Voices: Keir Starmer’s New Year speech: what he said – and what he really meant

What Keir Starmer said, at UCL Here East in the Olympic Park, east London: 2023 marks a new chapter for Britain, with a new King to be crowned in May. We must look forward with hope. But for hope to flourish, Britain needs change.

What he really meant: The royal family is a disaster zone. We need to get rid of them as an urgent priority.

What he said: Amidst all the chaos is a growing impatience for change, for real change, lasting change, national renewal. And yes, as they’ve done throughout our history, the British people are turning to Labour to provide that change.

What he meant: They usually turn to Labour in the middle of Conservative governments and then turn back to the Tories again by the time election day comes.

What he said: In 2022 they looked at us again and I felt, for the first time in a while, we could return their gaze with confidence.

What he meant: The Labour Party is no longer an embarrassment. Vote for us.

What he said: But our task for 2023 is not to rest on our laurels. We need to push forward and rise to the moment; prove we can be a bold, reforming government.

What he meant: These are very comfortable laurels. I am enjoying resting on them. Resting on them is a much harder task than it looks. I am 20 points ahead in the opinion polls.

What he said: That’s my message of hope for the New Year. We’re going to roll up our sleeves, fix the problems and improve our country.

What he meant: I am a man of my word. I have rolled up my sleeves to deliver this speech. If that’s too literal, you will notice that I am also standing in front of some heavy machinery, although this is actually a university, and I don’t mention either of those in my speech.

What he said: I grew up working class in the 1970s, I know what a cost of living crisis feels like. The anxiety and shame of not being able to pay bills that only months ago were affordable. Our phone was cut off like this. And that was it. There were no mobiles.

What he meant: I am the sort of person Rishi Sunak did not know when he was at Winchester College. I am also quite old.

What he said: We got through it. Britain will get through it. The problem is that’s exactly what the Tories are banking on. They’re going to turn round in 2024 and try to claim some kind of political credit for the sacrifices working people are making now, as if it’s not their mistakes people are paying for – again.

What he meant: Everyone knows we are paying for the huge cost of the coronavirus crisis – decisions supported by working people to protect jobs – but I’m the opposition and my job is blame the government.

What he said: That’s why showing how we can change the country is so important this year – Labour can lift that burden. Give people a sense of possibility again. Light at the end of the tunnel.

What he meant: That was basically what Rishi Sunak offered yesterday. I haven’t got a better plan than he has, but I can hope that the voters are just tired of the Tories.

What he said: Britain needs a completely new way of governing.

What he meant: We must carry on as before, but with different faces in charge.

What he said: I’m utterly convinced about this – the Westminster system is part of the problem.

What he meant: You must believe me. I only became an MP to tear the system down from the inside. But first I want to become prime minister, so bear with.

What he said: I came to politics late in my career. I’ve run large organisations, institutions that had to serve our country, and I’ve changed them all – including the Labour Party.

What he meant: I am not like the others. Certainly not like Sunak, who is also trying to tell you he’s different. Has he run the Crown Prosecution Service? Has he run the Labour Party? Has he run all those other large organisations, such as Socialist Alternatives magazine, that I have run? Case proven.

What he said: Yes, there are good people [in Westminster] of course – many MPs share my determination to tackle Britain’s problems quickly. But as a system – it doesn’t work.

What he meant: Most Labour MPs are useless.

What he said: You know, sometimes I hear talk about a “huge day in Westminster”, but all that’s happened is someone has passionately described a problem, and then that’s it. Nothing has changed, but the circus moves on. Rinse and repeat. Honestly, you can’t overstate how much a short-term mind-set dominates Westminster.

What he meant: Today is a huge day in east London. I will passionately describe a problem, and then the circus will move back to Westminster, which is where the real action is.

What he said: You saw it yesterday from the prime minister. Commentary without solution. More promises, more platitudes. No ambition to take us forward. No sense of what the country needs. Thirteen years of nothing but sticking-plaster politics.

What he meant: And you see it today from me. No cheque-book. Not even any promises, actually, but some nice lines that will get me through the next news cycle.

What he said: One of the greatest privileges of being born in Britain – certainly for all of my life – is knowing that if you get ill, if you have a serious accident, you’ll get decent healthcare. Whatever your circumstances. Not every country has that – and the anxiety it causes is huge.

What he meant: Actually, the only rich country that doesn’t have healthcare for the poorest is the US, and we will use that as an argument against any change in the NHS. It’s fine, because it’s what most people in Britain believe.

What he said: No similar country puts so much decision-making in the hands of so few people.

What he meant: Fortunately, this is not a quantifiable statement, so Full Fact can skip it.

What he said: We will modernise central government so it becomes dynamic, agile, strong and, above all, focused. Driven by clear, measurable objectives. National missions.

What he meant: Above all, buzzwords. Management jargon. Baskets and buckets of objectives. And definitely not in silos.

What he said: But let me be clear: none of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government cheque-book out.

What he meant: In the bits that were briefed to the press yesterday, this sentence ended “...again”. Someone clever noticed that this might be taken as a criticism of Gordon Brown for overspending, so I dropped it.

What he said: But we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as simple as that.

What he meant: I can’t promise you anything, but honestly, the Tories have made such a mess of things I really don’t need to.

What he said: The decisions which create wealth in our communities should be taken by local people with skin in the game.

What he meant: Labour stands proudly for building no new houses, anywhere. Vote for us, nimbys, not the Lib Dems.

What he said: I go back to Brexit … It’s not unreasonable for us to recognise the desire for communities to stand on their own feet. It’s what “Take Back Control” meant. The control people want is control over their lives and their community.

What he meant: Sunak mentioned Brexit once yesterday, in passing. I am going to wrap it round his neck.

What he said: So we will embrace the Take Back Control message. But we’ll turn it from a slogan to a solution. From a catchphrase into change. We will spread control out of Westminster … All this will be in a new “Take Back Control” Bill – a centrepiece of our first King’s speech.

What he meant: King, country and stealing Tory messages wholesale. I am a socialist. Vote for me in due course. If it’s not too much trouble.