Keir Starmer speech: Country First, Party Second

Thank you all for coming here on a Bank Holiday Monday.  

At least we’re by the seaside. And we are in Sussex, this is a part of the world I know very well. I have family here – close family. Both my sisters, and my uncle lived for many many years in Worthing.

Now, like everyone, I imagine my character is shaped by where I started in life. I grew up in a small town, not a million miles away from here, a place called Oxted on the Surrey-Kent border. 

Similar to Lancing, minus the sea. And should you go to Oxted, some of you could stop off if you’re travelling back to London, you will see a place that, in my opinion, is about as English as it gets.

A mix of Victorian red bricks and pebble-dashed semis while all around you have rolling pastures and the beautiful chalk hills of the North Downs.

I loved growing up there. You could make easy pocket money clearing stones for the local farmers, that was actually my first job. And you could play football until the cows came home – literally. At my first football club, Boulthurst Athletic, we shared our home pitch with the local cows.

It’s part of why I love our country. Not just the beauty – or the football – also the sort of quiet, uncomplaining resilience. The togetherness of the countryside. That is the best of British.  

And, to be honest – it’s just as well. Because you need it. I mean – anyone who thinks that hardship in Britain is found only in our cities, anyone who thinks there’s no struggle outside of our cities, yes even here in the South East, let me tell you – they know nothing of the countryside.

My own story is a testament to this. Because it wasn’t easy for us.  My dad was a tool-maker. He worked in a factory – my Mum was a nurse. But for most of her life she had a debilitating illness, Still’s disease. To be honest, she would hate that word, ‘debilitating’, because mum never gave up, she never complained. But her illness did shape our lives.

This was the 1970s of course, so there were hard times. I know what out of control inflation feels like, how the rising cost-of-living can make you scared of the postman coming down the path: “will he bring another bill we can’t afford?”

We used to choose the phone bill because when it got cut off, it was always the easiest to do without. We didn’t have mobiles back then but you could still just about get on with it.

Now, all this has stayed with me. It’s shaped the plan I have drawn up for Britain and the importance, above all, of economic stability. The need to never put working people through the whirlwind of chaos, the rising taxes, rising prices, rising mortgage costs – five thousand pounds for every working family – that’s what the Tories have inflicted on Britain. 

The price working people have paid for their chaos, it’s unforgivable.

But as I reflect and look forward to this election I believe my background has also shaped my politics in a deeper way. Look – this England has always felt fairly removed from Westminster. Politics has always been something that happens far away.

And yet something more profound has changed during the last fourteen years of Tory Government. People now feel like more and more of the decisions that affect their community are taken by people who not only live miles away but have little empathy for their challenges.

A politics that is at best doing something to people, not with them. But at its worst, as we saw in horrifying detail in Westminster last week, those twin injustices – the Horizon and Infected Blood scandals, is something much, much darker even than that.

It’s about respect, or to be more precise, the lack of it – that is the canary in the mine of injustice. For a long time now working people have believed opportunity in Britain is stacked against them. But now we are at a dangerous new point close to crossing a rubicon on trust, not just in politics but in so many of the institutions that are meant to serve and protect the British people.    

A moment where people no longer believe their values or interests carry the respect of those in power. And when you put that alongside a Government, that over fourteen years has left living standards in this country worse than when they found them, that has torched any semblance of standards in public life, Westminster parties that broke rules they put in place to save lives – rules they expected you to follow but ignored themselves – then you get a crisis in nothing less than who we are as a nation. 

The values that have held us together, that have driven us on, through the hard times, towards our greatest achievements, taken to the edge by these Tories.

Healing these wounds is what national renewal means. Politics has to be about service. Britain must be a country that respects your contribution. Everyone – not just those at the top – deserves the chance to get on. These are the ideas I’m fighting for. 

This is my project – a Britain once more in the service of working people. Country first, party second.

Now – I don’t know if this is a new politics or whether it’s simply a return to something older that used to be taken for granted.

But public service is the bare minimum you should expect. And you also deserve the security, the certainty, the basic ordinary hope, that Britain will be better for your children. No matter our struggles – we always had that in the 1970s – my parents always believed that, in the end, hard work would be rewarded and Britain would be better for their children. For me.

Now, that might not sound like much to some people but you can’t underestimate how important it is for working class families like mine, how much it comforted my parents.

It gave us a hope and a stability we could build our lives around and I believe it’s what working people want now – more than anything. They want to believe in the future. They want, when they say to their children “work hard and you can achieve anything”, for that to feel true.

But after fourteen years of Tory damage to our values, the service and security they should expect as a given. They just don’t believe it anymore – and that has consequences for all parties.

Look – whatever the polls say, I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election. They’re fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the Tories, but they still have questions about us: has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders, our security.

My answer is yes you can, because I have changed this party, permanently.

This has been my driving mission since day one. I was determined to change Labour so that it could serve the British people, give them a government that matches the ambition they have for their family and community.

And the very foundation of any good government is economic security, border security, national security. Make no mistake – if the British people give us the opportunity to serve, then this is their core test. It is always their core test. The definition of service. Can you protect this country?

I haven’t worked for four years on this, just to stop now. This is the foundation, the bedrock that our manifesto and our first steps, will be built upon. 

And then on that foundation with an end to the Tory chaos. We can start to rebuild our country.

Step one – economic stability. The very foundation of growth, with tough spending rules that mean we can keep inflation, taxes and mortgages low. I am fed up of listening to the Prime Minister tell you we have turned the corner. That is a form of disrespect in itself.

