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UK's Labour promises to end 'sticking plaster politics' with funded plans

Guests arrive at the BBC studios ahead of the Laura Kuenssberg show

By Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -Labour leader Keir Starmer pledged on Thursday to end Britain's "sticking plaster politics" if his party wins power in the next election, reassuring critics he would not open the chequebook to tackle a myriad of crises buffeting the country.

Saying his main opposition party is ready for an election, and has been for some time, Starmer used his first speech of the year to rubbish what he called "the bland promises" made just a day earlier by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a nearby venue.

With an election expected next year, Britain's main parties are already gearing up for a fight, with the two leaders keen to set out their solutions to a spate of strikes, record-high inflation, a healthcare crisis and a predicted long recession.

Speaking to Labour Party members at University College London's innovation and technology campus in east London, Starmer said his party was not resting "on our laurels" despite a double-digit polling lead over the governing Conservatives.

He launched a broadside against the Conservatives for seeking to tackle long-standing problems in Britain with short-term fixes which he said only lead to almost yearly crises.

"Well - no more. No more sticking plaster politics. No more Westminster hoarding power. No more holding back this country’s economic potential," he said.

"So this year ..., we’ll set out the case for change. The case for a new Britain. The case for hope. That the country will get better. That politics can be a force for good. That Britain can be run in the interests of working people."

He said his party would set out "national missions" over the coming weeks and sought to reassure those critics who said Labour under former leader Jeremy Corbyn did little more than offer to solve any problems by spending more public money.

"Let me be clear - none of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government cheque-book out," he said, without elaborating beyond the pledge that every Labour policy would be costed and funded.

"Of course investment is required - I can see the damage the Tories (Conservatives) have done to our public services as plainly as anyone else. But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess."

SOLVE BREXIT?

Labour has been courting business to help pay for the investment it wants to plough into its green and innovation plans and, while the party will strive for a closer relationship with the European Union, its public message is clear that it will try to make Brexit work rather than reverse it.

Starmer said he would introduce a new "Take Back Control" bill, borrowing a phrase made famous by ex-prime minister Boris Johnson in his pursuit of Brexit. "We'll turn it from a slogan to a solution. From a catchphrase into change," he said.

Some opinion polls in Britain have suggested more people would like to rejoin the EU as economic woes have deepened, some three years after it left the bloc and six years after a narrow referendum vote in favour of the move.

The government is still wrangling over issues such as post-Brexit trade to Northern Ireland.

But Starmer, who campaigned in 2016 to remain in the EU, said he would instead offer to decentralise decision-making from London, giving communities the kind of local control, or decision-making, they craved from Brexit.

"We can feel the public looking at us again - and we won’t let up. We’ll work every day to earn their trust," he said.

"Show them a new way of governing. And lead them to the fairer, greener, more dynamic Britain. Where aspiration is rewarded. Working people succeed. Communities control their own destiny."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)