Starmer: Reforming Labour is Blair’s Clause Four moment ‘on steroids’

Sir Keir Starmer will claim that his project of reforming Labour is an “on steroids” version of Sir Tony Blair’s symbolic rewriting of Clause Four.

The Labour leader will draw a link to Sir Tony’s momentous 1995 decision to ditch the party’s constitutional commitment to “common ownership of the means of production”, in a speech where he is also expected to stress that his vision for the party is more than just distancing it from the Corbyn era.

In a speech at the Progressive Britain Conference in central London on Saturday, he will say: “The Labour Party will only restore hope in the country if we once again become the natural vehicle for working people, an agent for their hopes and aspirations, a party of the common good.

“Some people think that all we’re doing is distancing ourselves from the previous regime – that totally misses the point.

General Election 1997
Labour’s current leader will be hoping to emulate the success of Tony Blair in 1997 (Fiona Hanson/PA Archive)

“This is about taking our party back to where we belong and where we should always have been… back doing what we were created to do.

“That’s why I say this project goes further and deeper than New Labour’s rewriting of Clause Four… This is about rolling our sleeves up, changing our entire culture – our DNA. This is Clause Four – on steroids.”

The speech comes after a successful set of local elections for Labour, with a general election largely expected to be held next year.

The Conservatives lost nearly 1,000 councillors, as voters turned to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Sir Keir will tell his party that it is on a “path towards power”, but will warn that there is “still more work to be done, and the toughest part lies ahead”.

But he will also use the speech to stress that the party will face a set of circumstances perhaps unprecedented for any incoming Labour government, if it does win over voters in the next national poll.

Sir Keir will say: “We’ve got to navigate our way through revolutions in technology, in energy, in medicine and, with an ageing society, even in who we are. Climate change is a recipe for global instability. The global economy, the shape of power in the world, is changing. There is war on our continent. And then there’s the state of our country after 13 years of shambolic Tory government.

“If you think our job in 1997 was to rebuild a crumbling public realm, that in 1964 it was to modernise an economy overly dependent on the kindness of strangers, in 1945 to build a new Britain, in a volatile world, out of the trauma of collective sacrifice, in 2024 it will have to be all three.”

The speech will also see Sir Keir take aim at Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives for stoking a so-called “culture war”.

He will say: “I have never believed there was an appetite for culture war politics in this country. You don’t need to humiliate people to move our country forward – you need to bring people together.”

Sir Keir will also claim that the Conservatives have even failed to act “conservative”, with a promise to “stand up for the things that make this country great”.

He will say: “We must understand there are precious things – in our way of life, in our environment, in our communities – that it is our responsibility to protect and preserve and to pass on to future generations.

“And look, if that sounds conservative, then let me tell you: I don’t care. Somebody has got to stand up for the things that make this country great and it isn’t going to be the Tories.

“That in the end is one of the great failures of the last 13 years. A Tory party that in generations past saw itself as the protector of the nation and the Union has undermined both.

“They’ve taken an axe to the security of family life, trashed Britain’s reputation abroad, and totally lost touch with the ordinary hope of working people.

“The Conservative Party can no longer claim to be conservative.

“It conserves nothing we value – not our rivers and seas, not our NHS or BBC, not our families, not our nation.”

Touching on the topic of patriotism, he will also tell the conference: “Patriotism is about putting the country first, about serving your country, not just parading its symbols like the Tories do, but that working people do need to see your commitment to service.”

The Conservatives, ahead of the Labour leader’s speech, accused him of a cynical rebrand.

Party chairman Greg Hands said: “Starmer has backtracked on every pledge he has ever made and he is now cynically trying to rebrand his own flip-flops as ‘reform’.

“Starmer is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Everyone knows he tried to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister twice and defended his view of the world. A Labour government would just revert to the same old Labour habits – spending too much, hiking taxes, increasing debt and soft sentences.”