Keir Starmer for leader – Hove and Portslade Labour Party hustings, 04.02.20
Keir Starmer addressed several hundred Labour members from across Brighton and Hove at All Saints Church, Hove.
“I have real enthusiasm to have a say on what happens next. We have 580,000 members which is our highest ever membership and we are the biggest political party in Europe.
Mr Starmer said the general election was devastating, devastating for the very brilliant Labour MPs that Labour lost, brilliant candidates, and even more importantly devastating for those people who desperately needed change. He said: “Now they are not going to get the change we all desperately needed.”
He spoke of the electoral challenges faced by Labour across the United Kingdom. He mentioned the ‘red wall’ in the north, known as Labour’s heartland of safe seats.
When describing the scale of the problem, Mr Starmer said: “If all we do is win back the seats we’ve lost, we’ll lose again. We’ve got to win in Scotland. In Scotland we have one MP. We should have been returning 27-30 MPs, we only returned one.” Labour has the same problem in Wales because of the nationalists. He also said you can draw a line from South West from Bristol where Labour needs to build support.
“We have lost four elections in a row. If we lose the next one in 2024, a whole generation will have been let down and not have the protection of a Labour government,” Mr Starmer said.
Labour’s frontrunner said health inequality was a huge issue and that there was a 10 to 15 year difference in life expectancy between his St Pancras and Holborn constituency and the one next door, I think in Hampstead and Kilburn, also in the London Borough of Camden. Here you can see how London voted in the 2019 general election.
Mr Starmer said he thinks people outside London feel: ‘I can’t affect change near me’ and he criticised brutal cuts to our public services. He said: “Our public services are on their knees, the health service is grossly underfunded. My wife works in the health service, teams are demoralised. They have more to do than they can possibly cope with. Social care. Mental health. Homelessness. The list is so long.”
“However, we feel, we’ve got to pick ourselves up. We need to unify as a party.
“All the time we are fighting each other, we are not fighting the Tories. With 580,000 members we have dedication, commitment and energy. It doesn’t mean everyone agreeing with each other. It means tolerant respectful decision-making.”
“Unity needs to come first and foremost from the leader of the Labour Party. We have to unite. We have to be a really effective leader.”
Mr Starmer said he had already served under three Conservative Prime Ministers. First there was David Cameron who couldn’t get his party in order and then abdicated all responsibility.
Second, there was Theresa MP who had a complete inability to lead her party.
Now, he said, we have Boris Johnson as Prime Minister: “It’s offensive. He has no moral compass. There’s little lies, then there’s big lies. About tariff free trade. He negotiated that exit deal with the EU. The document in front of him said there would be checks in the Irish Sea. Boris stood up at the despatch box and he said there will be no tariffs in the Irish Sea.”
Mr Starmer is concerned that every MP who broke the Conservative Party whip has been replaced with a more right-wing candidate.
He criticised the government because they removed protection for unaccompanied children, some living as close as Calais in the middle of winter with no electricity and heating at night.
Mr Starmer said: “The only difference between my children and the children in Calais is where they were born.”
He predicted that as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson would attack Trade unions and restrict the right for collective action. He said: “We’ve got to take him on at the despatch box. He doesn’t like scrutiny. He barely turns up these days. That’s why he wouldn’t do the Andrew Neil interview.”
Mr Starmer said: “We need to win the argument and demonstrate that we are taking ground. Opposition is losing. You are shadowing the person who is making the decisions. I came into politics to change lives. You don’t deliver that in opposition.
“We’re in Parliament, we vote and we lose. Since we’ve been back we’ve lost every vote by 100 so we’ve got to win that election and we’ve got to press forward to do it.
“What’s happened in the last five years, we don’t walk away from public ownership etc. but you need to build focusing relentlessly on the future.
“You’re not going to deal with inequality by being timid. We know the founding principles. We stand up for the vulnerable. The free market model is busted, you wouldn’t have this level of inequality if the free market model worked. You need a moral compass. The Green new deal has to be hard wired into everything you do. If it’s bad for the environment it’s bad for the economy.
“Power needs to be closer to people. We need bottom up politics, in a town or city not in Westminster. It’s a very socialist argument.
“The Labour Party needs to be much more supportive of our local councillors. We need to be brave enough to say we are a party that is internationalist, we need to have solidarity across borders and our values proudly on show. We know the principles. We do have to glimpse the future and persuade people there is a better future with Labour.
“There’s nothing like our health service anywhere in the world.” Mr Starmer gave the examples of Sure start, hospitals, schools and said they were impossible dreams made possible by a Labour government.
He said: “We have a choice. We can either spend the next four years, moping around or we can pull together. We can say the next leg of the journey is for us. We can change things. We can do the hard work.
