Sir Keir Starmer announced a £1.5 billion plan to tackle NHS waiting lists but urged the party not to become “giddy” at the prospect of power, ahead of the general election.
As activists gathered for what could be the final Labour conference before the election expected next year, Sir Keir said the party would make the “positive case for change” with a pitch to swing voters that would “weld together” competence and the offer of fresh hope after 13 years of Tory rule.
The party’s members gather in Liverpool enjoying consistent double-digit poll leads over the Tories and buoyed by the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election triumph over the SNP, but Sir Keir warned against complacency.
“So you won’t get razzmatazz. You won’t see mistakes that have been made in the past by opposition parties.”
In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, he set out proposals to pay doctors and nurses overtime to carry out more procedures like scans and operations at the weekend.
The plan, which the party estimates would create 2.2 million NHS appointments a year, would be backed by £1.5 billion which Labour says would come from scrapping the non-dom tax status.
“I think everybody knows someone who’s on the NHS waiting list. And I’m certainly not immune from that. This is a period of high anxiety for individuals – huge personal discomfort in many cases,” he said.
In an eve-of-conference reception for London Labour members, Sir Keir said: “I say to Rishi Sunak: if he wants change, bring it on.”
He told the crowd: “I don’t agree with Rishi Sunak on very much, but when he stood up last week and said we’ve had years of failure and we need a change, I thought he was spot on.
“We need change. He can’t be that change, he’s been the nodding dog as chancellor nodding through all the decisions he now says were so terrible they’ve got to change them.”
In other developments:
– Labour will issue a new membership card, with a commitment to “putting the country first” in what aides said was a sign that Sir Keir was leading a “proudly patriotic party”.
– Leading barrister and former wife of ex prime minister Boris Johnson, Marina Wheeler KC, to be appointed the party’s “whistleblowing tsar” to advise on reforms to protect women who expose people who bully and sexually harass staff, the Independent reported.
– Labour’s Small Business Sunday event will see company chiefs given the chance to mix with shadow ministers in the latest sign of the party’s attempts to build bridges with the business community.
His deputy leader Angela Rayner will open proceedings on the conference main stage and has said Labour is “certainly not taking anything for granted” despite the “seismic” win in the Rutherglen contest.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves will take to the main stage on Monday to detail Labour’s plans for economic growth, before Sir Keir’s keynote address on Tuesday.
This could mean cutting energy bills for people who live near onshore wind farms or electricity pylons.
“I think that people deserve something in return,” she told the paper. “It’s the same with housing.”
Elsewhere, shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood told The Sun on Sunday Labour must not be too “queasy” about concerns over high immigration figures.
But she denounced Home Secretary Suella Braverman for claiming a “hurricane” of migration was coming, describing the rhetoric as “the lowest kind of politics”.