'Circumstances change': Starmer defends ditching leadership pledges

By John Mercury May 17, 2024

Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he can be trusted to deliver his six pledges to voters – despite abandoning many of the promises that saw him elected Labour leader.

In an interview with Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby, Sir Keir repeatedly defended his decision to “adjust” some of the 10 pledges he made to party members when seeking to succeed Jeremy Corbyn following Labour’s disastrous 2019 general election result.

The Labour leader said: “When the facts change, the circumstances change. Good leaders know you have to adapt and change with it.”

The Labour leader was speaking following a major pre-election event in Essex, where he set out the “first steps” of a Labour government before the public heads to the polls.

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The six targets, which have been compared to the pledge card Sir Tony Blair put to voters before the 1997 general election, are to deliver economic stability, cut NHS waiting lists, crack down on anti-social behaviour, recruit 6,500 new teachers, launch a new border security command and set up publicly-owned Great British Energy.

Sir Keir said the programme was “going to be hard” to achieve, adding that the public could expect to see the promises materialise within two terms of a Labour government.

The promises have also been compared to the 10 pledges Sir Keir made when he was seeking to become leader – many of which have now been diluted or abandoned.

Among the promises he made in the 2020 leadership election that have since been scaled back are bringing back free tuition and nationalising key public utilities.

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What are Labour’s six pledges?

‘Junked pretty much every pledge’

Asked whether he was “trustworthy” given he had “junked pretty much every pledge you were elected Labour leader on”, Sir Keir replied: “You’ll know that for each of the 10 pledges, there’s about two or three sitting under them.

“That’s about 30 commitments, of which a few have been adjusted. The vast majority are in place, but I accept that some of them have been adjusted.”

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What are Labour’s pledges for government?

He drew comparisons with Liz Truss – who survived just 44 days as prime minister after her economic strategy unravelled – saying: “I think the public might be less trusting than you suggest of someone who says, ‘well, I said I’d do this, the economy has now been damaged, but I’m going to do it anyway, even though we can’t afford it’.

“I honestly don’t think that builds trust and confidence because the public know the circumstances have changed.”

‘No clear, measurable targets’

While the pledges have been seen as an expansion of the five “missions” Sir Keir laid out last year, he nevertheless faced questions that his new set of promises lacked the specificity of those promised by Sir Tony nearly three decades ago.

Rigby highlighted to Sir Keir how the former Labour prime minister promised to cut class sizes to 30 or under and cut NHS waiting lists by 100,000.

“When I look at yours, it’s economic stability, new border security, set up GB Energy,” she said.

“There’s no clear, measurable targets. Only one number on it, only one with the teachers. It’s vague enough so that you can’t be seen to break promises.

“It’s shifty isn’t it?”

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‘Not going to make a promise I don’t think I can deliver’

The Labour leader pointed to the fact he was promising 40,000 new appointments and to recruit 6,500 teachers and denied he was “under-promising”.

“I’m not going to make a promise before an election, which I don’t think I can deliver after the election,” he said.

“I think the public in the last 14 years had far too much of people who say before an election they’ll deliver everything, and afterwards they don’t. We have to break that pattern.

“So that means I have to be clear now and say there are some things I can do, there are some things I can’t do. I want to say that before the election so that I can level with the public.”

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