Starmer vows to ‘unbind’ Britain from centre that has ‘not delivered’

Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022

LONDON: Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to “unbind” Britain from a centre that has “not delivered”, as Labour unveiled its blueprint for political and economic devolution.

The party’s leader claimed people are being held back by a “broken model” that “hoards power in Westminster”, with the country “crying out for a new approach”.Speaking at the launch of the report of Labour’s commission on the UK’s future, headed by ex-premier Gordon Brown, Sir Keir said he sympathised with the sentiments of those who voted to leave the EU, despite once backing remain himself.

“They wanted more control over their lives, more control over their country,” he said. “They wanted to create opportunities for the next generation – build communities they felt proud of, have public services they could rely on.”

He said in order to build a future the country deserves, Britain needs change involving “higher standards in public life, a wider spread of power and opportunity and better economic growth”.“No more navel gazing or facing inwards – higher, wider, better – that is how Britain must set its sights,” he said. “I am determined that, with Labour, that’s exactly what we will do.”

Mr Brown said his commission on the UK’s future was proposing “the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster and Whitehall” that “our country has seen”.He said the report identified 288 “new economic clusters”, 200 of them outside London, capable of creating tens of thousands of high-paying jobs.

In its report, the panel suggests giving local communities new powers over skills, transport, planning and culture to drive growth, and replacing the House of Lords with a new democratic assembly of nations and regions.

Earlier, Sir Keir said Labour would aim to abolish the “indefensible” upper chamber “as quickly as possible”, ideally within its first term.But he did not commit to a timeframe for the move, stressing discussions are pending on when “exactly” it would come to pass.

Asked if he would continue to nominate peers to the unreformed Lords, he told the PA news agency: “Everyone wants a functioning House of Lords until it is abolished and replaced by a second chamber.”

He said at the launch event that the sooner Labour can abolish hereditary peers, the better. He had hinted that some of the measures – including the democratic assembly to replace the Lords – may have to wait for a second term Labour government.

But quizzed repeatedly on when his party would enact the proposal to abolish the upper chamber during a broadcast round on Monday, he said he hoped to deliver the change within the first five years of governing.

Sir Keir suggested the move, along with all other proposals in the report, could be achieved within Labour’s first term.But there would need to be extensive consultations because “you can’t bring in this level, this scale of change, without consulting with people that are going to work with us in this transfer of power”.

He insisted that his new commission would not be a “talking shop”, as he stressed the focus on sweeping constitutional reforms “could not be more relevant”. “I’m fed up to the back teeth with sticking plasters for the problems we have got,” he said. “The underlying problem is our economy isn’t working.

“This is a strong, compelling set of recommendations that do what politicians have all agreed needs to be done, but nobody has actually done it, which is to be bold enough to say ‘we’ve got to stop those in Westminster and Whitehall pretending that they know best about the communities that desperately want to play their part in the future’.

“We are going to transfer that power to them, rebuild our economy.”The commission’s report calls for a new constitutional law setting out how political power should be shared, with a requirement for decisions to be taken “as close as meaningfully possible” to the people affected by them.

There would be an explicit requirement to rebalance the economy to spread prosperity and investment more equally across the UK, and the right to healthcare based on need rather than ability to pay would be enshrined in a set of protected social rights.

Towns, cities and other areas would be brought together as part of a co-ordinated economic strategy, with some 50,000 civil service jobs transferred out of London.The panel also proposes a series of measures to clean up politics, including a “powerful” new anti-corruption commissioner and a ban on most second jobs for MPs.

Meanwhile, the report advocates extra powers for Scotland and Wales, with restored and strengthened devolution in Northern Ireland. But Plaid Cymru quickly labelled the Labour proposals as a “damp squib”.

Liz Saville Roberts, the party’s Westminster leader, accused Labour of backtracking on previous promises of devolving policing to Wales and said that the report “does nothing to change the fundamental inequalities of the UK”.