4 Jun 2024

‘We’re not taking voters for granted’ – Labour’s Wes Streeting

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting speaks to us from outside the leaders’ debate in Salford.

Matt Frei: The whole Diane Abbott business has been put to one side. We can move forward. You can move forward. Are you now going to campaign for her in Hackney?

Wes Streeting: I don’t think Diane’s going to need any help from me whatsoever. She’s standing on a long record of service since 1987, but she certainly has my wholehearted support as a Labour candidate at this general election. Where we’ll be focussed on, obviously I’m campaigning for myself and my own constituency, I never take voters for granted, but I’ve been campaigning right across the country in the last week and a half in those crucial battleground seats where we need people to switch, in England, from the Conservatives to Labour. And of course, as we saw with the debate last night, a really strong campaign taking place north of the border in Scotland. And I saw Scottish Labour Party making a really strong case for the people of Scotland that you can can send SNP MPs to Westminster to oppose the Conservatives if you want, but far better to send Scottish Labour MPs to replace the Conservatives and offer the change the whole of the UK is crying out for. So we’re in good spirits in this election campaign. We’re not taking anything for granted. We know that there is a demand for change in the air, and it’s up to us to show we’ve got the answers to the challenges facing the country.

Matt Frei: You look in good spirits, Wes Streeting. I just wonder if we can hone in on some of the details. We had a clip of Keir Starmer earlier saying that when it comes to migration policy, ‘the Tories haven’t got a clue. They’ve got it all wrong. And there are no specifics there.’ But actually, there are no specifics when it comes to your plan to bring down net migration either, are there? No targets, no numbers, no dates.

Wes Streeting: Well, hang on a second, because we are determined in our manifesto to make sure the promises we make are promises we can keep and promises that the country can afford. And where we’ve been on immigration and the immigration debate for some years now, is government by gimmick, of setting out expectations and then letting people down. And I think that’s fuelling the crisis of trust in politics and politicians. And we’ve got to try and be the answer to that challenge…

Matt Frei: So you’re just being vague?

Wes Streeting: As well as the many other challenges…

Matt Frei: You’re just being vague about migration?

Wes Streeting: Take health and social care, for example. I think I can make a contribution, a serious contribution, to bringing net migration figures down by making sure that we invest in the education, the skills, the training of our own home-grown workforce. We’ve got this appalling situation where we’ve got a shortage of staff in the NHS, yet we’re turning away thousands of straight-A students from studying medicine at our universities at the same time as recruiting people from overseas in really high numbers and from countries on the WHO’s red list, which have a serious shortage of their own. I think that’s pretty unethical in terms of those countries, and I think it’s unfair to the students here at home. And I think in a balanced way, we can yes, of course, make sure we draw on international talent. But crucially, we build our own home-grown workforce. That helps to bring that net migration down in a serious, and balanced and stable trajectory.

Matt Frei: On so many issues, Wes Streeting, whether it’s migration, whether it’s defence, whether it’s education, frankly, there’s an awful lot of continuity between you and the incumbent lot. It’s just that it’s written with a very small C, and there’s a new cast list of people and maybe a new tone, but essentially the kitty is empty and there’s only so much you can do.

Wes Streeting: It’s true to say that the public finances are in a terrible state, and I wish I could say I’ll wave a Labour magic wand and that will change on 5 July, as Keir Starmer walks into Downing Street and Rachel Reeves walks into the Treasury. Instead, what we’re confronted with are hard choices, and I absolutely reject your notion that this is a choice between more of the same with the Conservatives or more of the same, slightly better, with Labour. That’s your characterisation. I actually think 40,000 more appointments every week to bring down NHS waiting lists would be a big change for the 7.5 million cases we’ve got on NHS waiting lists. If we’ve got primary school breakfast clubs in every primary school in the country, and children are turning up with hungry minds instead of hungry bellies, that is a big change for people. If we’ve got 13,000 more police on our streets rebuilding neighbourhood policing and people feel safe in their communities, we can take better, more intelligence-led action on drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. That is real change in people’s lives. It’s that real change that Labour offers, and of course we wish that we will be able to do more, but the economy is in a state and the public finances are in a mess.