Keir Starmer: I am a socialist who will put country before party

keir starmer: i am a socialist who will put country before party

Keir Starmer arrives at the Oak Caffe in Barnet, north London, while out on the campaign trail - Stefan Rousseau

Sir Keir Starmer has described himself as a socialist who “always puts the country first and party second”.

Asked if he would use that word to describe himself, Sir Keir told the BBC: “Yes, I would describe myself as a socialist. I describe myself as a progressive. I’d describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second.”

Sir Keir, widely viewed as a centrist, joined the Labour Party Young Socialists in East Surrey when he was a teenager and helped found the radical magazine Socialist Alternatives after graduating from Leeds University.

He went on to describe himself as a socialist during the 2020 leadership campaign, telling the Camden New Journal: “I am a socialist. For me, what I’m driven by in this is the very deep inequalities that we’ve now got across the country of every sort: Income, wealth, health, influence, it’s deeply ingrained.

“I believe that in order to change that you’ve got to do fundamental change and shift power and wealth and I think that we need to do things more radically than we had envisaged in the past. For me, it’s a very practical application.”

However, the Labour leader has since been accused of a purge of the Labour Left, including figures such as his Left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, who is now planning to run against his old party as an independent on July 4.

On Monday, he made his first keynote speech of the election campaign in which the Labour leader sought to distance himself from Mr Corbyn, by insisting he has changed the party “permanently”.

In the highly personal speech in Lancing, West Sussex, Sir Keir set out his backstory and appealed for voters’ trust.

He insisted he had changed the party for good, saying: “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.”

keir starmer: i am a socialist who will put country before party

Sir Keir Starmer (left) meets Tom Rutland, the Labour candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham - Stefan Rousseau/PA

He also ruled out giving votes to EU citizens in a U-turn on a previous pledge and suggested that Labour could scrap new voter ID laws brought in by the Tories.

And he defended his party’s plans to lower the voting age to 16, arguing that people who have a right to work should be allowed to have a say in how their taxes are spent.

He ridiculed Mr Sunak’s plans to bring back national service, comparing the policy to “teenage Dad’s Army”.

He said: “The desperation of this national service policy, a sort of teenage Dad’s Army, paid for - I kid you - not by cancelling Levelling Up funding and money from tax avoidance that we would use to invest in our NHS.

“Now 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.”

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The Labour leader also insisted he has “respect” for parents who work hard to send their children to private school despite plotting a tax raid on the sector.

Taking questions after his speech, he defended his plans to impose VAT on fees, branding it a “difficult” but necessary move to prop up the state sector.

Parents and headteachers across the country fear that the tax raid could spark an exodus of pupils as families struggle to afford fees.

However, Sir Keir said the existing “tax break” for private schools “has to go” to pay for Labour’s plans to address the “intolerable” situation for state pupils.

It comes after the party’s tax proposals claimed their first victim with the closure of a school in Hampshire, where parents were facing a huge hike in costs.

Sir Keir also told the BBC he ruled out putting up the main rate of VAT, insisting that none of Labour’s plans “require us to raise taxes”.

He also said he was against the creation of any new grammar schools, but “we’re certainly not in the business of going closing down what is already there”.

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Angela Richardson, the deputy Tory chairman, said: “This just goes to show Starmer will always default to the same old Labour approach.

“Sir Keir spent four years supporting Jeremy Corbyn and his plans to abolish the Army and withdraw from Nato, now he’s planning to slap families with a tax on aspiration – so it should come as no surprise he identifies as a socialist.

“While Sir Keir Starmer will take us back to square one, Mr Sunak and the Conservatives have a clear plan to deliver a secure future for you and your family.”

The 61-year-old Sir Keir also rejected Tory claims that he cannot keep up with rival Rishi Sunak, who is 44.

Asked how he would respond to briefings that he is “sleepy” and “weary”, he told The Telegraph: “You’ve seen the energy that not only I, but also the whole team, are putting into this election. I’ve had a smile on my face since January 1 because I knew this was going to be election year.

“I’ve wasted nine years of my life in opposition, I’ve spent four and a half years as leader of the Labour Party... We’re doing that not only with the energy but also with a smile, with the positivity across all of our candidates, as we go into the next general election.”

In another interview with ITV News, he mocked Mr Sunak over his rain-soaked election speech in Downing Street, quipping: “I would’ve had an umbrella. I think almost everybody in the country would’ve had an umbrella. A plan would’ve been to have an umbrella.”

And in an interview with Sky News on Monday, he apologised for abandoning his former pledges.

He said: “I think it’s important to stand in front of the electorate and say: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t now afford what I said before because of the damage being done to the economy’.”

He added: “Very many politicians pretend that they could do things when they know they can’t. I’m not going to do that.”

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