By Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) -British opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Tuesday it was his party’s “moment”, championing green policies to spur economic growth and create jobs that he said would open the door to power after 12 years of Conservative government.
At Labour’s annual conference, Starmer struck at the heart of Prime Minister Liz Truss’s plan to revive growth, saying a Labour government would create jobs, improve skills and tackle climate change rather than cut taxes for the wealthiest.
Trying to capitalise on the divide opened up by the government’s so-called mini-budget that saw the Conservatives shift to the right with a return to trickle-down economic policies, Starmer said Labour was now “the party of the centre-ground” ready for an election due in 2024.
“This is a Labour moment,” he told a packed auditorium in the northern English city of Liverpool in a speech greeted by several standing ovations rather than the heckling he received last year.
“Britain will deal with the cost-of-living crisis. Britain will get its future back … That’s my commitment to you. The national mission of the next Labour government. And together with the British people – we will do it.”
Many Labour members say the Conservative government has done them a favour by unveiling a “growth plan” on Friday that scrapped the top rate of income tax and cancelled a planned rise in corporate taxes, on top of a hugely expensive move to subsidise energy bills for struggling households and businesses.
The plan sent markets tumbling with the pound plunging to a record low and British bond prices collapsing.
Starmer pledged to stop “this endless cycle of crisis with a fresh start, a new set of priorities and a new way of governing” that would help the lower-paid and restore the country’s National Health Service.
Starmer said he would start his plan to create one million new jobs in towns and cities, bring down energy bills, raise living standards and start to tackle the climate crisis in the first 100 days of a Labour government.
He also said he would set up a publicly-owned energy company within a year of coming to power to invest in power generation and control immigration with a points-based system, a policy his spokesperson said would be different to that of the government.
With a new air of confidence, Labour is in a very different place than even a year ago, when battles with leftist supporters of former leader Jeremy Corbyn underscored the debilitating splits in the party after a punishing election defeat in 2019.
In a break with the past, Starmer led Labour party members in a rendition of the national anthem at the start of the conference in Liverpool – the first time the song had been sung at such a gathering in recent memory.
In one sour note, a Labour lawmaker was accused of making racist remarks about finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng – but the party acted quickly and suspended her. She also swiftly apologised. [L8N30Y4QN]
But overall, Labour lawmakers are sensing a change in their fortunes, with Andy Burnham, mayor of the northern city of Manchester, saying the annual get-together should be called the “get ready for government conference”.
“I thought it was a fantastic speech that offered something for everyone,” said Liam Challenger, a local Labour councillor in Reading, southern England. “This is a party transformed.”
An opinion poll by YouGov for the Times newspaper put Labour 17 points ahead of the Conservatives, its largest poll lead in more than two decades. Another poll, conducted between Sept. 22-25 by Deltapoll put the lead at 13 points.
Addressing the government’s right-wing shift, Starmer has said he will reverse its abolition of the top rate of income tax and restore it to 45%, and he will recommit to an Office for Value for Money to oversee taxpayers’ money and ensure it is spent in the national interest.
“What we’ve seen from the government in the past few days has no precedent,” he said. “They’ve lost control of the British economy – and for what? … For tax cuts for the richest one percent in our society.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Ed Osmond and Mark Heinrich)