Keir Starmer has argued that Labour must build “a strong partnership with businesses” if it is to create a more just and equal post-Covid society, saying that for too long the party saw business as “something just to be tolerated or taxed”.
In a much-trailed speech setting out his goals for the party, and his aspirations for a Labour government, Starmer said this idea of working with business was “pivotal to my leadership, and to my vision of the future”.
This also involved businesses taking a central role in dealing with social responsibilities and the climate emergency, the Labour leader said.
“A fair society will lead to a more prosperous economy,” he said. “It’s not the choice of one or the other, as the Conservatives would have you believe. We either have both or we have neither. Harold Wilson once said that the Labour party is a moral crusade or it is nothing – he was right.”
One key idea floated in the speech was a saving scheme intended to help people invest in the UK’s post-Covid future, based on Bank of England forecasts showing many households have accumulated savings during lockdown, which will not necessarily be spent.
Starmer proposed the idea of a “British recovery bond”, which would work like premium bonds, the long-standing scheme run by National Savings and Investments, but with the money going directly into Covid recovery schemes.
The plan is similar to the idea of a post-Covid “northern recovery bond” floated earlier this week by the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs and the Centre for Policy Studies, the thinktank co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.
He also pledged to create 100,000 startups in the next five years, with a focus on pushing funds to help this nationally, beyond London and the south-east of England.
Outlining what he called “our moral crusade”, Starmer focused heavily on inequalities, arguing that coronavirus had demonstrated “a deadly ability to find the most vulnerable and to expose deep inequalities and injustices”.
These must be addressed, he argued, likening current times to the postwar period, with a “determination that our collective sacrifice must lead to a better future”.
“The terrible damage caused by the virus to health and prosperity has been made all the worse because the foundations of our society have been weakened over a decade,” Starmer said, citing the work of epidemiologist Prof Michael Marmot, which showed declining life expectancy in some poorer areas.
“What sort of legacy is that, for a party that’s been in government for a decade, that life itself has got cheaper, and shorter?” Starmer said.
Given this, next month’s budget amounted to “a fork in the road” for the UK, Starmer said, dismissing the idea that the government was able to address the scale of inequalities shown up by coronavirus.
“If you can’t decide whether to plunge hundreds of thousands of children into poverty by cutting universal credit, you have no chance of mending our broken system,” he said.
Along with pledges to extend business rate and VAT relief, and to extend the Covid furlough scheme, Starmer said said that under his leadership, “Labour’s priority will always be financial responsibility”. He added: “I know the value of people’s hard-earned money – I take that incredibly seriously.”
What was needed, he said, was “a new partnership between an active government, enterprising business and the British people”.
He said: “The Conservatives are incapable of this: they simply don’t believe it’s the duty of government to deliver social justice and equality – that’s why they’ll always fall back on the short-term demands of the market.”