‘Levelling up is a good ambition’ — Keir Starmer’s local elections campaign launch speech in full

Keir Starmer has delivered a speech in which he declared that “levelling up is a good ambition” for Britain.

Speaking on Thursday morning at the Labour Party’s local elections campaign launch, he said that the past 14 years have been frustrating for him due to the “countless opportunities” that were missed to empower working people.

He added that moving forward requires a “fundamental shift in how we govern”.

Read the Labour leader’s speech in full below:

Thank you Ange, thank you Richard, we’re all excited for the vision you have for the West Midlands.

It’s great to be here in Dudley to launch Labour’s local election campaign, the path to changing Britain, to national renewal – starts and begins here.

And you can take it from me, we’re not playing for a draw. We’re looking to win in Dudley, looking to win in the West Midlands, right across the country: from Hastings to Hartlepool, a changed Labour Party. On the march, on your side, returned to the service of working people.

Look, I do have to be honest, I was hoping we’d be launching a different election campaign here today. But the Prime Minister bottled it. He wants one last, drawn out summer tour with his beloved helicopter. And so – we need to send him another message. Show his party – once again that their time is up, the dithering must stop, the date must be set. Britain wants change, and it’s time for change with Labour.

Because the choice at these elections is exactly the same as it will be later this year. Stability with Labour, or more chaos with the Tories.

Unity or division. Renewal or decline. A changed Labour Party ready to serve the interests of working people, or a Conservative Party that has forgotten how to serve anything other than itself.

We can all see the consequences. Their failure is visible in every community in Britain. The sewage in our rivers. The ambulances that don’t come. The schools crumbling over our children’s heads. Mortgage and rent payments – through the roof.

And now on top of this, this year, your council tax – rising. A new Tory stealth tax coming soon to your letterbox. £300 per household and they hope you don’t notice. In fact, they tell you they’re cutting your taxes. While at the same time, they’re rifling through your back pocket. Give with one hand, take even more with the other.

On and on and on – it goes. Say the right thing and do the exact opposite. Say – “we’re all in this together”, but decimate your public services. Say there’s no downsides for business, but rush through a careless Brexit deal. Say – this is for “ordinary people”, but crash the economy to give tax cuts to the richest one per cent. A party that is now so desperate, so broken by its failure to address your problems, that it has completely cut itself adrift from the responsibility of service. Reduced – with no record to defend – to exploiting Britain’s problems for the politics of division.

But look – here’s the good news. They don’t get to choose. You don’t have to take it anymore. You can stop them.

That’s the beauty of democracy, the power of the vote rests in your hands. And on 2 May, you can reject the chaos, you can reject division, you can reject decline, and vote for national renewal with Labour.

Because make no mistake – Labour has a plan to get Britain’s future back. A plan to drag politics in this country back to service, tilt our economy back towards the interests of working people and get us building again, working again, growing again by unlocking the pride and potential of communities like Dudley.

That’s what we’ll be campaigning on during these elections. And look – I know some of you may have heard this kind of thing before.

In fact, as Ange said – that is one reason why we came to Dudley to launch this campaign, because of course it was right here that the former Prime Minister, or former, former Prime Minister to be accurate, gave his big “levelling-up” speech.

A project he said would turn the tide on regional inequality in this country and give a fair share to towns like Dudley. You know, people say to me, the worst thing you can do in politics is to prey on peoples’ fear.

Yet in some ways, preying on their hopes is just as bad. And that’s what the Tories did with levelling-up. Of course it struck a chord. Of course – a town like Dudley wanted that hope to be real. Not just the promise of a better future – we all need that.

It’s also how that project knowingly spoke to what towns like this have lost, the way of life that disappeared when the factories or pits closed. The community, the security, the ‘chest-out’ pride that grows when you are certain your contribution is respected.

That what you do, what you make, matters. Not just for your family, but for your community, your country, and even beyond our shores. A pride that looked out to the world and said: this is our place, this is who we are.

It was steel here, but the same is true of shipbuilding in towns like Hartlepool, car manufacturing across this region. Mining, everywhere from the chalk and clay of Essex, to the coal seams of the Midlands and the North.

