Sir Keir Starmer is beginning the New Year with an ambitious speech putting patriotism at the heart of the Labour Party’s strategy to win support from voters.
Welcoming the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games later this year, he claims it is not unpatriotic to criticise things that are going wrong in the country.
He says it is “precisely because we are patriotic” that Labour wants to correct things like the rising cost of living, tax rises, fear of crime and difficulty getting a quick appointment with a GP.
Speaking to local politicians in Birmingham, the Labour leader calls for the courage to build a new Britain in which “you and your family get the security, prosperity and respect that they deserve”.
And in his first personal attack on Boris Johnson of the New Year, he says: “I don’t think politics is a branch of the entertainment industry. I think it’s the serious business of getting things done.”
Sir Keir’s strategy of focusing on patriotism, part of an attempt to explain what Labour stands for, was first revealed in a leaked document last year advising the party to make “use of the (union) flag”.
But the plan has been bitterly criticised by senior left-wing MPs, such as former shadow cabinet members Clive Lewis and Richard Burgon, who claim it risks alienating young and ethnic minority voters.
Sir Keir begins the New Year with opinion polls suggesting Labour now has a modest lead over the Conservatives and with his personal approval ratings now much better than those of the prime minister.
In his speech, the Labour leader celebrates the country we live in and “all that the British have to be proud of” including the rule of law, Her Majesty the Queen and universal public services.
“As we begin this new year, Britain has entered a new phase,” he says. “Because just as the government has revealed itself to be unworthy of your trust its incompetence is becoming plain.
“The cost of living is increasing. Energy bills are going up; wages are stagnant. Tax rises are coming in April. Too many people do not feel safe in their streets. And good luck to anyone trying to get a quick GP appointment.
“I am well aware that just because the Tories lose the public’s trust, it doesn’t mean Labour simply inherits it. Trust has to be earned. I am confident but not complacent about the task ahead.”
On patriotism, he says: “I am personally thankful that I grew up in a country which had a national health service to care for my mum when she needed help, that gave me the opportunity to go to university and become a lawyer and fight for what is right.
“This country has presented me with great opportunities. It’s a great place to live. But I don’t think you cease to be a patriot because you notice your country has flaws.
“On the contrary, the reason we in this party want to correct those flaws is precisely because we are patriotic. I came into politics to make things happen not just to talk about them.”
He continues: “This year, 2022, is a big year. It is Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This city is looking forward to hosting the Commonwealth Games. We will host the women’s Euros and our men’s team will compete in the World Cup.
“The Britain I want is a country in which those who contribute get something back. Because 2022 is also the first year in which we need to tackle some big challenges: repairing after the pandemic; combating the climate crisis; making Brexit work.
“I believe that the best still lies ahead for this country. But only if we have the courage to create a new Britain. A country in which you and your family get the security, prosperity and respect you deserve.”
Sir Keir says he has “a very clear idea of what a Labour government would look like, based on security, prosperity and respect” and this is the year he wants to take his plans to the British people.
On security, he says people should feel safe in their community, the NHS should be there for them and if they work hard they should have a right to job security.
On prosperity, he says everyone should have the opportunity to thrive, realise their ambitions and make a good life and have the skills they need to prosper.
And on respect, the Labour leader says everyone should have the right to live in places they care for and to have their lives and ambitions taken seriously.