John McDonnell leads rivals mocking Keir Starmer's ‘Sermon on Mount' plans for Labour party

The pamphlet sets out 10 principles which Sir Keir claims would form the basis of a new contract between Labour and the British people (PA Wire)

Labour frontbenchers rallied around leader Sir Keir Starmer today after he came under fire for his 13,000 word essay setting out his vision for the future of the party.

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell mocked the essay, called The Road Ahead, saying it looked like the “Sermon on the Mount written by a focus group”.

But Steve Reed, Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister, launched a defence of Sir Keir’s pamphlet on Thursday, insisting it was a direct response to voters who had lost faith in Labour at the last General Election in 2019.

“The essay he’s written…is all about making sure that if you work hard in this country you get ahead,” said Mr Reed.

“What voters have been telling Keir is that Labour hasn’t been listening to their concerns enough…what Keir’s trying to do is refocus the Labour Party on their concerns.”

Lucy Powell, Shadow Housing Secretary, tweeted: “It’s a well-written, compelling read (which I’d advise reading) making the case for profound change and what that change will look like.”

And David Lammy, Shadow Justice Secretary added: “Keir Starmer’s vision is a contribution society, which provides security and opportunity to working people right across the country.”

The pamphlet, published yesterday by the Fabian Society, sets out 10 principles which Sir Keir claims would form the basis of a new contract between Labour and the British people and proposes working more closely with the private sector – a clear break with the Jeremy Corbyn era. It describes Sir Keir’s plans to build a “contribution society: one where people who work hard and play by the rules can expect to get something back”.

“We would do things differently,” Sir Keir writes. “In order to put contribution and community at the centre of our efforts, we would build an effective partnership of state and private sector to prioritise the things that we have seen really matter: health, living conditions, working conditions and the environment.

“I want Labour to once again be Britain’s bricks and mortar – a symbol of solidity, reliability, shelter and the prospect of building something new and better.”

The essay is seen as an attempt by the Labour leader to address concerns that after nearly 18 months in charge he has failed to set out a clear vision for a future Labour government. It comes ahead of the party’s annual conference, which starts in Brighton on Saturday. Sir Keir is due to make his first conference speech in person since becoming leader next Wednesday.

But the gathering has already been overshadowed by an internal battle over the Labour leader’s plans for a radical shake-up to the voting system for choosing future leaders.

Sir Keir wants to scrap the one member-one vote system introduced by former leader Ed Miliband, which paved the way for Mr Corbyn and the hard left to seize control of the party, and return to an electoral college which gives MPs and trade unions a greater say.

Trade unions on Wednesday called for a delay to the proposal, with former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accusing Sir Keir of bouncing the party into the change. The setback leaves the Labour leader facing a humiliating climbdown before conference even gets under way.

Despite that backlash Mr Reed said today he hoped the issue could be resolved at Labour’s conference and would be put to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee tomorrow.

“He will put it to the Labour party’s ruling NEC and they will take that decision,” the MP for Croydon North told the BBC. “I very much hope it can be settled at the conference.”

He added that time was running out to make the changes because of a mooted General Election in May 2023.

Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party co-chairman, said: “If this is Starmer’s ‘big vision’ then he should have gone to Specsavers.

“Labour are talking to themselves about themselves. They’re all essays and no action.”

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