I mean, just look at the names of our football clubs. Stoke City: the Potters. Stourbridge just down the road: the Glassboys. Ange’s Stockport: the Hatters.

Now, that pride is still there, of course it is, and why not if you’re gunning for promotion like Stockport.

But over the years it’s a pride that’s become a little less sure of the ground beneath its feet. In need of a stronger foundation. A government willing to see communities like this, not as a charity case or a political client, but as a source of growth and dynamism ready to be unlocked. A partnership where politics offers you service rather than turning its back once it has counted your vote.

We understand that in the Labour Party – trust me. What towns like this have been through over the decades. It’s our history, our communities, in many cases, the story which has shaped our families.

My dad was a toolmaker, he worked in a factory. He always felt, particularly in the 80s, that he was looked down on. Disrespected. But equally, my sister is a care worker now, so I will never accept that it’s only the work of the past which deserves our pride and respect.

That was the great lesson of the pandemic. It showed exactly who made up the backbone of Britain. The carers, the couriers, the drivers, the teaching assistants, the warehouse workers, the supermarket staff, the nurses and paramedics. The working people of this country, my Labour Party stands with you.

That’s my biggest frustration with these 14 wasted years. It’s not just the stagnation, not just the price working people have paid. It’s also the countless missed opportunities to give working people the power to drive our country forward.

To bring people together, outside of crisis. Unlock that pride people have for their community and harness it to change our country.

Levelling-up is a good ambition for Britain. Taking back control, if it means control for communities, not politicians in Westminster, that is absolutely essential for growth. But moving forward requires, not just a new plan, but also a fundamental shift in how we govern. Britain has an economy that hoards potential and a politics that hoards power and it’s no coincidence – no accident – that this leaves us with more regional inequality than anywhere else in Europe.

So if we want to change our economy, we must also change our politics, and both these goals require things we know the Tories will never deliver.

Economic stability. A commitment to service. A recognition that the sticking plaster approach to investment costs Britain more in the long-run. And that economic growth is not something those at the top hand down to the rest of the country.

And that a more dangerous world needs a more dynamic government, prepared to step in – alongside business and communities – to deliver the security that working people need.

But perhaps most of all, it needs an end to politics that is done to communities, not with them.

No more political hero complexes, no more fantasies, no more easy answers that require nobody – politicians or people – to lift a finger.

Change comes from us all. I mean that. The Tory era of politics as performance art is coming to an end.

But to get Britain out of this hole, we all need to roll up our sleeves, national renewal is a partnership. I’m not here to tell you everything will be easy. That’s what happened four years ago.

Labour will give you a plan. We’ll give you new powers to make a difference in your community. But look around your country, we need you.

After everything you’ve been through in the past 14 years, I know that this is a hard request to make.

I know how little faith there is in politics to make a difference. But in your heart of hearts, I expect you know that this is what Britain needs right now. A coming together, after all the chaos and division, behind a credible long-term plan. A plan to back your potential, match your ambition, unlock your pride, so together, we get Britain’s future back.

So here’s what voting Labour means this year, the change we offer for your community and our country.

The new foundation we lay together that will give your family more security, unlock your community’s potential and generate economic growth from the whole country.

It’s a plan that starts, as it must – with economic stability. I mean – just look at the Tories now. Once again, in desperation, committing to the madness of unfunded tax cuts. £46 billion to abolish national insurance with no way of funding it other than risky borrowing or cutting your pension and our NHS. They are the only choices whether they admit or not.

It’s like they think Liz Truss never happened. And maybe for their bills, for their mortgage, for their cost of living, it didn’t. But out here, beyond the walls of Westminster, working people have paid an enormous price.

No – policies have to be paid for. Every pound is precious. And this Labour Party, with Rachel Reeves as Chancellor, will value every pound as if it’s yours, because at the end of the day, it is.

And on that rock of economic stability, we lay our new foundation.

Five national missions. Five new priorities to turn the page on Tory decline and walk towards national renewal.

One – higher growth. With a reformed planning system, no longer blocking the homes, the infrastructure, the investment this country needs.

