13 Jun 2024

Sir Keir Starmer launches a Labour manifesto with no surprises

Political Editor

Cathy Newman: Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled what he says is a long-term fully-costed plan to deliver change. After a brief heckling by a climate protester, he declared that Labour’s number one priority is wealth creation.

But there were no new announcements in the manifesto.

He reiterated his commitment not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT and pledged 1.5 million more homes, extra teachers and the scrapping of the Rwanda scheme.

Gary Gibbon: After the manifesto launch, I spoke to Keir Starmer on his battle bus and put to him the Institute for Fiscal Studies criticism that he wasn’t telling us what he’d do about the public sector.

These elements of the public realm, which you’ve been criticising for ages, that you think have been utterly neglected, you think they are like a boiler in the attic that’s about to explode. You’re not telling us, you’re not being candid about what you’re going to spend on them, to turn them around. Because it’s that or austerity cuts, and you say you don’t want to do that.

Keir Starmer: So far in this election campaign, we’ve had lots of discussion about increasing tax or decreasing spending. I reject the idea that they are the only two things a government can do. We can build and grow our economy, which will give us the yield that we need for our public services.

Gary Gibbon: But you know that growth won’t come immediately.

Keir Starmer: No, just hear me out.

Gary Gibbon: Even if it all works, it won’t come immediately.

Keir Starmer: If we’d had growth in the last 14 years at the same rate as the last Labour government, we’d have tens of billions of pounds to invest in our public services without raising a single tax. That is the failure of the last 14 years. In terms of how quickly we can do this, we’ve already had discussions with the investors that we want to partner with, to put in place the projects we need. They say to me that what’s held them back so far is the instability in our economy. So we’ll stabilise the economy.

Gary Gibbon: Absolutely. So you might start the process. You won’t get that growth straight away. You will have to either inflict some very deep cuts, as currently outlined in the government’s plans, or you’re going to have to raise taxes beyond the ones you’re talking about not touching.

Keir Starmer: Look, I’m rejecting this proposition that this country can’t do any better than it has done for the last 14 years.

Gary Gibbon: I heard what you said in the press conference just now. You were asked, ‘What happens if, say, growth gets knocked off course?’ You said, ‘That’s defeatism’. That sounded Maoist.

Keir Starmer: Can we change our planning rules straight away, some of it without legislation? Yes we can. Can we set up Great British Energy straight away, this publicly owned company? Yes we can. Can we set up a national wealth fund straight away? Have we already talked to those who will invest with us? But I do totally reject the proposition that the last 14 years have been pretty awful and that it can never get better than that.

Gary Gibbon: That’s not what I’m asking about. I’m asking you to engage with reality. It’s not defeatist to say you might get knocked off course. You’re saying the world out there is a very insecure, dangerous place. All sorts of things could happen that could mean you don’t get growth. Are you going to engage with that?

Keir Starmer: I’m confident in our plans for growth. Unlike the Tory party manifesto, these aren’t just half thought-through policies thrown on the table at the last minute. We’ve been working on these for four years, with the partners we hope are going to deliver them with us. I’m utterly confident in them, and I utterly reject the proposition that we cannot do better than we’ve done in the last 14 years.

Gary Gibbon: You’re quite clear that the burden of taxation on people and working families, you say that’s too high, it’s already too high, you don’t want it to go any higher. What about the burden of taxes on unearned income? Too high? A bit of headroom? You’ve already made a bit of an inroad on it today.

Keir Starmer: We’ve already announced, pre-announced, the tax rises we will make.

Gary Gibbon: Yes. But is there more headroom? The whole election has been a bit like a game of 20 questions, hasn’t it? You’re a tax rise and we’re all trying to guess what you are. You’re saying you keep ruling some of them out, and we’re trying to work out which one is really your name and is your name capital gains tax?

Keir Starmer: We’ve set out, in relation to working people, no increase in income tax, national insurance or VAT. We’ve fully costed and fully funded all our plans. They do not require tax rises over and above those that we have set out.

Gary Gibbon: But that word ‘plans’ can be part of a non-denial denial. ‘We have no planned tax increases beyond what we’re telling you about’ reminds me of Tony Blair in 1997 talking about ‘We have no plans to do tuition fees’. It’s a classic non-denial denial out of the textbook on how to do it.

Keir Starmer: I’m a different Labour leader. I accept in the past that Labour leaders, and other leaders, thought there were only two levers. One is tax and the other is spend.

Gary Gibbon: There’s not going to be an autumn budget where you say, ‘Oh, we opened the bonnet, aghast, look at this, it’s really horrible, we are actually going to have to do some tax rises?’ You’re not going to do that?

Keir Starmer: We’re going for growth. Our manifesto is for growth, it’s a plan for growth. That has been the missing ingredient for 14 years. We intend to turn that around.