Sir Keir Starmer has told his party it must use the next year to lay the groundwork for an election victory in 2024 and “redouble their efforts” to win power.
The Labour leader, addressing his MPs and peers in Parliament for the first time since the start of the new year, looked to focus attention on the party’s vision for government.
“We need to redouble our efforts,” he told the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in Westminster on Monday evening.
“It gets harder from here on in, not easier.”
Sir Keir said he wanted to “give Britain its future back” by showing voters how things could be different if the Conservatives were replaced by a Labour government.
According to multiple polls, Labour has a 20-point lead over the ruling Tories, with a general election due before January 2025.
“The Tories will never give up,” he warned. “They want to cling on to power.
“I firmly believe we can win (in 2024) but we have to do that by working together.”
He thanked MPs and peers for “all you have done in the last year” but asked them to “resolve to do even more in 2023”.
He said the party must use a likely by-election for the Westminster seat of West Lancashire next month to kick-start the year, before turning to the May local elections and then the general election.
According to a source in the room, Sir Keir faced questions from PLP members about recent shadow cabinet comments relating to using more private sector resources to cut NHS waiting times.
He defended that approach but said the aim was to introduce long-term changes and reforms to help the NHS cope with an ageing population.
A source said he was also asked about his Take Back Control Bill, unveiled last week at his new year’s speech in east London, which promised to give more of Westminster’s powers to communities across the UK.
Sir Keir told those in the committee room that his ambition was to give people a say in how the country is run if he is elected to Downing Street.
He said it was a “compliment” that No 10 had “brought forward” Rishi Sunak’s speech after “getting wind” that the Opposition leader would be addressing the public before the Prime Minister.
Mr Sunak’s team ended up booking the same venue as Sir Keir, with the Tory leader giving his first speech of 2023 in Stratford 24 hours before his rival.
Sir Keir — who was loudly applauded after his address — said Mr Sunak had wanted to “spike our guns” by going first.
He hit out at the Prime Minster for offering pledges the Labour leader felt should be achievable for the current Government, but not offering “anything beyond that”.
“The Tories are on the run,” Sir Keir told his party.
In comments briefed to the press afterwards, Labour aides said he had spoken about wanting to be the “party of hope, of change, of optimism about Britain’s future”.
He is said to have told the PLP that the plan for making that happen would aim to “get Britain out of the brace position we’ve been in for too long, back on our feet, standing tall, as we should be”.
He told the PLP: “This year is going to be all about setting out that plan. So that when people ask us, ‘What is Labour for?’, our answer is simple: ‘To give Britain its future back’.
“We know the work will be tough, no one here doubts that. But we also know the prize at the end is massive.
“The chance to add ‘24 to ‘45 and ‘97 in the history books. The chance to rebuild our country. The chance of the greener, fairer Britain our people deserve.”