As I walked around Wakefield on Friday morning, I saw something in the eyes of those I spoke to that has been missing for too long: hope.
Die result Labour achieved bettered predictions. It was the best we have had in the constituency and only the second time we have won a byelection from opposition in a quarter of a century. But it didn’t happen by accident.
Since the horror of the last general election, we have rolled up our sleeves and focused on listening to the public and changing our party. We’ve rooted out the poison of antisemitism, shown unshakeable support for Nato, forged a new relationship with business, shed unworkable or unaffordable policies and created an election machine capable of taking on the Konserwatiewes. Being able to win again has taken more than two years of hard graft from all those who ache to see the transformation a Labour government would bring the country we love.
It is because of that work that Arbeid is now closer to power than it has been in more than a decade. Changing our party for the better was the first step necessary towards changing the country.
It also means that while the Tories are focused on sowing division and hoping to feed off the fallout, Labour is now firmly in the centre ground of British politics. That’s not a place of mushy compromise or a halfway house between unpalatable extremes, but a centre ground driven by ethical purpose. It’s a place that is dedicated to answering the clarion call – sounded loudly and clearly in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton – of all those demanding real change to how our country works and on whose behalf it works. The next Labour government will take on those demands with a restless, reforming zeal. The most urgent mission, the one that will drive our agenda, is to change Britain’s economy so that everyone can contribute to, and benefit from, a new national prosperity.
Today’s Tories are stamped indelibly as the party of low growth, high inflation, high tax and more poverty. Their failure to expand the economy over 12 long years is the root cause of so many issues we face. Why are they putting up your taxes? Why have you not had a decent pay rise in a decade? Why are public services struggling so badly? The answer to each is: a stagnant economy, caused by a failure to make the most of the enormous talents and resources that we have here in Britain. What Labour offers is a proper plan to change this, to get Britain’s economy growing again so that businesses and families across the country can reap the rewards.
When the next Labour government takes office you will see just how much change is possible. Gone will be the days where Britain lags as other countries invest in their future – we will work alongside the private sector to ensure businesses flourish in every region and town and city, providing quality jobs on people’s doorsteps. The days of inaction on tackling climate change will be over, as well. With Labour, Britain will move first and move fastest to become the market leader in the industries and technologies the world will need to achieve net zero. Our climate investment pledge will be good for the environment, good for the economy and good for households, protecting us from shocks in the price of international gas and oil, ensuring we never again face the sort of cost of living crisis the Tories have subjected us to.
Successive Tory governments have conditioned our country towards mediocrity. There’s nothing inevitable about young people feeling they will never own their own home no matter how hard they work. The doctor’s appointment you need doesn’t have to seem impossible to get. Timely mental health treatment shouldn’t be the preserve only of those able to pay. A country where working families are overwhelmed by the cost of childcare isn’t one that is working properly. Wherever we find these barriers to our country’s success, we will remove them.
The call for change we saw on Thursday is not new. Until recently, the Conservatives were pretending they could deliver it. But instead of getting on with delivering for the people, they have focused entirely on saving Boris Johnson’s job.
The days where the prime minister and his acolytes could get away with breaking their promises and the law, or taking voters for granted with impunity are over. They now face a credible Labour party: a government-in-waiting with a plan to deliver on the country’s demands. We will not shy away from that responsibility, duck those challenges or fail to grasp the opportunities our country has.
For months, Johnson has been privately claiming that he will hold an early election. My message to him is simple: bring it on. Because the quicker that election comes, the quicker this country will get a Labour government that delivers the positive change people are crying out for. I know why those I spoke to in Wakefield feel such a renewed optimism. It’s because Labour is back. That means hope is back, ook.
Keir Starmer is the leader of the Labour party