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Starmer says he is ‘serious’ alternative to Truss with ‘common sense’ plans

Sir Keir Starmer said it was time for a ‘serious prime minister’ (Peter Byrne/PA)
Sir Keir Starmer said it was time for a ‘serious prime minister’ (Peter Byrne/PA)

Sir Keir Starmer said he has shifted Labour to the political centre ground as he positioned himself to repeat Sir Tony Blair’s electoral success.

The Labour leader said the party was now closer to the New Labour era than the vision set out by Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leader, who served in Mr Corbyn’s top team, said the party was now offering “centre ground, common-sense politics”.

The party’s conference in Liverpool closed on Wednesday with Labour in a buoyant mood following a series of poll leads over the Tories.

The turmoil in the financial markets following Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget has been seen by Labour as a chance to present itself as a responsible alternative government.

Sir Keir called for Parliament to be recalled immediately to discuss the crisis, but stopped short of demanding the resignation of either the Chancellor or Prime Minister Liz Truss.

In response to criticism of his presentational style, Sir Keir suggested it was time for a “serious” politician.

Asked if it was time for “Mr Boring”, he said: “Yes.”

“If anybody thinks that a government that loses control of the economy is somehow exciting, I think they need to go and speak to the people who will be looking at their mortgages today, looking at prices today, now looking at their pensions today, and say that they think that sort of excitement is what they want,” he told TalkTV.

“I think they want a serious politician, a serious prime minister, who understands, with a careful, competent, confident plan to lead Britain through this crisis.

“This is not exciting. This is causing people real concern.”

Dismissing questions about his personality on BBC Radio 4’s Today, he said: “If I came on here and said I’ve done a bungee jump you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, great, now we’ve got the prime minister we need’.”

Asked on Times Radio if he was comfortable saying Labour was closer to the party of Sir Tony that it was to Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir said: “I certainly hope so, because Tony Blair won three elections and I want us to win the next election.”

He added: “We are firmly on the centre ground, common-sense politics, practical answers to the challenges the country faces.”

As Sir Keir delivered his keynote speech on Tuesday the party was forced to take action against MP Rupa Huq after she described Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng as “superficially” black.

In audio published online from a fringe event at the conference, Ms Huq can be heard discussing Mr Kwarteng’s elite school background, before adding that “you wouldn’t know he is black” when listening to him on the radio.

She subsequently apologised for her “ill-judged remarks”.

Sir Keir told LBC: “What she said, in my view, was racist, it was wrong and she’s been suspended from the whip in the party, and that was done very, very quickly.”

It was not his personal decision to suspend her, he said, but “it’s a decision I absolutely agree with” and the MP will now face an investigation.

Despite a series of poll leads, Labour figures understand the scale of the challenge the party faces to overturn the 80-seat majority secured by Boris Johnson in 2019.

With the prospect that a hung parliament may be the most likely route to power, the Labour leader did not rule out an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats.

Opinion poll tracker
(PA Graphics)

Sir Keir used his conference speech in Liverpool to explicitly say there would be “no deal under any circumstances” with the SNP.

Asked to similarly rule out a deal with Sir Ed Davey’s party, Sir Keir told GB News: “We’re going for a Labour majority, I’ve been very clear about that. And I was very clear that we wouldn’t do a deal with the SNP.”

After extraordinary interventions by the Bank of England and International Monetary Fund in the wake of the market turbulence unleashed by the mini-budget, Sir Keir called for Mr Kwarteng’s plans to be abandoned “before any more damage is done”.

But he stopped short of calling for the Prime Minister to quit or trigger an election.

The Labour leader told BBC News: “I’m leader of the opposition, of course we want an election as soon as possible, but there’s an immediate crisis that’s got to be dealt with.”