Sir Keir Starmer said his decision to be “constructive” with the Government in its handling of coronavirus was part of proving to voters they can trust the Labour Party to be in power once again.
During an online conference call with voters, the Labour leader said he hoped the way he was leading the Opposition during the pandemic would help restore confidence in the party following a series of bruising election defeats.
Sir Keir said “rebuilding trust was critical” for winning back former supporters who had turned away from Labour at recent elections.
He said ensuring people had “confidence in the party to run the country” was a “very basic issue”.
His comments followed a question about how Labour would look to win back working class voters who had stopped voting for the party after deeming it to have swung too far to the left.
Labour lost swathes of seats across its traditional heartland areas in England and Wales at the December election, with Jeremy Corbyn leading the party to its worst polling performance since 1935.
Sir Keir, who took over from Mr Corbyn in April, told those participating in the Wolverhampton Call Keir session that one of the ways he wanted to restore trust, along with listening to the electorate, was to work with the Government over its handling of Covid-19.
He said: “One of the things I’ve tried to do early on is say, ‘we’re in the middle of a crisis with coronavirus, in a crisis a responsible Opposition is constructive with the Government’.
Call Keir event with people from Wolverhampton going on right now. Very good open discussion with @Keir_Starmer stressing how much Labour has to do to regain trust and asking every caller for their full candid views. pic.twitter.com/SmbIPbjh7h
— Pat McFadden (@patmcfaddenmp) June 4, 2020
“So where it is right to support the Government, we should do that even though normally in Opposition you don’t.
“So when the Government said we are going into lockdown, I said ‘we will support you, we will carry your message, we will tell people to follow Government advice’.
“I also agree with the easing of restrictions.
“I think the Government is making a bit of a mess of it at the moment, but the idea of easing it is obviously right.”
But the former director of public prosecutions said he would not shirk “challenging the Government where we think that is the right thing to do”.
He suggested not enough testing had been done initially and that Labour “don’t think their (the Government’s) tracing exercise is going to work”.
Sir Keir added: “I think trust is earned over time.
“I don’t think I can come on here and say look, ‘The Labour Party has lost four elections, it has got a new leader so you should trust us now’.
“People aren’t going to buy that, I don’t think.
“We have got to earn that trust in what we do over the next four years.”
The former shadow Brexit secretary also he thought Labour had found it difficult to speak out about other forms of racism while allegations of anti-Semitism blighted the party.
The party had been accused of not being quick enough to deal with complaints against its members during Mr Corbyn’s leadership and is currently under investigation by the equalities watchdog.
Since taking the helm, Sir Keir has apologised to the Jewish community and said he has set about putting in place better disciplinary processes.
Sir Keir said: “If I’m absolutely frank, I think until we’ve dealt with anti-Semitism or seen to be dealing with it, it was much harder for us as a party to blow the whistle or say what we needed to say on Islamophobia because my own sense was we needed to clear up our own house first, which is why I’ve been very strong on anti-Semitism during the two months I’ve been in office.”
He made the comments following a question from a former Conservative member who said he had quit the party because of the way it was allegedly failing to deal with Islamophobia.
The Tory Party is currently undertaking its own internal investigation into Islamophobia and discrimination within its ranks.