I've changed Labour permanently, Keir Starmer says

Sir Keir Starmer has promised voters he will "fight for you" and put "country first, party second".

In his first major speech since the general election was called, the Labour leader said he could be trusted because he had "changed this party permanently".

And he urged people to trust him to deliver economic stability and protect national security.

Rishi Sunak said the country needed "bold action, not waffle".

"Not a single plan for the future," the prime minister added in a post responding to the speech on X.

Despite Labour's commanding lead in the opinion polls, Sir Keir acknowledged that many voters were not yet fully persuaded about his party.

"I know there are countless people who haven't decided how they'll vote in this election. They're fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the Tories, but they still have questions about us: has Labour changed enough?

"Do I trust them with my money, our borders, our security? My answer is yes, you can, because I have changed this party permanently," he said.

Later, Sir Keir told the BBC he did consider himself a "socialist".

He has been accused by many on the left of his party abandoning the socialist vision of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, but Sir Keir said: "I would describe myself as a socialist. I describe myself as a progressive. I'd describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second."

Sir Keir also told the BBC that Labour's plans did not mean taxes needed to rise, including the main rate of VAT.

He said: "Working people have been overburdened with tax increases in recent years.

"We have gone through all of our plans, and none of them require us to raise taxes."

This follows Sunday's announcement by Labour's shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves that there would be no income tax or National Insurance increases under a Labour government.

And pressed on whether there was a lack of enthusiasm for Labour, Sir Keir pointed to the party's performance in recent local and by-elections, saying: "It is quite obvious to me that people who have voted for other parties are now looking to the Labour Party."

Political background

In a personal speech on Monday, Sir Keir spoke at length of his own background, growing up in the small town of Oxted, Surrey, during "hard times" in the 1970s.

"My dad was a tool maker, he worked in a factory. My mum was a nurse... She never complained, but her illness did shape our lives.

"I know what out of control inflation feels like, how the rising cost-of-living can make you scared of the postman coming down the path: 'will he bring another bill we can't afford?'"

Elections were "about more than individual changes and policies, but about values, temperament, character and a bigger question: whose side are you on?" he added.

"Who do you hold in your mind's eye when you are making decisions?

"Everything I have fought for has been shaped by my life, every change I have made to this party has been about a cause, the answer to that question, the only answer: the working people of this country delivering on their aspirations, earning their respect, serving their interests."

Sir Keir, who became leader in April 2020, was frustrated during the pandemic that he never had a proper opportunity to introduce himself to voters.

With the election campaign now under way, he feels it necessary to tell voters something of the person who wants to be prime minister.

The Labour leader said his experiences had "shaped the plan I have drawn up for Britain and the importance, above all, of economic stability".

Sir Keir referred to the Post Office Horizon and infected blood scandals, saying: "For a long time now, working people have believed opportunity in Britain is stacked against them.

"But now we are at a dangerous new point, close to crossing a Rubicon of trust, not just in politics but in many of the institutions that are meant to serve and protect the British people."

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden dismissed the Labour leader's speech as "wearisome and rambling" with "no policy, no substance, and no plan".

"Once again Keir Starmer stood up to tell the country absolutely nothing... The question remains: will Starmer ever find the courage and conviction to tell us what he would do, or does he simply not know?

"The choice is clear: stick with the plan that is working and take bold action for a safer, more secure future with Rishi Sunak or go back to square one with Labour."

The Conservatives also claimed on Sunday the Labour leader does not have the "stamina" to campaign, saying he had been "resting at home".

On Monday, Sir Keir dismissed that as "desperate", saying: "I've wasted nine years of my life in opposition. I've worked four-and-a-half years to change this Labour Party, and now I've got the chance to take that to the country.

"So we're doing that not only with energy, but with a smile, with positivity across all of our candidates as we go into this election."