How proud would you be to be part of a Labour Party that changes lives? We need to change our party, our movement and our country for the better.”
Questions from the floor
- The first question was about anti-Semitism: how did we get here and in practical terms, how do you expunge it?
Mr Starmer said: “If you’re anti-Semitic, you shouldn’t be in the Labour Party. I will ask for weekly progress reports. If you want things to change, you have to show that you’re personally committed to it. I will only feel I’ve dealt with it when people who left because of anti-Semitism, come back to the Labour Party.”
He said the anti-Semitism question is part of a wider debate about how I make this Labour Party more inclusive. In Mr Starmer’s constituency, there was one ward meeting where young people never came back. Our arguments put people off. We weren’t inclusive and tolerant enough. They didn’t feel we would make a difference.
- Electoral reform. He said: “It’s not right for people to vote in safe seats and feel their vote doesn’t count.” Mr Starmer said Labour will reform the house of Lords, create an elected senate and a regis of the nations. Wales and Scotland have different systems already as devolved assemblies. In Wales 16 & 17 year olds can already vote. The Labour Party will be producing a discussion document about electoral reform. In the meantime, watch this site: https://www.labourcampaignforelectoralreform.org.uk/
- Why does the Parliamentary Labour Party decide the names on the leadership ballot when the party has a membership of 580,000?
Mr Starmer said: “Whoever leads the Party needs unity in Parliament. If not, you have a flank open that you don’t want open. Having a leader that the team in Parliament don’t really want does bring problems. In the end now we have a shortlist, it is a very empowering thing for members. Whoever wins, we will support them.”
- Negative effect of the media on the Labour Party: Mr Starmer said: “Jeremy Corbyn was vilified by the media for years. Jeremy got more than his fair share of it. Media amplified Tory lies. Social media. Conservative Party HQ. I salute all the candidates putting themselves forward. This slide into abuse for the Labour Party needs to change. The lies interchanged with it are just making it worse.”
- Green new deal: Mr Starmer said: “Is it realistic to be carbon free by 2030? It’s really difficult. If we come in in 2024, will we be carbon free by 2030? We can be very upbeat in the Green Deal.” He mentioned biogass, (vehicle) batteries, insulation and said there are incredible opportunities for an explosion of opportunity.
- How do you hold the government to account on climate change? “We need to address the climate crisis and challenge the government internationally… There is a climate crisis. The Paris agreement is pretty weak. We need to take Mr Johnson on in that fight… Some of what we can do, we will do. We need clean air for people with respiratory problems.”
- Single sex exemptions in the 2010 equality act: Mr Starmer said rights for transgender people are very important. He said there needs to be a respectful discussion because trans people and those in same sex relationships need to be protected. He said their rights are not a political football. You can read more about gender reassignment discrimination here. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 along with eight others which are: Age disability, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.
Final reflections on the manifesto: Mr Starmer said in the 2019 general election people weren’t saying they don’t like your policies, they just thought the manifesto was overloaded. “We had a manifesto that no-one believed, they (the Conservatives) just had three words – “Get Brexit done.”
I think Jeremy Corbyn is a clear example of a leadership candidate that many in the Parliamentary Labour Party did not initially support and in the end he may have helped the Conservative Party to their landslide victory. I personally really like Jeremy Corbyn.
Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair also thought Jeremy Corbyn was the wrong leader and said so very publicly, as did many other Labour MPs. Mr Corbyn did not have much support initially in the Parliamentary Labour Party and in the end proved no competition for Boris Johnson, although against a weaker leader (Theresa May), he had some success. Parliamentarians probably really do know their leaders best because they work with them day in and day out in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
However much Brexit fatigue we are feeling, exploited by the Conservative Party during their campaign, Brexit remains the pressing issue for government and for all MPs over the next 12 months at least. Mr Starmer was the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union until we left the EU.
As a journalist I am not a member of any political party but I would want to elect the candidate with the best understanding of Brexit who can provide robust opposition to the Conservative government and most effectively hold Boris Johnson to account.
We need to tackle inequality, particularly wealth inequality, and acknowledge the accident of birth that determines every child’s future. We need to heal our nation and union as well as reaching out a hand of friendship to the EU and the Commonwealth beyond it.
We need to fight for the NHS and our other public services more than ever so that money is not just put into policing and prisons.
However, our clear mandate now from the electorate is ‘to get Brexit done’ whether we like it or not.
The Labour Party should elect the candidate best able to hold Boris Johnson to account in the House of Commons. In the next twelve months MPs must insist on accountability over Brexit and must build an alliance with other parties to scrutinise government negotiations.
Labour lost the election badly but she still has a very important role to play in Parliament and in the running of our country. The Labour Party is the opposition to the government and the government in waiting.