Tories no longer a patriotic party, says Starmer

Tories no longer a patriotic party, says Starmer

The Conservatives are no longer a patriotic party, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Labour leader accused the Tories of denigrating “some of our proudest national institutions” and lacking faith in the strength of British identity to “withstand discussion”, as he laid claim to the mantle of “the patriotic party”.

In an opinion piece published in the run-up to St George’s Day on Tuesday, Sir Keir spoke of his “pride and gratitude” at being English, saying Labour was “at its best when it has celebrated, defended and served the values of our country and its people” and promised to “always put country above party”.

Asking whether the Conservative Party was “really capable of serving anything other than itself”, he said: “I don’t think so.

“In fact, frankly, when you’ve trashed the economy, hammered mortgage holders, weakened the union, neglected our forces, repeatedly broken laws you expected others to follow and denigrated some of our proudest national institutions, from the BBC to the National Trust to the England football team, I’m afraid you have lost any right to call yourself a patriotic party.”

Denmark v England
Sir Keir Starmer criticised the Tories for ‘denigrating’ the England football team over their decision to ‘take the knee’ as a protest against racism (Nick Potts/PA)

In recent years figures in the Conservative Party have criticised the National Trust for examining its properties’ links to slavery and colonialism, while others condemned England footballers for “taking the knee” as a protest against racism.

Saying that the Conservatives had overseen a period when pride in British identity had become “more contentious”, Sir Keir added: “Shouting ‘woke’ doesn’t just undermine the proud British traditions of free speech, dissent and independent thinking.

“At best, it suggests they don’t have faith in the strength of our history, identity and flag to withstand discussion.

“At worst, they don’t care if division weakens our nation if it strengthens their grip on power.”

He added: “I won’t let the Tories chip away at our boldness and confidence.

“To be proudly English means to be proudly ourselves, to hold firm to our convictions and be able to speak our mind – and be civil when others speak theirs. No, Labour is the patriotic party now.”

Tony Blair
Sir Keir Starmer’s comments echoed those made by his predecessor, Tony Blair, in the mid-1990s as he tried to cast Labour as the patriotic party (Michael Stephens/PA)

Sir Keir’s comments echoed those made by Tony Blair nearly 30 years ago when, as leader of the opposition, he too accused the Tories of lacking patriotism, telling the 1995 Labour Party conference: “It’s no good waving the fabric of our flag when you have spent 16 years tearing apart the fabric of our nation.”

Last month, a backbench MP claimed Labour’s use of the Union flag on its campaign material was “detrimental” to its chances in areas with large ethnic minority populations, prompting condemnation from both the party leadership and Conservatives.

In his piece, Sir Keir said he had “no time for those who flinch at displaying our flag”.

He said: “The cross of St George belongs to every person who loves this country and seeks to make it better – a symbol of pride, belonging and inclusion.

“We cannot allow it to become the preserve of the tiny minority who want to drive hatred in our communities.”