Starmer taunts Tories as he pitches Labour as ‘the party of wealth creation’ in polished manifesto launch

Sir Keir Starmer rolled up his sleeves on Thursday and declared that Labour is “no longer the party of tax and spend” but instead is the “party of wealth creation”.

The declaration came as Sir Keir unveiled Labour’s manifesto at the Co-op headquarters in Manchester in a noticeably polished and confident performance.

The event had the presidential style Labour has settled on for its campaign, with Sir Keir front and centre in a manifesto titled: “My plan for change.”

In a deliberate move to reassure Tory voters and take control of the centre ground, the Labour leader pivoted from the socialism he supported in 2019 under Jeremy Corbyn to the “changed” Labour promising to bring stability and end “Tory chaos”.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer launches his party’s manifesto (PA)
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer launches his party’s manifesto (PA)

In a highly symbolic move, Iceland boss Richard Walker, who defected from the Tories to Labour last year, spoke ahead of Sir Keir, arguing: “Only Labour can change this country’s trajectory from dismal economic performance.”

He added: “I like what I see in Labour’s plan to ... run the most pro-growth most business-friendly Treasury our country has ever seen.”

But questions remained about how Sir Keir and his shadow cabinet will pay for their promises in power with claims that he, like the Tories, is being dishonest about the real challenges ahead.

Also, in a move which offers Rishi Sunak some slim hope, Labour confirmed that they would take the UK to its highest-ever tax burden with £8.6bn in extra levies.

The admission could fuel Tory claims of an extra £2,000 on each household, an attack line Mr Sunak used to effect in the first debate although it was subsequently questioned by the Treasury’s most senior official.

Then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn alongside then shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer during a press conference in London, 2019 (PA)
Then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn alongside then shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer during a press conference in London, 2019 (PA)

Leading pollster and Tory peer Robert Hayward told The Independent: “This offers Rishi Sunak a chink of hope but no more than a chink.”

Polls taken in the 48 hours after the Tory manifesto launch and in the wake of his D-Day gaffe, painted a dismal picture for the prime minister.

Techne UK had his party on 19 per cent, its joint lowest level of support – while Reform were up one, on 16 per cent.

Worse still the Conservatives appeared to have lost the Brexiteers with 2016 Leave voters now preferring Reform to the Tories by 26 per cent to 23 per cent.

Redfield and Wilton’s poll brought more pain. It had Reform just one point behind the Conservative with 17 per cent, and the Tories “worse than Truss” on 18 per cent.

The worst criticism for Sir Keir came from Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who identified at least £20bn of savings needed by Labour.

He warned of “a conspiracy of silence” by Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Johnson said: “Delivering genuine change will almost certainly also require putting actual resources on the table. And Labour’s manifesto offers no indication that there is a plan for where the money would come from to finance this.”

Sir Keir insisted that there was not a choice between taxes and cutting public spending, saying that economic growth would create the extra revenue needed.

However, there were questions over whether he could reach the levels of growth talked about, or make the £5bn savings in his document from clamping down on tax avoidance.

There was also a shot across the bows from his party’s supporters on the left. TUC president Matt Wrack set a deadline of 100 days for him to “make good” on his promises to workers.

Mr Wrack, who is also general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “It will be our duty to ensure that a new Labour government makes good on these promises within the first 100 days of taking power. We will hold Labour’s feet to the fire.”

Starmer tours a supermarket in Warrington with Iceland chair Richard Walker (PA)
Starmer tours a supermarket in Warrington with Iceland chair Richard Walker (PA)

Meanwhile, Britain’s biggest union Unite has refused to endorse the manifesto while Mr Corbyn, who Sir Keir expelled from Labour, accused him of “trying to rewrite history”.

But Sir Keir used the building they were in as an example of why Labour did not need to choose between wealth creation and fairness.

He said: “The Co-op is an organisation that, like us, believes that the pursuit of social justice and economic growth must go hand in hand.”

The message of the Labour leader was that “change” represents what he has done to Labour post-Corbyn and what his party can do for the country.

This was highlighted when he had to take on a heckler early in his speech, saying: “We gave up on being a party of protest five years ago, we want to be a party in power.”

Sir Keir tried to provide some reassurance by saying that Labour would not raise the major taxes – VAT, income tax and national insurance – and insisting this “is a manifesto commitment”.

However, he avoided mention of council and capital gains tax.

The manifesto also lacked new policies. When addressing the lack of “a rabbit out of a hat” Sir Keir made a joke about those wanting a political pantomime going to Clacton, where Nigel Farage is standing.

Reacting for the Conservatives, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “This is Labour’s tax trap manifesto which contains only tax rises and no tax cuts. Under Labour’s published plans, taxes will rise to levels never before seen in this country.

“But that’s only the tax rises they’re telling you about – it doesn’t include the £2,094 of tax rises they’ll need to fill their £38.5bn unfunded spending commitments.

“So what’s most important is not what’s in Labour’s manifesto, but it’s what they have kept out of it. They are refusing to rule out taxing your job, your home, your pension, your car, your business and they think they can get away with it without anyone holding them to account. Be under no illusion, from cradle to grave you will pay more taxes under Labour.”