Sir Keir Starmer has insisted Labour is being “straight” with voters, as the party faced criticism over the decision to ditch a key pledge to spend £28 billion a year on green projects.
Environmental groups, trade union allies and energy industry figures have all expressed disappointment at the U-turn – while the Tories have continued to attack Labour’s fiscal credibility.
Senior Labour figures took to the airwaves in the wake of the announcement as Sir Keir sought to present a united front with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and climate secretary Ed Miliband, the latter seen as a key backer of the now-junked policy.
“And I think the British public appreciate us being straight and saying because of the damage the Tories have done, we can’t now do everything that we wanted to do.
“I would much rather be straight with the British public than make a promise I can’t keep.”
Sir Keir has insisted the ambitions behind Labour’s flagship green prosperity plan remain the same, and recommitted to his mission to achieve clean power by 2030.
But the party’s plan to insulate homes is set to be one casualty of the climbdown, with five million expected to be completed in the first five years rather than the 19 million initially promised.
Ms Reeves defended the move earlier, telling BBC Breakfast: “I’ll make no apologies for ensuring that our plan is fully costed, fully funded and deliverable within the inheritance we’re going to get.
“It is going to be a bleak inheritance after the damage the Conservatives have done to our economy.”
She said: “In the almost three years that I’ve been shadow chancellor, I think people have heard loud and clear from me that fiscal responsibility, economic responsibility, are the most important things for me because it is absolutely essential that the public finances are managed well.”
“And when economic circumstances change, your plans have to change as well,” Ms Reeves added.
Mr Miliband, who was said to have pushed strongly for sticking with the £28 billion figure, insisted he did not consider resigning over axing it as he argued Labour still has a “massive agenda to invest in the future of the country”.
He told Channel 4 News: “Britain is going to move the dial on climate and that is the test. That’s why I’m in frontline politics because I care so much about this cause, and my test of what we’ve come up with is does it meet the criteria I have? And absolutely it does.”
Speaking to Sky News, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds also insisted the plan was still ambitious.
“I’d love it to be different but we have to be honest and candid about the impact it has.”
The spending pledge was first made in September 2021 and Labour has blamed Tory stewardship of the economy and higher interest rates since then for the reversal.
Concerns have been expressed by some Labour MPs on the left of the party, including Clive Lewis and Barry Gardiner, while the Unite union – a major party donor – said the party risks “outsourcing their policy-making to the Conservatives”.
Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of trade association Energy UK, also warned that “business needs to know that politicians won’t pull the rug from under them”.
The Tories had seized on the original pledge as a key attack line in the run-up to an election this year, claiming Labour would ultimately have to raise taxes to meet the “unfunded spending spree”.
The Prime Minister told broadcasters: “I think what Labour announced yesterday just demonstrates what we’ve been saying – they absolutely don’t have a plan.
“Their signature economic policy is in tatters, and when you don’t have a plan, you can’t deliver any change for the country.”