Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (2024)

Keir Starmer spent more than half an hour answering questions on a visit to The Northern Echo’s newsroom on Friday.

The Labour Leader looks set to be Prime Minister after the General Election, whenever it is held.

He said his party is now “fundamentally different” to that which suffered a devastating defeat under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

On a visit to our Darlington HQ, he praised our campaigns to save Hitachi and to end knife crime as he spoke to our reporters, and student journalists from Darlington College and Sunderland University.

Q. How have you found it speaking to people here in the North East this morning?

KS: “There is no substitute for being out and about talking to people, you can’t read a briefing and get a proper sense of what people are thinking we have to go where they are, talk to them and hear in their words.

“I much prefer being out of Parliament. I just feel being across the country and talking to people is so much better.

“In Hitachi, there’s this real concern about the contract, you can feel the anxiety. I was talking to them yesterday afternoon, the anxiety of people there who’ve put a huge amount into what is a very successful business. For some, they’ve invested everything there and now they’re really worried the government’s not doing what it needs to.

Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (1)

Lola McEvoy, Rachel Reeves and Keir Starmer in Darlington on Friday. (Image: PA)

“We’ve been having a discussion over coffee with some residents in Darlington about the cost of living, how it’s impacted them and to sense the frustrations they feel when the Prime Minister says we’ve turned a corner and everything’s picking up, their lived experience is a million miles away from that.

“Almost every cost has gone up, tax has gone up, council tax is going to go up, wages pretty flat. People just can’t afford things. Twice today I’ve had people say I don’t really take holidays anymore because I can’t afford to do so. You could say that’s not the end of the world but it’s those things that are the difference between surviving and thriving.”

Q. What is your first priority if you win the General Election?

KS: Our number one mission is to grow the economy and to get more money into each of our areas and regions.

That has to be growing the economy everywhere across the whole country.

I want properly funded public services. I want our NHS to be back on its feet.

Q. Will Labour keep or scrap the Rwanda scheme?

KS: “Rwanda is a very expensive gimmick that isn’t going to work. We don’t believe in the Rwanda scheme.

“It’s cost £300m already, another £50m about to be paid for it, for a few hundred people to go when there are tens of thousands of people who aren’t having their claims processed.

Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (2)

Sir Keir Starmer. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“It’s not going to work, it’s a gimmick, an expensive gimmick at that but we do need to stop the boats.

“That requires us to focus in on the gangs that are running this trade. They’re criminal gangs, they’re making money putting people in those boats. The way they do it isn’t sophisticated, the boats are being stored in warehouses on the continent and brought to the north coast of France.

“Before was in this job I was Chief Prosecutor for five years and we had to deal with terrorist gangs operating across borders, those smuggling guns and drugs across borders and we took them down.

“If anyone wants to persuade me you can take down terrorists, take down gun smugglers but somehow you can’t take down the people running these gangs – take a running jump.”

Q. Will you look at giving mitigating circ*mstances to GCSE and A-Level students at RAAC-hit schools like St Leonard’s in Durham?

KS: “We need to look at that in terms of the particular students impacted.

“There’s a frustration here shared by every student and parent caught up in this. Many of the schools now having these problems with RAAC are schools that were on the list in 2010 to be rebuilt and the government came in and put a red pen through all of that.

“Here we are 14 years later with a massive problem.

“As to the particular mitigation for those that have got exam results that might be different, I need to take that away and have a look at it.”

Sir Keir Starmer (second from left) with the Echo's Gavin Foster, Chris Lloyd and Daniel Hordon. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

Q. Last year you met with the mums of knife crime victims as part of our campaign and said their testimony would influence your policy. What will you do?

KS: “That meeting we had was very, very impactful in terms of what happened in that case.

“Knife crime has gone through the roof since 2015 and I think the government’s lost any sense of grip on this. We can’t continually be reactive, we’ve got to get ahead of this.

“I feel very strongly we’ve got to ban the online purchase of zombie knives and other knives. It’s too easy to get hold of them.

“I spoke to a mother whose boy had been murdered just after his GCSEs, my boy is about to do his GCSEs so these things hit hard. He had been stabbed with a knife which had been sent through the post, been picked up at the Post Office by a 15-year-old boy, handed to him with no ID and when they searched the 15-year-old boy after the murder they found about 20 of these knives in his bedroom, all of which had come through the post.

“We won’t catch every case but there are indicators when young people are getting into trouble and may be on the wrong end of a knife or maybe using a knife.

“If you carry a knife, you carry the consequences. All too often our research shows us the consequences are not what people think it’s going to be.

“I’m a father of a 15-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl – it impacts every parent in the concern that everybody has about the safety of their children.”

Q. What do voters tell you Labour got wrong in 2019?

KS: “You’ve drifted too far from where we are. Too far from the core concerns of working people and that’s why what I’ve been doing with the Labour Party for the last four years is turning it inside out to take it back to its core purpose of serving working people and that was absolutely crucial.

“I felt very strongly you cannot and should not say to the electorate you’re the ones who got it wrong, we were right all along.”

Q. Will Labour keep freeports if it wins the General Election?

KS: “We won’t be getting rid of freeports where they exist and there’s a lot of thinking going into what’s happening at Teesport that we saw for ourselves last week.

“Because of the scale of the challenge we’re going to face I don’t want to waste time unpicking things that we may not have done initially but now are beginning to take shape.”

Q. Is Labour committed to the Darlington Economic Campus and moving power out of Westminster?

KS: “It’s good to move some of the government departments out and to have people coming from London and other places to come and live in Darlington. I don’t think that should be the height of the ambition.

“I am very committed to the idea that we push power and resource and decision-making away from Whitehall. I do not think the best decisions about Darlington are made by people sitting in Westminster and Whitehall. I think they’re more likely to be made by people with skin in the game.

Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (4)

Sir Keir Starmer visited The Northern Echo''s newsroom. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“It’s got to be an empowering thing that goes beyond civil servants coming and living here, which is a good thing, but that in itself isn’t a plan.”

“Mayors are a very good example. What I want is where we’ve got the mayors to link up with central government and the two of them working together. We need to build on that model – more power, resource, decision making to our mayor but not working on their own, they have a great convening power to bring businesses, communities, and other politicians together around a plan for each area.”

Q. Will you support local news organisations to help protect local democracy?

KS: “I stand in support of what you do. I know the threats that you’re under here and we are very supportive of what you are wanting to achieve.

“If we believe in local media we’ve got to put out money where our mouth is. I’m not in a position to say what money we’re going to spend under an incoming government - I’ve just been with Rachel Reeves and as you know she’s got iron rules about spending.

“If you lose your local media then you lose something which means a lot to people, and also the campaigns that you run. Look at Hitachi, that puts pressure on politicians, that is a good thing because the people working there and their families absolutely depend on that. Look at what you’re doing on knife crime. Otherwise, these things are just dotted around, someone’s got to pull it together and say there’s bigger going on there.”

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Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (5)

Sir Keir Starmer Q&A: Labour leader answers our questions on visit to Echo newsroom (2024)
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