Sir Keir Starmer makes Staffordshire trip in visit to 'key battleground seat'

Labour leader Keir Starmer insisted he wants the same change as Staffordshire residents, during an election campaign visit to a key battleground seat. Sir Keir met a group of Conservative-to-Labour swing voters at Stafford Rangers FC on today (May 25), after spending the morning canvassing Stafford residents with local Labour candidate Leigh Ingham.

He said that Stafford voters had told him they wanted the government to tackle cost-of-living crisis and NHS waiting lists, which 'chimed' with Labour's priorities. Stafford is considered a bellwether constituency, with the overall victor taking the seat in every general election since 1983 - showing its importance to both Labour and the Conservatives ahead of the poll on July 4. The seat was won by Conservative Theo Clarke in 2019, after swinging to the Tories in 2010.

During his visit to Stafford, Sir Keir confirmed that a Labour government would introduce votes for 16-year-olds, but refused to say whether he wanted Diane Abbott back in the party. Sir Keir insisted Labour would deliver the things people in Stafford want, such as a stable economy and 40,000 more NHS appointments every week.

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He said: "The change people in Stafford are asking for is the change I want to deliver. The biggest issue that came up this morning was the cost of living - specifically mortgages. I was talking to a couple who have just come off their five year fixed-term mortgage, just a couple of miles up the road, and they're now having to pay £250 more each and every month. So the change they want to see is a stable economy that means they don't pay the price of the government's shambolic handling of the economy - that is our number one first step.

"The other thing that came up this morning was the NHS. I had one person who was relying on the NHS and another person who worked in the NHS. They desperately want to see the waiting list come down, because they know that that has to be the first step in relation to delivering an NHS that's back on its feet and also fit for the future.

"I'm pleased to say that here in Staffordshire, things that are being said to me on the doorstep chime with the priorities we will have as an incoming Labour government."

Labour activists believe that winning seats like Stafford will be key to ensuring their party secures a healthy majority in the general election - suggesting why the town was chosen for Sir Keir's first campaign visit to the West Midlands. But the Labour leader insisted he was not taking Labour victories for granted in more 'winnable' seats, such as those in Stoke-on-Trent.

He said: "I'm taking absolutely nothing for granted. The last thing I am is complacent, because I'm humble enough to know that we have to earn every vote. That means we have to earn the trust of voters in Stafford and Staffordshire, some of whom didn't vote for us last time. We have to demonstrate that we're a changed Labour Party - this is not the Labour Party that fought the election in 2019."

During the media round in Stafford, Sir Keir was quizzed about Diane Abbott's suspension, and he repeatedly avoided saying whether he wanted to see her back in the party, insisting that it was an issue for Labour's national executive committee.

Kevin Collier, from Milwich, was one of the local people who chatted with Sir Keir in Stafford, having previously been a traditional Conservative voter. He said the Labour leader was someone he would 'have a pint' with, and dismissed the current Conservative Party as a 'vanity project', referring to Rishi Sunak's ill-fated election announcement.

He said: "I think it's time for a change. If your main man sees it's raining and doesn't wear a raincoat, it's not a good look is it? It's been a bit of a vanity project at the moment, given the recent incumbents of Downing Street. I think it's time for real change. I think Keir can deliver that.

"If you don't get the economy right, it makes it very difficult to fix the fabric of society. It's like in football - you win at football by doing the fundamentals, the basics, really well, and then you've got the foundations. I think Keir and his team are in a great position to do that for us."

The parliamentary candidates announced for Stafford so far are: Theo Clarke (Conservative), Allan Vernon Gray (Workers Party), Leigh Ingham (Labour), Michael Riley (Reform), and Scott Spencer (Green).

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