Keir Starmer’s speech in Buckinghamshire

Thank you for coming today. It’s great to be here in Silverstone. Famous across the globe as a symbol of British innovation, ingenuity and speed. Not just in formula one, but also for the electrification of slightly bigger vehicles, that you can see behind me. A world leader at upcycling vehicles for the clean energy transition.

World leading – that’s not something you could say about British politics in the last few years. I’m afraid the circus is back in Westminster again today. People say to me this is great for you isn’t it. But I have to say, honestly, no. Because it’s not just politics, is it? It’s the whole country. We’re all stuck in their psychodrama. All being dragged down to their level.

That’s what they just don’t understand. While they’re all swanning around self-importantly, with their factions and their “star chambers”, fighting like rats in a sack, there’s a country out here that isn’t being governed, a country that needs leadership.

Public services crumbling. High streets stalked by anti-social behaviour. Families weighed down by the burden of higher mortgages. Nurses, teaching assistants, builders, drivers, shop-workers, carers. People who never before missed a payment in their life working harder than ever for the wage in their pocket, who now dread the thought of Christmas shopping, picking up little presents for the stocking before quietly putting them back.

Each and every one of these problems would be bad enough for Britain, but when they come together like this, they merge into something bigger and more insidious. A sense that nothing works, that we’re going backwards, a country in decline.

That’s why next year, at the general election, there’s something deeper and more visceral at stake than the usual competing arguments.

I have no idea what they will say to justify five more years of this. But for the Labour Party, our job is to give Britain hope. Not the hope of the easy answer, the miracle cure or the oven-ready deal! No, that’s the road that got us into this mess, not the road out.

We need a different hope. A realistic hope. A frank hope. A hope that levels with you about the hard road ahead, but that offers you an open hand and a clear destination.

A sense of confidence, pride, security in Britain’s future, not just back within our grasp, but a purpose – a mission the whole country can work towards. That’s what the general election must be about.

We cannot let the Tories take this country down with them, we cannot let them kick the hope out of our future. It is time to come together, lift the weight off our shoulders, turn the page on this miserable chapter of decline, and walk towards a decade of national renewal.

A decade of national renewal. Each one of those words is important.

Decade – because that’s how long it will take. That’s not complacent. It’s realistic. And of course, we can get moving straight away, but I have to be honest about the size of the hole we are in.

National – because we will need the contribution of every citizen in this country. For far too long the Tories have written off working people, disregarded their communities as sources of the growth and dynamism we need. They don’t understand the pride working people have for their town and worse still – they never match their ambition. But mark my words – we will.

And finally – renewal, because this can’t be done with a few fixes, a policy tweak here and there. No. Countries only come together – truly come together – behind ideas, a shared purpose, a national project for a better future. And right now, there is an idea in this country that desperately needs renewal. The idea that this country still works for those who work hard for this country.

I mean, Britain has been here before. I grew-up working class, my dad was a toolmaker, my mum was a nurse, and this was in the 1970s when – like now – we had our fair share of cost-of-living crises. I know what this feels like. I know all about the “what next” anxiety of rising prices.

The fear of the postman coming down the path. Will he bring another bill we can’t afford? But, back then, while day-to-day life might have been tough, there was an idea that always comforted my parents – a faith in Britain that the future would be a happier place. Britain would be better for your children.

Hard work in the end, in the long-run, would be rewarded fairly. The question is: do you look around our country now and still believe it?

Do you feel, with the certainty you deserve, that Britain will be better for your children? Because that’s what we need to renew. That’s the future we need back, the Britain we want to build, and until your family sees the way out, Labour will fight for you.

It’s why the driving project of my time as Labour leader has always been to restore my party to the service of working people. Cast your mind back to the last election, four years ago today. December 12th 2019. The worst defeat for Labour since 1935.

Working people up and down our country looked at my party, looked at how we’d lost our way, not just under Jeremy Corbyn, but for a while, and they said ‘no’. Not this time. You don’t listen to us anymore. You’re not in our corner. You don’t fight for our cause.

And they were right, weren’t they? We’d taken a leave of absence from our job description. Reneged on an old partnership, the Labour bargain that we serve working people, as they drive our country forward.

Everything I’ve done as leader, every fight I’ve had, has been to reconnect us to that purpose. To make sure we never put working people in that position again. That we say to them: you can choose Labour and know that we see our country through your eyes. Know that we have changed fundamentally.

