Labour must be ready to fight a general election in as little as two years, Sir Keir Starmer has warned as he promised bold action to “get Britain working again”.
Sir Keir, who marks the first anniversary of his election as party leader, said Labour’s ambition “must match the moment” with a plan to build an “economy that works for everyone”.
His rallying call comes against a backdrop of mounting criticism of his leadership as the Conservatives have steadily pulled ahead in the polls since the turn of the year.
He has faced accusations that he has been too cautious and failed to offer a clear direction for the party, while the Tories’ fortunes have benefited from the rapid rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.
Writing in The Observer, Sir Keir appeared to acknowledge some of the criticism directed at him, declaring: “For me this is personal.”
He went on: “My dad worked on a factory floor all his life. I know the pride that comes with a good wage and job security and my passion is delivering that for the next generation.”
Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act the next general election is not due until May 2024, but Boris Johnson has pledged to repeal the legislation and Sir Keir predicts the PM will probably go to the polls well before then.
“I’ve instructed the party to be ready to fight one as early as 2023,” he said.
Sir Keir said success would offer Labour a chance to reshape the country, ending the idea that inequality between different areas and different races is “somehow inevitable”.
He said: “Labour must be bold. Ahead of us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink what Britain can be, where power lies and who it works for.
“Our ambition for Britain must match the moment. Not merely fiddling with tax incentives or creating pots of money for towns to scrap over, but creating an economy that works for everyone.
“The opportunities ahead of us are huge. The task for Labour is clear: to get Britain working again.”
In the longer-term, he said there will have to be a major overhaul of public services, with a focus on preventing societal ills rather than simply alleviating them.
“Creating a health system that is the envy of the world won’t just be about spending money on the NHS, it will mean a radical rethinking of everything from early intervention to fitness to education,” he said.
At the same time, he said Labour will take on “the increasingly toxic way public life is conducted”, with a patriotism that is “optimistic and inclusive, not jingoistic”.
He added: “The rise of nativism and nationalism have wrenched people apart.
“It is because we love this country and its people that we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. Labour’s patriotism is optimistic and inclusive, not jingoistic.
“It is the belief that there is nothing inevitable or unsolvable about the problems around us.
“It is the hope for a greater, safer, greener, more prosperous future for our country – and it is the resolve to make it happen.”