British Labour leader Keir Starmer has urged his party to “get serious about winning” and embrace change if they are to boot Boris Johnson out of Number 10.
In an attack on former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, Mr Starmer said Labour “deserved” to lose the last election because they failed to gain the public’s trust on key issues such as national security and the economy.
At the party’s annual conference today, he said the historic electoral rout last year had installed a prime minister who was “not serious” and “not up to the job” of running the country.
“It’s a betrayal of what we believe in to let this go on. It’s time to get serious about winning,” Mr Starmer said, while not directly mentioning his predecessor.
He told delegates in a virtual address from Doncaster: “That means we have to change, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Labour recorded its worst showing since the 1930s after the Tories won an 80-seat majority, which they used to take Britain out of the EU earlier this year.
Mr Starmer said his party must take the blame for “granting the Tories a decade of power”.
“Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money,” he said.
“That’s what being under new leadership means.
“When you lose an election in a democracy, you deserve to.”
Mr Corbyn’s left-wing views attracted hundreds of thousands of new members to Labour, but he presided over two election defeats.
The next election is not due until 2024 and Mr Starmer, a former human rights lawyer and public prosecutor who was elected leader in April, set out no concrete policies.
But he said he would lead according to his values of “decency, fairness, opportunity, compassion and security” – including national security, an area where Mr Corbyn lost support.
Doubling down on Mr Johnson, Mr Starmer attacked the prime minister’s character and elastic approach to the truth in both his political career and his former job as a journalist.
“While Boris Johnson was writing flippant columns about bendy bananas, I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists,” he said, referring to the Prime Minister’s stories about EU regulations.
“While he was being sacked by a newspaper for making up quotes, I was fighting for justice and the rule of law.”
Mr Starmer repeated his accusation that the government was guilty of “serial incompetence” in response to the pandemic, which has killed at least 42,000 people in the UK – the worst death toll in Europe.
Of Mr Johnson, he said: “He’s just not serious. He’s just not up to the job.”
Opinion polls suggest such attacks are winning public support, with one recent YouGov poll putting Labour and the Tories level for the first time since Mr Johnson took over in July 2019.
Mr Starmer has also halted the exodus of Jewish members sparked by allegations – strongly denied – that the fervently pro-Palestinian Mr Corbyn ignored widespread anti-Semitism in the party.
On Tuesday, Mr Starmer paid tribute to Jewish former MP Ruth Smeeth, who spoke out about the abuse she received, after she introduced his speech.
Her seat in the central English city of Stoke-on-Trent was one of a string of former Labour strongholds that fell to the Tories in December, and which Mr Starmer must win back to take power.
Many voters were wooed by Mr Johnson’s promise to end years of political arguments over how to implement the 2016 referendum vote – and put off by Labour’s own muddled policy on Brexit.
Mr Starmer urged voters to “take another look” at his party and despite his own opposition to leaving the EU, declared the debate over.
He demanded Mr Johnson deliver on his promise to get a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc, amid fears that the current deadlock in talks will lead to huge economic disruption.
“If that happens, he’ll have nobody to blame but himself,” he said.
“We want to get this deal done.”
In the absence of any clear policies, many Corbyn supporters are still wary of Mr Starmer’s leadership.
But the Tories rejected his attempt at a re-brand, saying the years Mr Starmer spent in Corbyn’s top team showed he was “just more of the same old Labour”.