Not just a paint job, a total overhaul, a different Labour Party, driven by your values, relentless in earning your vote.

It’s a Labour Party that understands the first duty of Government is always to protect its people, that every pound of money we collect must be spent wisely, because it’s yours, and that you can’t have good public services, without strong public finances.

Policies always fully funded. A Labour Party that will conserve as well as reform. That understands the careful bond between this generation and the next, will pass on our institutions, our environment, our obligations to one another, in a better shape than we find them.

And a Labour Party that has broken new ground in our relationship with business. That gets the value of private enterprise, understands working people want success as well as support. That borders must be secured, economic stability is the foundation for everything, but that in tough times like ours, we must use the power of government carefully, but decisively.

To stoke the fires of renewal, the pride and purpose I know burns inside communities like this.

In short, it’s a Labour Party that is ready, to fight for your values, serve our country, and get our future back.

Service. If there’s one word that captures everything I’ve fought for, it’s that. I’ve made the Labour Party once again a party of service, not protest, focused on credible solutions to your challenges, not empty gestures, grandstanding political theatre or the moralising self-indulgence of those who think politics is a sermon about themselves.

It’s been vital work – the job of my life – and it’s crucial for the future of Britain, as well, because the way I see it, service is the essence of national renewal, the lifeblood of collective mission, a bond of respect that must exist between politics and people if we are going to change our country.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it? I’m not blind to it, I know exactly how politics looks from here. It’s not just that people think politics doesn’t do much for them or doesn’t understand them.

I know it’s much, much worse than that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in any golden age nostalgia. When I was growing up, in a small town on the edge of rural England, politics always felt like something which happened far away.

Nonetheless, I do sense something profound has changed now, that political trust isn’t just low – it’s on the edge. Where, after the sex scandals, the expenses scandals, the waste scandals, the contracts for friends, even in a crisis like the Pandemic, people now think politics is about naked self-enrichment. Not just vanity or self-interest – self-enrichment – that’s a common view now.

You know, thirty years ago you might have gone to the pub and a few people would have seen it like that. Now it’s the whole pub, and there’s no quick fix. No single ‘clever trick’ that will easily restore trust.

Policy is part of it. I firmly believe that communities can make better decisions about their future than politicians in Westminster. I believe the hoarding of power in London will always lead to an economy that also hoards potential and that if we are privileged enough to win the next election, one of the great tasks of the next Labour Government, will be to take power and control out of our hands and place them in yours.

We’ll need to clean-up politics, as well, no more VIP fast lanes, no more kickbacks for colleagues, no more revolving doors between Government and the companies they regulate. We will restore standards in public life with a total crackdown on cronyism. 

Seriously, if politicians think they can carry on like this on my watch, they can forget it. They should know by now that’s not who I am. I’ve put expense cheat politicians in jail before and I didn’t care if they were Labour or Tory. So, I say to Westminster – and I say to you – nobody will be above the law in a Britain I lead.

But ultimately, just like the changes I made to the Labour Party, winning back trust will take a sustained effort. A change in culture from top to bottom, a fight every day to drum the value of service into our politics. The standards you should expect as the bare minimum, the respect you deserve.

I won’t give up on this. When you come from a working-class background, you don’t walk around problems and nor do you listen to self-serving excuses, just because they come from people so entitled, so used to wielding power, they think they’re above consequences or justice.

No. I dragged this Labour Party back to service and I will do exactly the same to politics.

And what about the Tories? Because with every step we have taken towards a politics that puts the country first, they have moved in the opposite direction. I used to say for them it was party first, country second, but that presumes they still care for their party.

I mean, seriously, is there anybody in the Government now who feels a sense of obligation to anything other than their own self-interest? To democracy, the rule of law, serving our country?

I don’t even need to answer that, do I? That’s how far they’ve fallen. An entitlement to power totally unchecked by any sense of service or responsibility. That’s the cultural stain that runs through the modern Conservative Party. 

The Rwanda deal is the perfect example. A policy that they knew would never work and yet the charade continues. Two hundred and ninety million pounds of taxpayers money spent on an exercise – and a failed one at that in Conservative party management.

And of course, not a single person has been sent, and even if we did send people we would pay for their hotels and upkeep, and we’d have to resettle refugees from Rwanda in exchange. That’s the ‘deal’ they are voting on today. To be fair, you have to credit the Rwandan Government, they certainly saw Rishi Sunak coming.

