Starmer again distances himself from Jeremy Corbyn and past election results

Sir Keir Starmer has again tried to distance himself from predecessor Jeremy Corbyn by claiming the Labour Party “drifted” at previous general elections.

The current Labour leader said there was a new focus on “country first, party second” after it had previously been a party that was “looking down on people”.

Earlier this week Sir Keir said the Conservatives had built a “Jeremy Corbyn-style manifesto” that will “load everything into the wheelbarrow” without explaining how to pay for it.

Questioned over his support for Mr Corbyn in 2019 during a Sky interview on Wednesday, he said he was “certain” Labour would lose the election but made “no apology” for backing Mr Corbyn at the time.

Sir Keir Starmer being interviewed by Nick Robinson
Sir Keir Starmer’s interview with Nick Robinson aired on BBC1 on Friday evening (Jeff Overs/BBC)

The comments prompted Mr Corbyn to accuse Sir Keir of “rewriting history” and having “double standards”.

In a Panorama election TV interview with BBC journalist Nick Robinson broadcast on Friday evening, Sir Keir reaffirmed his claims.

Put to him by Mr Robinson that the public were not sure what he stood for, Sir Keir said: “I took a decision, Nick, that we had to change the Labour Party and drag it closer to the country, and I did that having thought long and hard about the last four elections, because we lost in 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019, and I took the view that that was because we had drifted too far from working people, our central purpose, we had drifted to a place where we were essentially looking and feeling like a party that was looking down on people across the country, and we got very badly beaten in 2019.”

Asked if he meant what he said about Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir replied: “I have changed my mind and the reason for that, is having reflected politically on those four losses in a row, I took the decision that we needed to change the Labour Party and drag it closer to the country.”

Mr Robinson and the Labour leader covered a series of topics during the interview, including the police, healthcare and defence.

Put to him that public services will need to be cut in light of Treasury figures predicting £18 billion of cuts, Sir Keir said there would be a “cash injection straight away” into police, hospitals and schools and Labour would carry out reform to provide “a really better service”.

Pressed on whether there would be cuts in other areas as a result, Sir Keir said: “Firstly, we’re not going back to austerity. I ran a public service during austerity, I know what that feels like, I know the damage that it did, and that’s been the legacy of the last 14 years, so we’re not going to go to austerity.

“But secondly, I do want to take on this challenge that you rightly put to me in relation to tax and spend.”

Mr Robinson referred to Sir Keir’s sentiment in a previous election debate that he would not use private healthcare, even if somebody was in real need.

Mr Robinson asked: “Are you hostile to people who go private? Do you think they’re queue jumpers, that it’s unfair?”

Sir Keir replied: “I’m not hostile in the slightest. I completely understand why people would go private. I know people who have because they wanted to have an operation more quickly, to get back to work or get back to something else.

“I think I was asked… would you go private to, as it were, skip the waiting list to get an operation done, to which I said ‘No, that wouldn’t be my instinct.’

“The NHS is the single best place if you’ve got an acute problem and that is why even in private hospitals, they refer into the NHS for acute care.

“If I had an acute care, life-threatening issue for me or my family, the very best place to be is in the NHS.”

Asked by Mr Robinson if he was ready to use British military power and project that stance abroad, Sir Keir said he would “take whatever action we need to take” to defend and protect the country.

Put to him that he previously ruled out illegal wars and promised plans to introduce a “prevention of military intervention” act, the Labour leader responded: “I said we wouldn’t be taking military action if there wasn’t a sound legal basis for it.

“Second thing I said is that we’d have to have an absolutely clear aim and outcome.”