Starmer tells his cabinet: now it’s time to deliver on our promises

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Keir Starmer on Saturday rallied his new cabinet behind an ambitious agenda to reform the country’s creaking public services and reset damaged relations abroad during his first full day as prime minister.

After an extraordinary 48 hours that saw Labour storm to a landslide general election victory with a massive Commons majority of 174 while the Tories were routed, Starmer said he was “restless for change” and determined to deliver on his campaign pledges.

The prime minister cracked the whip as he held the first cabinet meeting, stressing the importance of each minister delivering on the party’s pledges and maintaining the highest standards of probity.

“I had the opportunity to set out to my cabinet precisely what I expect of them in terms of standards, delivery and the trust that the country has put in them,” he said.

Starmer made clear that, under his leadership, politics would be returned to a duty of service, in contrast to the last 14 years of Tory rule. “Self-interest is yesterday’s politics,” he said.

Shortly after the cabinet meeting, he moved straight to the first press conference of his prime ministership, at which he was adamant that, while Labour could not change the country by “flicking a switch”, no time would be wasted in beginning the task of national renewal.

He said “raw honesty” was needed about the state of the health service, agreeing with his health secretary, Wes Streeting, who said on Friday that the NHS was fundamentally “broken”.

Work to realise Labour’s pledge of 40,000 extra NHS appointments a week “starts straight away”, Starmer said, adding that ministers were looking at how St Thomas’ Hospital in central London and other hospitals across the country, including Leeds, had already increased appointments “of their own volition” by setting up schemes under which staff were given incentives to work later in the evenings and at weekends.

“We’ve talked through with them how they did it … they will go across the country to be deployed to help set up the model in other hospitals as quickly as we can,” he said. “So I can’t say by day X it will happen, but we’ve already had quite some discussions about how that will be rolled out from day one.”

Keir Starmer holds his first press conference at 10 Downing Street.View image in fullscreen

On the overcrowded state of the country’s prisons, Starmer said action was needed urgently.

“We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons. That’s a monumental failure of the last government, on any basic view of government, to get to a situation where you haven’t got enough prison places for prisoners – doesn’t matter what your political stripe, that is a failure of government.”

His government would look at how to ease planning rules so more prisons could be built quicker, he said, and also at early interventions to make sure young boys in particular did not get involved in offences such as knife crime.

A Ministry of Justice source said on Saturday night: “As the prime minister said yesterday, our prisons are broken. After 14 years of neglect, they are unsafe and catastrophically close to bursting at the seams.

“This is not an unforeseen crisis but one caused by irresponsible stewardship. We have been left with no choice but to consider difficult short- and long-term decisions to defuse this ticking timebomb.”

Late on Friday, Starmer appointed the businessman and prison reform campaigner James Timpson as his new prisons minister.

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When asked about Timpson’s recent claim that a third of prisoners should not be there, he cited his experience as director of public prosecutions, where he saw young offenders who could have been prevented from veering into lives of crime.

“I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts, watching people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison,” the prime minister said.

Marking a complete departure from the previous government’s immigration policy, Starmer said its Rwanda scheme was now “dead and buried” and that he was not prepared to carry on with such “gimmicks”.

“It’s never been a deterrent,” he said. “Look at the numbers that have come over in the first six and a bit months of this year; they are record numbers – that is the problem that we are inheriting.”

MPs will return to the House of Commons on Tuesday, including the 334 new MPs. Their first task will be to elect a speaker, and then they will be sworn in over several days.

Starmer suggested that his new government would be making a string of announcements over the coming days to maintain the momentum of change. The prime minister will embark on a tour of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday before heading to a Nato summit that starts in Washington DC on Tuesday.

The new foreign secretary, David Lammy, has already embarked on his first trip abroad, which will take him to Germany, Poland and Sweden to meet his counterparts in each country, signalling his commitment to a working closely with key European partners.. He will then join the prime minister at the Nato meeting in Washington. Lammy has already said he intends to “reset” relations between the UK and the EU that have been damaged by Brexit.

In a further signal of a desire to improve relations with European countries, Starmer held a call on Saturday with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in which he made the case for “building greater economic cooperation”.In a call with French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders discussed “furthering the close cooperation between the UK and France”.


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