Keir Starmer quizzed on winning back working class voters while promising future jobs on Teesside

Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and Ed Milibandspeaking to workers at PD Ports
Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and Ed Miliband speaking to workers at PD Ports -Credit:Naomi Corrigan

Labour leader Keir Starmer says the party let down working class people in the past, but promised to bring jobs for Teesside workers for "generations to come".

Sir Keir was joined on a visit to PD Ports by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, to speak about the party's Green Prosperity Plan. The policy would make Britain a "clean energy superpower", says Labour, creating thousands of jobs in green industry on Teesside while insulating homes and cutting energy bills across the country.

Fielding questions from port workers, Sir Keir was asked how they planned to win back working class voters who had felt "marginalised" and "let down" by Labour politicians in the past. Worker Mark Hannon asked: "What has changed in those four years since you lost all those seats? What is going to convince working class people that you have changed and are going to invest in this area?"

Sir Keir said: "Your criticism of what we got wrong is bang on. We have lost four elections in a row and we lost in 2019 really badly and I took over after that loss and I looked at those results and I came to the same conclusion as you do.

"It wasn't voters who got it wrong, it was the Labour Party who got it wrong. The Labour Party was set up to support for working people to fight for working people, and we drifted for too long from that." He said he had to turn Labour "inside out and backwards" after taking the helm.

Around 100 port workers gathered for the huddle in a warehouse beside the River Tees
Around 100 port workers gathered for the huddle in a warehouse at PD Ports -Credit:Naomi Corrigan

Labour says its £1.8bn proposed investment in the country's ports would be the "most significant in a generation", supporting thousands of jobs in the transition to clean power. "We're not talking about jobs for months or a year, we're talking about jobs for decades to come," said Sir Keir.

"It does mean that we've got to tackle the skills issue at the same time because we haven't had an effective skills strategy for many years now in this country and that requires us to have new technical excellence colleges that will work with local partners.

"The local growth plan that we will have for each area, including this area, will be about investment and money and how we partner up with local businesses but also the answer to the skills problem so that businesses will be able to say, in this area, these are the skills that we are going to need. Here it will be predominantly skills needed in the port but also the supply lines coming in to the port that support many other jobs in the area."

During the visit, the trio was asked about the recently-published review into the Teesworks regeneration project. The investigation cleared the scheme of any corruption or wrongdoing but said systems of governance and finance did not provide "sufficient" transparency and oversight to evidence value for money.

Ms Reeves said they would commission the National Audit Office to investigate further if they win the next general election. "Michael Gove should have done what he was asked to do which is to call in National Audit Office. That's what we think should happen," she said.

"I know that if I become Chancellor of the Exchequer later this year there isn't going to be a lot of money to go around and that's why it's even more important that every pound of taxpayers' money is spent wisely. When it's not, we need to uncover that and that's why I think it is right that the NAO are brought it to investigate this and that's what we would do."

The announcement was later hailed a "politicised persecution" by Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Simon Clarke. "This is so obviously a politically motivated attack on the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, ahead of the mayoral election on May 2," he said.

"We've already had an investigation into Teesworks and it's worth noting that every investigation into local government is conducted by an independent panel, as per the Local Government Act 1999 - ironically, Labour’s own legislation."

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