Labour will lend govt votes to pass planning reforms, Starmer tells PM

Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

LONDON: Sir Keir Starmer has told the Prime Minister that Labour will lend the Government the votes it needs to pass the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill with mandatory housing targets.

The Labour leader insisted Rishi Sunak, whom he described as “weak”, does not need to do another “grubby” deal to defeat the amendment from his “anti-growth” backbenchers.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said: “Country before party, that’s the Labour way. Why doesn’t he try it?” His comments come days after the Government was forced to pull a vote on plans for mandatory, centrally-set targets to build 300,000 homes a year, after around 50 Tory MPs signed an amendment that would have scrapped the targets.

The Labour leader said: “Every week, he hands out cash to those that don’t need it. Every week he gets pushed around, and every week he gets weaker.

“But I can help him with this one, he doesn’t need to do another grubby deal. If he wants to defeat that amendment from his anti-growth backbenchers on national targets for housing, Labour will lend him the votes to do so. Country before party, that’s the Labour way. Why doesn’t he try it?”

The Prime Minister did not take him up on the offer and instead said it was the same “old” Labour ideas, with “more debt, more inflation, more strikes and more migration”.

He added: “He tells his party what they want to hear. I’ll take the difficult decisions to this country and that’s the choice – it’s the politics of yesterday with him or the future of the country with me.”

Sir Keir also criticised the Conservatives’ record on home ownership, as he asked the lower chamber: “Why is the dream of home ownership far more remote now than it was when his party came into power 12 years ago?”

He also claimed “at this rate, under this Government, a child born in the UK today wouldn’t be able to buy their first home until they are 45?.

Mr Sunak replied: “What have we done in those 12 years? The highest number of new homes started in 15 years, the largest number of first-time buyers in 20 years.”

The exchange between the two leaders also saw them battling on the issue of tax breaks for private schools. Sir Keir took aim at the PM’s old private school, asking why it receives “taxpayers’ money”.

He said: “Winchester College has a rowing club, a rifle club, an extensive art collection, they charge over £45,000 a year in fees. Why did he hand them nearly £6 million of taxpayers’ money this year in what his Levelling Up Secretary (Michael Gove) calls egregious state support?”

Mr Sunak said he was “pleased he wants to talk about schools, because we have recently announced billions more funding for our schools”, and later added: “Whenever he attacks me about where I went to school, he is attacking the hard-working aspiration of millions of people in this country, he’s attacking people like my parents. “This is a country that believes in opportunity not resentment. He doesn’t understand that and that’s why he’s not fit to lead.”

Downing Street on Wednesday rejected any suggestion that the Prime Minister sees private schools as better than state schools.

Mr Sunak’s press secretary told reporters: “The PM’s view is that private schools play an important role in providing opportunities for children around the country and we’re providing even more funding for state schools.”

Asked if the Prime Minister thinks private schools are better than state schools, she said: “No, I don’t think that’s his position at all. Actually, he talked about the improvement in our state education system that we’ve seen over the last 12-15 years.” Downing Street declined to comment on how Mr Sunak’s children are educated.