just get worse over the next five years.

They doubt the truth of what they hear from political leaders and from the media.

And they feel shut out of the whole political system.

Just 3 in 10 people feel they have the power to influence politics with their vote.

And almost 6 out of 10 say they feel powerless as a citizen to affect change.

For too long too many people have felt that politics has been removed from them.

While they play by the rules, politics is not delivering its side of the bargain, even at the most basic level.

Trust is not easily rebuilt but we really must do better than this.

We are better than this

And I am well aware that just because the Tories lose the public’s trust

It doesn’t mean Labour simply inherits it.

Trust has to be earned.

I am confident but not complacent about the task ahead.

I want to make a concrete commitment about decency and standards in public life.

Of course, these standards already exist.

They are known as the Nolan principles.

Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership.

I shouldn’t have to pledge to honour these principles but, sadly, I feel I do.

So my solemn promise to you will always be to run a government that honours these principles.

I believe in making credible promises that we will deliver – the very opposite of government by meaningless slogans.

I would like to say a bit more about how a Labour government would be different.

I want to start with the partnership that we would like to strike with British business.

Business was one of the encouraging stories from today’s survey launch.

It is heartening to see the high trust that workers place in their employers.

I know the great value that employers and business can offer.

It’s something I saw growing up in my parents’ work.

My father was a toolmaker.

My mother worked as a nurse.

And the thing that I really remember from my dad was how hard he worked.

His industry was a real source of pride and value.

I was encouraged to see how business is seen as leaders in society, with solutions to some of the big challenges of the day.

British business is a real source of pride, both here in the UK and internationally.

Many businesses are driven by a sense of purpose.

Determined to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.

Supporting the changes we need to make to protect our future.

Today’s report shows the public’s expectation that business will continue to show leadership on the big future issues.

Half of the public think business should do more, not less, on climate change.

44% think business can go further on workforce reskilling.

But business alone cannot be expected to carry the trust of this country.

Business can only lead when it has the support of a serious government.

That’s why I believe that British business needs a more active, effective partnership with government.

And that government needs an industrial strategy designed to get our country fit to face the future.

The Director of the CBI, Tony Danker, has been clear about what’s needed: supporting business to invest, he says, will require ‘catalytic public investment’.

That’s what Labour’s climate investment pledge does – £28bn every year for each and every year of the next decade – to ensure the industries and jobs of the future are found all across Britain.

The business community and the political world need to work together.

We both have a job to do.

So what would Labour do?

Earlier this year, I took the opportunity to set out a vision for government worthy of the British public.

I set out my contract with the British people.

Something tangible that you can see and go back to, so you know how a Labour government will lead, and what to expect.

My contract will be founded on three principles; Security, Prosperity and Respect.

All of these are critical for rebuilding trust.

The public need security.

Only when you feel secure in your own life, can you trust that things will be okay.

That is clear in this year’s Trust Barometer report.

Those who work hard but lack economic security are less likely and less able, to place trust in the institutions around them.

Of course they are gaps in trust between high and low earners in the UK is one of the highest compared to other countries internationally.

And we have seen in the data today that lower income earners are much more likely to think the UK economic system doesn’t work for them.

Labour is focused on bringing security back to people across Britain.

We would improve security of employment through our New Deal for Working People.

And we would improve economic security for thousands right now by keeping energy bills down as the cost of living bites.

But to provide this security, our nation needs to be prosperous.

Prosperity is the second principle in my contract – and, let’s be honest, right now Britain is not as dynamic, competitive and profitable as we need to be.

Our industrial strategy will drive productivity and ensure we Buy, Make and Sell more in Britain.

Supporting the industries of this country which have so much potential, and so much opportunity to make us proud.

We would scrap and replace business rates with a much fairer alternative to incentivise investment.

We will invest in green industries creating jobs all around the country

And we will make Brexit work so British business can thrive.

The last principle of my contract is perhaps the most important for building trust.

That is Respect.

The public deserves a government that respects them.

A government that listens, hears, and responds.

A government that empowers them to take local decisions for themselves.

And we all deserve a Government that is respectful of tax-payers money and how it is spent.

The Chancellor has just written off £4.3bn of fraud, stolen from the Government during Covid.

Under Labour, this would not happen.

The fiscal rules that my shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has set out, will be the framework for responsible spending, and our Office for Value for Money will account for every pound.

So despite the gloomy outlook for trust right now in the UK, I do have hope.

There are opportunities to earn back trust and I am clear how Labour would go about the task.

By delivering security, prosperity and respect for British people throughout this country.

Because we simply cannot go on with trust being eroded in every British institution.

It is often said that the Prime Minister doesn’t believe the rules apply to him.

That he has a sense of entitlement which transcends the normal rules of politics.

I think it is considerably worse than that.

It isn’t that the Prime Minister thinks the rules don’t apply.

He absolutely knows that they do.

His strategy is to devalue the rules so they don’t matter to anyone anymore.

So, that politics becomes contaminated.

Cynicism and alienation replace confidence and trust.

So that the taunt “politicians are just in it for themselves” becomes accepted wisdom.

It is a strategy to sow disillusion; to convince people that things can’t get better; government can’t improve people’s lives; progress isn’t possible because politics doesn’t work.

But I’m not going to play the Prime Minister’s game.

I simply refuse to accept that Britain can’t be governed better than this.

I will never give up on the power of politics to be a force for good.

And I will always fight to defend those essential British values of honesty, decency and integrity.

We don’t have to accept the repeated lies from the dispatch box.

Or the casual devaluing of the office that does so much damage around the world.

As DPP, I prosecuted MPs over their expenses.

And today I refuse to turn a blind eye to the dodgy practices in Downing Street.

I won’t simply shrug my shoulders at the dishonesty and disrespect on the basis that it is “priced in”.

That’s why I said line one of my contract with the British public would be the return of the Nolan principles to public life.

My solemn vow is that the government I lead will govern in the public interest.

Where standards stand for something; where truth means something and where honesty is at the heart of everything that it does.

The health of our democracy depends on it.

We cannot give up on all the good that is here in the UK: good businesses, good ideas, good people.

We must rebuild public trust in our institutions, raise public trust in our industries, and build a country that works together, united, for its future success.

No matter what damage has been inflicted by this government, I believe this can change.

It’s time for a change.

Together we can build a Britain fit to face the future so I hope very much to be able to return here in a few years’ time with that presentation telling a different story.

A story of rising trust, with a Labour Government.

Of a democracy in which trust is restored and people can once more expect integrity from their government.

Thank you.