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What does Labour stand for in 2021?

Keir Starmer calls meeting of new shadow cabinet to set out policy priorities

Keir Starmer has been accused of lacking vision and failing to articulate his policy ideas clearly as Labour continues to digest its election losses in traditional party heartlands last week.

The opposition leader called a meeting of his newly reshuffled shadow cabinet yesterday in a bid to “reset the news agenda and set out Labour’s priorities going forward”, writes Katy Balls in The Spectator

It came as party backbenchers, such as left-wing veteran Diane Abbott, urged a “change of political strategy to avoid more disasters like Hartlepool” - although she stopped short of calling for Starmer to go, unlike others to the left of the party. 

“Voters do not loathe him the way they did Jeremy Corbyn. But he is described as weak, a nonentity with no opinions,” writes James Johnson in The Times, while The Telegraph says he has been unable to shake off a reputation as “the bland leading the bland”.

But what do we know about Labour’s policy ideas already?

Supporting business

Starmer laid out many of his headline policy ideas in a speech on the economy and Labour’s vision for a post-Covid society, which took place before Rishi Sunak’s budget in March, reports The Guardian

He has been keen to emphasise his support for business, which he says the Labour Party has for too long seen as something “just to be tolerated or taxed”. Instead, he promised that a strong partnership with business would be integral to delivering social justice and equality and would be “pivotal to my leadership, and to my vision of the future”. 

One key policy idea is a saving scheme, which Starmer calls a “British recovery bond”, designed to help people invest in the UK post-Covid, based on estimates from the Bank of England that UK households could have saved as much as £125bn throughout the pandemic.

This is an idea that has also been floated by several think tanks like the centrist New Policy Institute, which proposed a “coronavirus bond”, and the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, which has suggested a “Northern recovery bond” to boost investment in the region, says Stephen Bush in the i newspaper

Starmer also said he would “back a new generation of British entrepreneurs” by providing start-up loans to 100,000 new businesses from every region of the UK. 

As The Guardian notes, this would be based “on the existing Start Up Loans Company, a government-backed scheme that provides investment for new businesses”, but would provide far more loans than the 9,500 loans per year the current scheme provides, instead funding 100,000 businesses over five years and ensuring a greater regional spread. 

Labour also has plans to extend the business rate relief and VAT cut for hospitality and leisure, as well as to extend the furlough scheme to help people back into work.

Tackling inequality and improving public services

Much of Labour’s messaging has been focused on tackling inequality and financial insecurity and Starmer has referenced the maxim of former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson that the “Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. 

Labour has a raft of proposed measures designed to tackle existing inequalities, which the party says has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. The proposals include maintaining the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, which Labour says will benefit six million families by £1,000 per year, providing local councils with funding to prevent tax rises, and ending the public sector pay freeze. 

In an article published in The Guardian this week, deputy leader Angela Rayner, who was handed a host of new roles over the weekend, said Labour planned to shift “the balance back towards working people”. She said the party would do this by ending practices such as fire and rehire, a policy which has significant public support – a Survation poll for the GMB union found that 76% of those asked said that it should be against the law, including 71% of Conservative voters. 

Green jobs 

One of  Rayner’s new roles is the freshly created shadow secretary for the future of work. In her article for The Guardian, Rayner was keen to articulate Labour’s position, and her own role, as one which “speaks for the working class”. 

She touched on plans to invest “tens of billions of pounds into green industries to meet our climate obligations” as well as “delivering good, well-paid jobs and bringing industry back to the communities that Margaret Thatcher tried to destroy”. 

Labour has previously announced plans to invest in so-called “green jobs” with Starmer last month unveiling a £30bn plan to revive UK manufacturing by creating 400,000 green jobs, ahead of the local elections.

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