‘I’m a socialist’ says Starmer, as he defends rowing back on 2020 pledges

Sir Keir Starmer has described himself as a “socialist” after delivering his first major speech of the election campaign.

The Labour leader has faced criticism from some on the left of his party after rowing back on a number of promises he made when running for the party leadership in 2020.

But in an interview with the BBC on Monday, Sir Keir insisted he was both a “socialist” and a “progressive”, adding: “I’d describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second.”

Putting the country first was a key theme of his speech on Monday, his first major intervention of the campaign, in which he also discussed how his working class upbringing informed his politics.

The experience of seeing his parents choose to cut off their telephone rather than go into debt to pay bills, he said, meant he appreciated the importance of the security and economic stability that have become staples of Labour messages.

It is that focus on stability that Sir Keir said had made it necessary to row back on the promises of 2020, particularly on tuition fees, which he has previously said he wanted to abolish.

Asked if that was still the case, Sir Keir told the audience in Lancing, West Sussex, he thought there was “a powerful case for change”, with scrapping fees an option, but added the “huge damage to the economy done by Liz Truss and the Tories” meant he had to choose between abolishing tuition fees and providing more funding for the NHS.

He said: “I have taken a political choice, which is to say at the moment we have got to prioritise the NHS.”

Interviewed by Sky News later in the day, he said: “I think it’s important to stand in front of the electorate and say: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t now afford what I said before because of the damage being done to the economy.’”

He added: “Very many politicians pretend that they could do things when they know they can’t. I’m not going to do that.”