Keir Starmer ‘pragmatic’ about question of nationalising utilities

The Labour leader used a speech in Liverpool on Monday to say that the priority for the next Labour government would be to ‘reboot’ the economy.

25 July 2022

Sir Keir Starmer has said he is “pragmatic” about the question of public ownership of rail, energy and water companies, insisting his focus is on economic growth rather than ideology.

The Labour leader used a speech in Liverpool on Monday to say the priority for the next Labour government would be to “reboot” the economy with a focus on “growth, growth, growth”.

He was challenged about his view on nationalising utilities after shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves earlier said the policy was not compatible with the party’s new “fiscal rules” to control public spending.

Sir Keir told reporters: “I take a pragmatic approach rather than an ideological one, I agree with what Rachel Reeves said this morning.

“Having come through the pandemic, it’s very important we have very, very clear priorities and that’s why we’ve set out fiscal rules already as an Opposition.”

He added that “the mission of the next Labour government will be growth”.

“My approach here is pragmatic, not ideological. My mission is growth and underpinning that mission is a partnership arrangement with business, where the mission is set by an incoming Labour government and we empower business to work with us in delivering on that mission.”

Pressed on whether he still intended to take railways back into public ownership, Sir Keir said: “I think what some of our mayors and metro mayors are doing with public transport is the right way forward – absolutely focused on keeping the price down and making sure there’s control over where things go.

Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves
Sir Keir Starmer said he and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will provide ‘sound finances’ and ‘strong, secure and fair growth’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I absolutely understand the frustrations of everybody trying to use the rail service”.

Ms Reeves earlier said commitments by Labour to nationalise rail, energy or water were part of a manifesto in 2019 that “secured our worst results since 1935” and had been “scrapped”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Within our fiscal rules, to be spending billions of pounds on nationalising things, that just doesn’t stack up against our fiscal rules.”

The TUC is calling for public ownership of energy companies.

The federation of trade unions said: “Taking the Big Five energy retail firms into public ownership would cost just £2.85 billion.

“Since June 2021, the UK Government has spent £2.7 billion bailing out 28 energy companies that collapsed.

“It’s time to lift the burden of failed privatisation off families.”

In his speech in Liverpool, Sir Keir promised he would lead a government focused on economic growth.

“Our economy is weaker than our competitors, less resilient, brittle and ultimately we are all poorer for it.

“That’s why I’m clear: Labour will fight the next election on economic growth.

“We can’t be like the Tories – clinging to the old ideas, trapped in our history.”

(PA Graphics)

Taking aim at the economic plans set out by Tory leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the Labour leader said: “In one corner you have Rishi Sunak, the architect of the cost-of-living crisis.

“In the other you have Liz Truss, the latest graduate from the school of magic money tree economics.

“They don’t believe you need state and market, business and worker, the everyday economy and the technological frontier all contributing together if you want strong, secure and fair growth.”

His visit to Liverpool came as the two contenders in the Conservative leadership contest prepared to face off in a televised BBC debate on Monday evening.

He said the contrast between Labour’s approach and “the Conservative competition to waste more of your money could not be starker”, and hit out at the “Thatcherite cosplay on display” in the debate.

(PA Graphics)

“You will see a clear contrast between my Labour Party and the Thatcherite cosplay on display tonight. The difference between a Labour Party ready to take Britain forward, and a Tory party that wants to take us back to the past,” he said.

“With me, with Rachel Reeves, you will always get sound finances, careful spending, strong, secure and fair growth.

“There will be no magic money tree economics with us.”

Sir Keir set out his plans for an Industrial Strategy Council, which he said would be placed on a statutory footing as a “permanent part of the landscape that sets out our strategic national priorities that go beyond the political cycle, brings in the expertise of business, science and unions, (and) hold us to account for our decisions”.

He rejected any suggestion that economic growth and the UK’s push for net-zero are incompatible, saying: “Fail to tackle climate change and you can forget about growth.”

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