Two – safer streets. With 13,000 extra neighbourhood police officers cracking down on the anti-social behaviour which blights too many of our town centres.

Three – cheaper bills, with GB energy. A new publicly owned company, harnessing clean British power not foreign oil and gas.

Four – more opportunities for your children, more mental health support in our schools, expert teachers in every classroom, new technical excellence colleges, training our kids in the skills they need and businesses want.

And five – our NHS back on its feet. Two million extra appointments every year, a plan to cut the waiting lists, start clearing the backlog, rescue NHS dentists, and end the 8am scramble at your GP surgery.

And written through every one of these priorities, a new purpose. The fundamental mission of this changed Labour Party. To tilt this country back towards the service of working people.

A return, not just to the traditional Labour deal, but also the shift we need in the way this country creates wealth, a Britain that serves the interests of working people, as they drive this country forward.

And so, when we look at the opportunities clean energy and new technology can bring, we do so with a national wealth fund, that stands with business, invests in the critical infrastructure our future growth needs, creates 650,000 new jobs – over 60,000 in the East and West Midlands – a plan that will relight the fires of renewal in communities like this.

It used to be called industrial strategy – didn’t it? And it’s not an old-fashioned idea. In most countries similar to Britain – it’s seen as the bread and butter of responsible government. Because in a world as volatile as ours, with new technologies – in life sciences, in clean energy, in artificial intelligence all on our horizon, it is our job to make sure regions like this are backed with the investment that they need.

The gigafactories that will make electric car batteries across the Midlands. The renewable ports ready for the off-shore boom in the North Sea. The clean steel that can bring the next generation of jobs to Scunthorpe or Sheffield. And – when we create jobs in communities like this, we do so with a new deal for working people.

Not just because work should always provide dignity, but also – because a labour market riddled with insecurity is bad for productivity and bad for growth.

And so we scrap zero-hour contracts, we end fire and rehire, make work pay with a real living wage, and say unambiguously – this is good for growth.

And on top of this new foundation, as we deploy the full power of government to deliver security for working people, but we also give power away and put communities in control.

A new Take Back Control act with new powers for mayors over transport, skills, enterprise, energy, planning, rejuvenating our high streets, and new powers to generate growth in every town and city.

Local Growth Plans – that’s the commitment we make today, a full-fat approach to devolution.

But with that, an expectation that those powers will be used to grow the local industries that are so important to unlocking pride. The argument is simple: devolution is absolutely essential for taking on regional inequality. Democratic decisions are better made by local people with skin in the game. I’ve always believed that.

Because it wasn’t some central planner who built the old Round Oak Steel Factory all those years ago, it wasn’t a big politician who made Stourbridge famous for glass production or the Black Country and Birmingham – the workshop of the world.

No, that sort of pride is not in the gift of politicians, it’s built up over the decades by the people, the businesses and the workers of a community in partnership with government, absolutely, that is vital.

Levelling-up doesn’t happen by magic. But the energy and the drive must also come from a place itself. So, when communities across Britain ask – what is our future in the modern economy, I say – Labour will always respect your contribution.

We will give you the tools you need. We will get the country’s future back. But your destination, your decisions, the pride that defines who you are, that belongs to you.

And there is a power in that, a power which I believe can change this country.

Let me put it this way: at some point in your life, many people in here will have heard a doubting voice inside saying “no, this isn’t for you, you don’t belong here, you can’t do that”.

Working class people certainly hear that voice, trust me. And in a strange way, perhaps it’s that kind of insecurity, industrial communities feel when they look to the future.

But imagine if instead a whole country said “you do belong”.

Imagine if a whole country said: we back your potential. Imagine if a whole country commits, properly to unlocking the pride you have for your community, then look what we could build: a Britain where every contribution is equally respected, where you don’t have to change who you are just to get on, where whatever your background, you can feel certain that your effort will be rewarded, and the future will be better for your children.

A Britain strong enough for you to invest your hope, your potential, your pride, a country we can build together. That is the change we offer. That is Britain’s future. To get it back, vote Labour on 2 May.

Thank you.

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