But look, I am genuinely grateful to them for one thing, because according to the Prime Minister it is only the concern for international law shown by the Rwandan Government that stopped him from ripping up Britain’s commitment to follow the European Convention on Human Rights. An achievement, not just of this nation, but of Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party that brought peace and protection to the world, following our victory over fascism.

You know, even now, they have the cheek to call their kind of politics ‘common sense’. No. Common sense is finding a way to get the job done. Britain is a practical nation. Always has been. Our politics, often led by the Conservative Party, let’s be honest, has always reflected that.

But these aren’t Churchill’s Tories anymore. If anything, they behave more and more like Donald Trump. They look at the politics of America and they want to bring that here.

It’s all woke, woke, woke. Wedge, wedge, wedge. Divide, divide, divide.

People can’t afford Christmas. If they call an ambulance this winter, they don’t know if it will come. Six thousand crimes go unpunished every day.

Common sense is rolling your sleeves up and solving these problems practically, not indulging in some kind of political performance art. This goes for stopping the boats as well.

It’s not about wave machines, or armoured jet skis, or schemes like Rwanda you know will never work. It’s about doing the basics better. The mundane stuff. The bureaucratic stuff. Busting the backlogs. Rebuilding a functioning asylum system. Removing people more quickly so you don’t have to run-up hotel bills. And a cross-border police force that can smash the smuggler gangs at source.

I’ve done this before as Director of Public Prosecutions when we took on the terrorists and the people-smugglers. I know it can work and we can do the same here.

Stopping the boats means stopping the gimmicks, and if they can’t find a way to do that, if they can’t find a way to focus on the job, fix our problems without breaking international law, unlike every government before them, then it’s time to stand aside and let the Labour Party do it for them.

That goes for Brexit and legal migration as well. I voted Remain. There’s no shame or secret in that. But I know the vote to leave was a vote for change. And change at a much deeper level than our trading relationship with the European Union. It was a vote to say our country has got its priorities wrong. A vote for democratic control. But also, for public services you can rely on. Opportunities for the next generation. Communities you can be proud of. And an economy that works for people like you.

This is what the Tories fail to understand about it. Yes, Brexit was a vote for lower immigration – of course it was. But it was also a vote for that idea we need to renew, that hard work should be rewarded with a wage people can live on. And for the Tories, that’s the rub.

Seven years they’ve had to make Brexit work. But every time they run-up against a choice between raising skills and working conditions or issuing more visas, they choose the higher migration option. And that’s not an accident, it’s who they are.

They’re not interested in earning your vote, they feel entitled to it. They think economic strength comes from driving down the terms and conditions of the British people. And they won’t change.

Five Prime Ministers. They’ve all believed that. So, if you voted for Brexit seven years ago, if you voted for the Conservatives four years ago, and you’re still waiting for the change you demanded. If you believe working people deserve a new foundation of security with rising home ownership – driven by a reformed planning system, a national wealth fund investing in the jobs of the future, cheaper bills guaranteed by clean British energy, and Technical Excellence colleges training our kids in the skills we need.

If you think work should pay fairly, that practices like zero-hour contracts or fire and rehire should be scrapped, and that we need a solution for sectors like care that isn’t just exploiting immigrants on low pay.

If, in short, you want lower migration and higher wages, or even if you just want a government committed to economic stability, the rule of law, good public services, restoring Britain’s standing, making family life more secure, and putting the country first. Then I say again, this is what a changed Labour Party will deliver. You will not get it from a Tory fifth term. Only a change of government can bring change to our country.

So, join us on this mission. Because whether you are a conservative who is thinking of voting Labour for the first time or a conservative who has occasionally trusted us before, whether you’ve always voted Labour or have absolutely no intention of voting for Labour, we will serve you.

But I also say this – and I mean it – look around your country. We need you. Britain must come together. I believe in this country. I believe in its spirit. I believe in its people, in its businesses, in its communities. But most of all I believe that if the British people see respect and service in their politics then they will commit to the mission of national renewal.

So, if we are privileged enough to win the next election, if we earn your trust, we will set the direction. We will give Britain hope will walk towards national renewal with a new mission.

To get Britain building again.

Take back our streets.

Switch on Great British Energy.

Get the NHS back on its feet.

And tear down the barriers to opportunity.

A Britain where hard work is rewarded, aspiration is backed, communities have more control, politics serves your interests and where together we can say in a cry of defiance to those who write our country off:

Britain can. Britain must. Britain will get its future back.

Thank you.