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Labour would devolve power to ‘take back control’, says Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer makes his first major speech in 2023 during a visit to UCL at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA

By Dominic McGrath, PA

Labour has promised to cede fresh powers to local communities away from Westminster, as Sir Keir Starmer pledged that his party will “take back control”.

In his first major speech of the new year, the Labour leader said his party would properly deliver on the Brexit campaign message from 2016 as he promised to turn it from a “slogan to a solution”.

Sir Keir said Labour would bring forward a “Take Back Control Bill” that would devolve power from London to communities across the country, granting new control over employment support, transport, energy, housing and a host of other areas.

Labour, which has promised to abolish and replace the House of Lords, would see that councils will have a greater say over their own finances while also giving communities a right to request more powers, he said.

“The decisions which create wealth in our communities should be taken by local people with skin in the game, and a huge power shift out of Westminster can transform our economy, our politics and our democracy,” Sir Keir told an audience in Stratford, east London.

“I go back to Brexit. Yes, a whole host of issues were on that ballot. But as I went around the country, campaigning for Remain, I couldn’t disagree with the basic case so many Leave voters made to me.”

Sir Keir, whose party continues to poll ahead of Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, delivered his speech only a short distance from where the Prime Minister spoke on Wednesday.

He accused Mr Sunak of offering the country only “more promises, more platitudes” as he hit out at “sticking plaster politics”, but warned that Labour would not be able to spend its way out of the current challenges facing the country.

“None of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government chequebook out. Of course investment is required – I can see the damage the Tories have done to our public services as plainly as anyone.

“But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as simple as that.”

“There is no substitute for a robust, private sector, creating wealth in every community,” he told the audience.

His first speech of 2023 comes as the Government grapples with severe pressures in the NHS and ongoing strike action, as households continue to struggle with cost-of-living challenges.

The Labour leader, who described his party as “competent and compassionate”, said the country needs a drastically changed politics.

Sir Keir said: “This year, let’s imagine instead what we can achieve if we match the ambition of the British people.

“You can’t overstate how much a short-term mindset dominates Westminster, and, from there, how it infects all the institutions which try, and fail, to run Britain from the centre.”

“I call it sticking plaster politics,” he said.

“The long-term cure, that always eludes us.”

Sir Keir accused the Prime Minister of being in denial about the problems facing the country, as he took aim at the five pledges Mr Sunak set out on Wednesday.

“More promises, more platitudes. No ambition to take us forward. No sense of what the country needs. Thirteen years of nothing but sticking plaster politics.”

Introducing her party leader on Thursday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves accused the Conservatives of overseeing the “managed decline” of the UK.

“Are you and your family better off than you were 13 years ago?”

“Does anything in Britain work today better than it did 13 years ago?” she asked.

Sir Keir’s plans to seize on the “Take back control” slogan were not met with universal acclaim from the Labour benches.

Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott, an ally of former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, suggested new funding is needed to underpin the pledge.

She tweeted: “Starmer promises to bring in a ‘Take Back Control’ Bill and give new powers to cities and communities. But without new money to go with the powers it is an empty promise.”

The Conservatives hit out at Starmer’s speech too, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly calling it a “whole load of nothing”.

“The only thing we did hear from him in that speech was a complete contradiction about Labour’s spending plans.”

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