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Labour urged to scale up its ambition to change crisis-wracked Britain

MODEST measures for cautious change were unveiled as Labour’s election offer to crisis-wracked Britain today.

Critics from unions, the Labour left and economists all declared that its plans for government did not meet the scale of the challenges facing the country.

Leader Sir Keir Starmer launched the party’s manifesto with a pledge to put “wealth creation” first, with an emphasis on growth but few concrete ideas as to how to generate it.

Speaking in a hall in Manchester festooned with banners setting out the six small steps Labour has identified as governing priorities, the triumphalist Labour leader boasted: “Jeremy Corbyn is not just not a candidate, he has been expelled from the party.”

With Labour’s £28 billion a year green prosperity plan scrapped under shadow chancellor Rachel Reeve’s flint-faced Treasury dogma, Sir Keir could only explain his growth strategy thus: “We will reform the planning rules and build the homes and infrastructure up.

“We will level up your rights of work and raise your wages and your security.

“We will create a new industrial strategy, and we will back it with a national wealth fund, invest in clean steel imports, giga batteries, and we will create 650,000 new jobs.”

This is hardly likely to generate sufficient growth in the first years of a Labour government to obviate the need for public spending cuts, given the miniscule revenue-raising measures Sir Keir and Ms Reeves are committed to alongside commitments not to increase debt.

However, the Labour leader still ruled out any return to austerity, saying “we will never do that to our public services,” but his hope that the mantra of “stability, investment and reform” will generate enough growth in enough time is shared by very few economists.

The manifesto’s much-fought over passage on workers’ rights commits to legislation in the government’s first 100 days but only after consultation with business. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said Labour’s growth plans “may move the dial somewhat” but that “alone is not likely to be enough.”

She said: “To fix Britain after years of Tory neglect is going to need more money and there are clear choices to be made.

“Labour need to make government count. They can and need to make real change.

“The rise of the far right throughout the West should send alarm bells ringing in Westminster.

“People want to see tangible results and politicians must listen to workers and communities.”

The union did not endorse the manifesto because of policy dilutions on workers’ rights and its ban on new oil and gas exploration licences.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea was more positive, saying that the manifesto showed “how a Labour government could rebuild a Britian broken after years of Tory austerity and chaos” and GMB general secretary Gary Smith said the workers’ rights package was “a once-in-a-generation chance to completely transform the lives of working people.”

The London Renters Union said that Labour’s “vague” proposals to “empower renters to challenge unreasonable rent increases” would fail to put the brakes on skyrocketing rents and leave millions trapped in unaffordable homes for decades to come.

Union spokeswoman Siobhan Donnachie said: “If the next government does not make urgent and wide-reaching interventions, the housing emergency will deepen and ordinary people will pay the price. 

“We need rent control now, and in the long-run, we need a shift away from a system that relies too heavily on unaccountable private landlords towards one with far more social homes.”

Momentum chairwoman Kate Dove said: “Labour’s current commitments fall short of what is needed. 

“If elected, Labour must go much further to fulfil its promise to the British people of change.”

The manifesto promises full continuity with Tory policy on prolonging the war in Ukraine and the militaristic Aukus pact, while on Palestine it moves away from the party’s previous commitment to the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, saying that it would come “as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution.”

It called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages and “a rapid increase of aid.”

Other immediate commitments include cutting NHS waiting times, setting up a publicly owned GB Energy and hiring 6,500 new teachers, which works out at half an extra teacher for every school.

The commitment to abolish the House of Lords has been abandoned and replaced by removing the right to vote from hereditary peers, a ban on MPs holding second jobs does not appear, and there is no mention of scrapping the Tories’ cruel two-child benefit cap.

The launch was briefly disrupted by a protester from the Green New Deal Rising group, who shouted “you promised change but it’s the same old Tory policies” at the Labour leader.

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