22 May 2024

‘The country needs change’ says Labour MP as UK election campaign begins


Rishi Sunak has called a summer general election for July 4.

If the announcement came as a surprise to most Conservative MPs, the Labour Party certainly wasn’t expecting to go to the polls in July either. We are joined by Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds.

Cathy Newman: So you were taken by surprise, I assume, and you’re now scrambling to get your manifesto together? ]

Jonathan Reynolds: I think there was a view among some of us – I was one of them – that we might see the general election in May, and obviously we were on the wrong side of that one. I felt for a while the prime minister himself probably didn’t even have a real strategy in place as to when it would be, but it is fair to say it has caught a few people out here in parliament.

But of course it is what we want in the Labour Party. We know this government has failed. We know the country needs change, and we know Labour can be that change because of how we’ve changed ourselves since the last election. So it’s exciting, it’s an opportunity and it’s a big responsibility.

Cathy Newman: Okay, so you’ve got your manifesto oven ready, to coin a phrase, you haven’t really given us much of a clue what’s in it yet. Except Keir Starmer keeps on promising change. You’ve said it again there. But are you really going to be bold enough to actually promise change during the election campaign so we know what we’re in for?

Jonathan Reynolds: Yes, I think we are setting out, and already have set out, different policies, a different direction for the country. But we know people will say and do say to us, look, there’s so much to tackle when it comes to the future of the UK, how are you going to make a dent into that? How are you going to make a difference? And that is why Keir set out our first six steps. Economic stability, a new border security to tackle illegal immigration, 40,000 new NHS procedures a week. Switching on GB Energy, a new state-owned energy company, getting people’s energy bills down for the long term. Tackling anti-social behaviour. I think these are specific things that would make a difference.

Not frightening the horses

Cathy Newman: It’s pretty vague stuff, isn’t it? The Tories wouldn’t disagree with tackling antisocial behaviour, and on the economy and on immigration, you’re fairly similar really, aren’t you? It’s going to be a Ming vase strategy, isn’t it? Gradually, carefully carrying this vase over the threshold of Number Ten, not frightening the horses?

Jonathan Reynolds: I respectfully disagree because you mentioned there illegal immigration, the Rwanda policy the government has is a gimmick, it will not make a difference, we completely reject it. We’ll spend the money on something better – real law enforcement, real measures to make a difference. That’s a substantial difference between the political parties, and I can go through each area and give you those examples.

Cathy Newman: Border Force Command, which was the thing that was pledged in the pledge card, nothing to do with Rwanda in that pledge card. That is very, very similar to what the Conservatives are already doing.

Jonathan Reynolds: Because we’re not proceeding with Rwanda, because we reject it. We have a huge significant resource there. Rwanda has already cost half a billion pounds. It’s a significant additional resource we can put into that. And just on the point, because I know this will come up a lot in the campaign, of whether it’s a steady as you go campaign from Labour, whether we’re not doing what’s required on that message of change. British politics does not work by your side going up just because the other side has gone down. Labour has had to change. Labour’s had to recognise under Keir Starmer where we were in 2019 was a position the British public rejected. And look at the scale of that change.

Cathy Newman: But changing the party, not the country.

Jonathan Reynolds: You can’t change the country unless you can get control of your party and change it for the better and put it back in the service of the British people.

Radical change

Cathy Newman: Is this going to be a radical change we’re looking at if you get into government?

Jonathan Reynolds: Are we going to put forward a manifesto not just for change, but for national renewal, for a different kind of politics, public service, sorting out problems for the long term, not short term gimmicks like we see time and time again? Those six first steps we put forward, they are the first steps. There’s a bigger programme, of course, that sits behind that, but we want to be able to tell people there’s a difference that can be made.

Cathy Newman: I look forward to seeing the details of that programme and questioning you on it. You say you’re excited and you appear excited. Are you also, be honest, a tiny bit nervous about the scale of the challenges you might face if you get over the steps of Number Ten.

Jonathan Reynolds: It’s about responsibility. We take the responsibility seriously.

Cathy Newman: Are you nervous though?

Jonathan Reynolds: It’s not a nervousness about the scale of the challenge, because we know how big that challenge will be. But what it is, to be genuinely honest, is having been here as a member of parliament for 14 years now, it’s an honour to be a member of parliament in any circumstances, but having seen the impact of Conservative government in that time, having seen how badly the country is today, as opposed to when the Conservatives came to power, I’m nervous about this country missing the chance to change direction.

I want the chance to have a different future for the UK, for my constituency, for the whole country. And that is what this election will give the British people, and it’s their choice. Not a single vote has been cast yet.

Personal burden

Cathy Newman: On that point about nerves, Sir Keir Starmer has admitted openly that he’s worried about the impact that being in Number Ten might have on his young family, his two teenage children, for example. Do you think he’s worried about how much his life might be about to change in a matter of weeks?

Jonathan Reynolds: I think anyone who has the potential to become prime minister of this country should take that seriously, and Keir is someone who takes all public service seriously. He’s been a public servant all his life. He didn’t need to come into politics. He’s come into it to serve. And yes, the burden, the personal burden of even being leader of the opposition is a significant one. But I know Keir Starmer, he’s my friend as well as my party leader. I know his dedication to this job and to this country, and that is why I know he will be, if he gets the chance to be, a great prime minister.