SIR KEIR Starmer has said his party is still planning on nationalising rail services but would take a “pragmatic approach” to energy, water and mail.
In a round of media interviews on Tuesday morning, the Labour leader tried to clear up some of the confusion following his keynote speech on the economy and seemingly conflicting statements made by members of his shadow cabinet.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves had said the policy was not compatible with the party’s new fiscal rules.
However, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh took to Twitter to say Labour was “committed to public ownership of rail”. Her tweet was later shared by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.
When he stood in the contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader, Sir Keir claimed he would “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water” and said that “public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders”.
He also stood for election in 2019 on a manifesto committing the party to “bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership to end the great privatisation rip-off.”
Asked about the u-turn on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Keir said that Labour’s manifesto promises from the last election were “gone”.
“We start from a clean slate going forward,” he said.
Asked about the pledges from his leadership campaign, he said: “The financial situation has changed, the debt situation has changed,” he added.
He later told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve had the pandemic which has changed the debt situation for the country quite considerably.
“Unusually for an opposition, way before an election, we’ve said we want to be financially responsible, we’ll set out rules so everybody knows how we will fund every single thing we are saying we would do.
“That means for day-to-day spending will be raised through day-to-day outcomes, we will only invest for future investment and we will bring down debt.”
He said that for most utilities “the answer is going to lie in regulating the market, changing the market, rather than simply taking things into public ownership”.
He later told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that rail was “a bit of an outlier” as “large parts of rail are already in public ownership, and we would continue that.”
“So the rail situation is different because of the way their contracts are run,” he added. “But for me, I’m not ideological where I say public is good, private is bad, or private is good, public is bad.”
Asked about nationalising Royal Mail, Sir Keir said: “It’s very hard to see how you can nationalise within the fiscal rules, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a problem that needs fixing there.”
The Labour leader#s new position on public ownership was criticised by former shadow minister Diane Abbott.
The Corbyn ally tweeted: “Nationalisation is agreed Labour Party policy, in the manifesto we were all elected on.
“More importantly, it is vital for the economic transformation we need, to cut the cost of living, create well-paid jobs and end the dearth of investment.”
Richard Burgon, a former shadow justice secretary, said: “The greatest ever Labour government came to power on this day in 1945.
“It transformed our country through the creation of the NHS, a major house-building programme and by bringing rail, energy and more into public ownership.
“That bold vision is what Labour should stand for now.”
Momentum, the left-wing pressure group that grew out of Mr Corbyn’s two Labour leadership campaigns, claimed Sir Keir had “lied to members, lied to unions”.
They said the party chief would face a battle over public ownership policy at the party’s upcoming conference in Liverpool in September.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir urged his shadow cabinet not to join striking rail workers on picket lines during Wednesday’s industrial action.
“It’s quite open to people to express their support for working people who are struggling to pay their bills,” he said.
“But I’m very clear that the Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power.
“And a government doesn’t go on picket lines, a government tries to resolve disputes.
“I’m so frustrated with our Government because they could step in and help solve the dispute… I think the Government just wants to feed on the division.”
Last month a number of Labour politicians – including Scottish party leader Anas Sarwar – defied Sir Keir’s order not to appear on picket lines.
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