Taxes – higher than at any time since the war. Chaos – hitting every working family to the tune of £5000, and a Prime Minister prepared to do it all over again. He says he wants to get rid of National Insurance. £46bn – that is currently used on your pension and the NHS and he’s not prepared to say how he will fund it.

That means, at this election – either your pension is under threat, or he’s prepared to blow the economy up all over again. He hasn’t learned a thing. Working people need stability. They want things to improve, they want things to move on, they want change.   

But they expect you to take care of the public finances as well. Because if you lose control of the economy – it’s working people who pay the price. Liz Truss lost control of the economy. I am not prepared to let a Labour Government ever do that to working people.

That’s why stability is our first step – a non-negotiable pact with working people – the symbol of a changed Labour Party – ready to serve our country.

Step two – we will cut NHS waiting times. 40,000 extra appointments every week paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and non-doms.

Step three – we will launch a new Border Security Command with new specialist investigators, new resources, and new powers – including counter-terrorism powers. These vile criminals are making a fortune putting vulnerable people in boats made to order, sending them across the busiest shipping lane in the world. Nobody but nobody should be making that journey.

When I was Director of Public Prosecutions – I worked on operations that smashed terrorist gangs across Europe. I will never accept we can’t do the same for these vile gangs. Labour will secure Britain’s borders.

Step Four – we will set up Great British Energy, paid for by a windfall tax on the energy giants who made record profits while your bills went through the roof. A new company – owned by the taxpayer, making money for the taxpayer, harnessing the opportunity of clean British power, making us energy independent, removing Putin’s boot from our throat and cutting bills in your home – for good.

Step five – we’ll crackdown on anti-social behaviour. I don’t want to hear another person tell me this is low-level crime – I’ve been hearing that all my life. It blights communities big and small, it always has. I know Worthing well, as I say – my Uncle lived here. And three years ago – I walked around with the police here, talked to some of the people on the high street and they told me in no uncertain terms the impact anti-social behaviour was having on them. 

So we will get more police on the streets in your town. 13,000 new officers and community support officers paid for by cutting down on wasteful contracts.

And step six – we’ll also get 6,500 new teachers in the classroom paid for by removing tax breaks on private schools, a down payment on an education system that we will reform. More creativity, more confidence, more resilience, for all children.

I was the first person in my family to go to university. I know the power of education. Every child should grow up believing that success belongs to them, that they don’t have to change who they are just to get on, that is the Britain we will fight for. 

Labour will deliver opportunity for our children.

Now – I am proud of these first steps. They are a new path for our country, a plan that will turn the page, deliver stability and change. And because we have been so ruthless in making sure these policies are deliverable, fully-funded, ready to go.  

We also provide the certainty that working people, businesses and communities need. A clear direction. Not the endless spinning around that successive Conservative governments have subjected our country to. The Prime Minister with a new plan every week, a new strategy every month, and at this rate – a new election campaign every day!

I’m not joking. All this spinning round and round, it’s symbolic of the chaos and the instability. You’ve seen that again over the past few days. The desperation of this national service policy – a teenage dad’s army – paid for by cancelling levelling-up funding and money from tax avoidance that we would use to invest in our NHS.

All elections are a choice and this is a clear one: levelling up and the NHS with Labour. Or more desperate chaos with the Tories. That is the choice.  

But in a way this desperation tells another story and underlines how elections are about more than individual changes or policies, but about values, temperament, character and a bigger question: whose side are you on? Who do you hold in your mind’s eye when you are making decisions?

Everything I have fought for has been shaped by my life, every change I have made to this party has been about this cause, the answer to that question, the only answer, the working people of this country delivering on their aspirations, earning their respect, serving their interests.

I know those people are looking at this election, looking at me personally. So I make this promise: I will fight for you.

I took this Labour Party four and a half years ago and I changed it into the party you see today. I was criticised for some of the changes I’ve made – change is always like that, there are always people who say don’t do that, don’t go so fast – but whenever I face a fork in the road, at the Crown Prosecution Service, in my work in Northern Ireland, and especially here in the Labour Party… it always comes back to this, the golden thread: country first, Party second.

Because you cannot restore trust and respect with the politics of protest. You cannot move our country forward with gimmicks and gestures. And you cannot truly serve the country if you only do what is convenient, that is why I changed the Labour Party. That is how we serve the British people.

I see no fight in the Prime Minister. No appetite to do the same for his party. They will not change. Seriously – whenever he is confronted by factions in his party, people who are miles away from serving the values of the British people, he caves in – every time. A ‘party-first’ weakness at the heart of his leadership.

Rwanda is the perfect example. He knows it won’t work, he said that. He tried to stop it when he was Chancellor but he was too weak to stand up to his party. He caved in and now he’s gone through with it anyway it’s cost you six hundred million pounds and he’s called an election before it can be tested. Weakness upon weakness.

How do you think working people feel when the Prime Minister says we’ve turned a corner? How do you think they feel when they see the people who did that to their mortgages, swanning around in the House of Lords because he was too weak to stand up to them.

Service isn’t just a word, it requires action. You have to roll up your sleeves and change things for the better. I have changed this Labour party, dragged it back to service, and I will do exactly the same for Westminster – that is the choice at this election: Service or self-interest, stability or chaos, a Labour Party that has changed or a Tory Party that has run away from the mainstream. 

The choice is yours. You can stop the chaos, you can turn the page, you can join with us, and together we can rebuild our country.

Thank you.