Streeting not ruling out Labour ditching more policies after setting ‘high bar’

Labour has said there will be a “high bar” for policies making it into the party’s election manifesto after it was accused of conducting a series of U-turns.

The party confirmed last week it would not strip some private schools of the tax breaks afforded to them by having charitable status, despite Opposition frontbenchers having regularly spoken about the benefits of such a change.

Sir Keir Starmer’s outfit has instead vowed to focus on removing the 20% VAT exemption on private school fees and ending the business rates relief from which independent schools benefit.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the party was reviewing its policy offer to ensure it was deliverable ahead of a likely general election next year.

The Tories said Mr Streeting had “let the cat out of the bag” that further “U-turns are on the way”.

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme whether the public could see more Labour policies ditched, Mr Streeting said: “It is no bad thing that we are working really hard to make sure there is a high bar to get into Labour’s manifesto.

“That bar is: is it credible? Can it be delivered? Will it make a real difference to people’s lives?

“That is how we formulate our manifesto and that is how we will be able to offer the real change our country needs.”

Mr Streeting, quizzed on the decision not to take forward reforms to the charitable status of paid-for schools, said the shadow cabinet was looking for policies that could “make the most difference most quickly”.

He said it concluded that ending the VAT exemption was “an easy thing for an incoming Labour government to do”.

The decision to leave charitable status intact will mean that some of the current perks will remain.

Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has dropped a number of pledges made during the leadership race (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Being able to claim gift aid on donations and not paying tax on annual profits, which must be reinvested in education, are among the tax breaks that the status confers.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has denied the stance on charitable status is a U-turn, with Labour insiders saying it was never agreed party policy despite being heralded by members of the shadow cabinet.

Since being elected Labour leader, Sir Keir has dropped a number of the pledges he made during his leadership campaign.

He ditched a commitment to abolishing tuition fees, saying the country now finds itself in a “different financial situation” after the pandemic and the economic damage done by Tory former prime minister Liz Truss and her mini-budget last year.

In August, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves confirmed that Sir Keir’s vow to increase the 45p top rate of income tax was off the table following hints from the party leader that it would not make the grade for the manifesto.

The Opposition party also postponed its green spending commitments, saying its promise to invest £28 billion annually in climate-related measures could not be achieved in the first year of a potential Sir Keir premiership.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting on the BBC One current affairs programme Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting on the BBC One current affairs programme Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

A Conservative spokesman said: “Keir Starmer’s shadow health secretary has let the cat out of the bag this morning, admitting more short-term Labour U-turns are on the way.

“Sir Keir Starmer is just like the same old politicians that have come before – always focused on the short term and lacking the backbone to make the big changes Britain needs.”

During his interview in Salford on Sunday, Mr Streeting appeared to hint that an announcement on social care could be coming at Labour’s party gathering in Liverpool.

Asked about when a plan might be unveiled, he said: “I’m going to try very hard not to torpedo next week’s Labour conference announcements.

“But let me tell you, in terms of health and social care – and you cannot separate the two, they are absolutely crucial for the future of this country – we are going to have a serious 10-year plan for health and social care that makes sure we have got both an NHS that is fit for the future, but also a social care system that is worthy of the name.”

Sir Keir was campaigning in Scotland on Friday ahead of a by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West this week as the party eyes up a major victory against the SNP.

Labour insiders described the mood as positive, with opinion polling suggesting support is growing for the party in the country.