The new leader of the Labour Party has said he is “certainly open to a discussion” about how tax revenues are raised “across London and different regions” as he affirmed a guiding principle “that decisions about communities should be made as close to those communities as possible”.
Taking question from journalists after holding a remote public meeting with residents of Barnet, Keir Starmer told On London that his approach to devolution is not limited to “which power resides where” but also includes making resources available to regional bodies. He described “putting power and resources closer to people” as a “fundamental” principle.
Stressing that he does not yet have “a fixed view” on how tax-raising powers might be devolved to the capital and other cities and regions, he nonetheless said “I’m very much in that space of putting power closer to people by a number of mechanisms”.
While not addressing the question of whether London might receive relatively less public investment compared with other parts of the UK under a Labour government than it has in the past – an approach both the last Labour manifesto and the current government appear to advocate – Starmer praised the policy of setting up regional investment banks Labour proposed at the last general election.
These banks would have offered long-term loans “not on a commercial basis” and “according to a strategic plan which is drawn up by people in the regions”. He added: “The question of whether a particular power rests in Westminster or a local authority or a Mayor is interesting, but the central thing is actually how much further than that can you go.”
Taking questions from Barnet residents and other journalists, Starmer underlined that he has moved quickly to address the problem of antisemitism in Labour, saying that within three hours of being elected leader “I was on the phone to Jewish community leaders to say can we meet so that we can discuss how we can move forward”.
At the last London borough elections in May 2018, Labour lost more seats in Barnet than anywhere else except Haringey on a day when the party made overall seat gains in the capital. A local Labour member, echoing views expressed at the time of the elections, told Starmer he had detected strong doorstep resistance to Labour in a borough where many Jewish Londoners live.
Starmer said there was a long way to go before trust is rebuilt, and he had requested “the time and the space to do what I need to do, to make sure that the Labour Party and antisemitism are not two things that are ever in the same sentence again”. He described this as “a test of leadership” which involved making a “change to the culture of the party”.
Answering other questions from residents, the Labour leader also said that Labour needs to be “proudly patriotic. I’m in the Labour Party along with many others because we want to improve our country. We should make it clear that one of the reasons we go around in the wind and the rain and the dark, knocking on doors, persuading people to vote Labour is because we desperately want to have the best country we can possibly have.”
Asked if Labour is “the party of business”, Starmer replied, “Yes, we are the party of business. We in the Labour Party need to say loud and clear we support business. Businesses provide the bedrock of our economy, they provide jobs for millions of people across the country, and the vast majority of businesses are good businesses that want to get it right, want to treat their workforce properly, pay their tax and all the rest of it, and we need to work with them”.
He said it has been a problem that “we haven’t been clear about being pro-business and we need to be clear about it”, though Labour is “against bad businesses and we should be loud about that too. In my experience, good businesses don’t like bad businesses, because they see them as unfair competition”.
Starmer described the key to a Labour recovery following last year’s heavy general election defeat, as “building trust in the Labour Party. One of the things we got wrong at the last election was we had a manifesto with lots and lots of policy in it. It had so much policy in it that people didn’t believe we would deliver any of it.”
Expressing concern that, three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, many buildings across the country are still clad in combustible material, he said, “We cannot allow the argument that this is somehow in the ‘too difficult’ box. Of course it’s difficult, because there are different blocks owned in different ways, but nothing should be in the too difficult box when it comes to unsafe cladding or buildings that are similar to those at Grenfell. It is unforgivable three years on. This needs to be sorted out urgently.”
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