Keir Starmer has said a Labour government would not seek to nationalise the big six energy companies, apparently ditching a leadership campaign pledge to “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”.
Appearing on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday as Labour’s annual conference kicked off in Brighton, Starmer was asked directly whether he would consider nationalising the key energy providers to tackle the energy crisis. He replied: “No.”
Instead, he said Labour would advocate nationalisation only when it would deliver improved value and services for taxpayers.
“When it comes to common ownership, I’m pragmatic about it,” he said. “Let me spell it out. What that means is that where common ownership is value for money for the taxpayer and delivers a better service, then I’m in favour of common ownership.”
During his Labour leadership campaign, one of Starmer’s 10 key pledges was that “public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water.”
The shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, suggested on Newsnight earlier in the week that the party was about to renew its commitment to common ownership of energy and other public resources.
“We haven’t changed that commitment,” Miliband said. “If we’re going to make this green transition, then public ownership is the right way to go.”
Starmer will make his first in-person conference speech to Labour members and MPs on Wednesday, after kicking off the gathering with an internecine wrangle about how his successor will be chosen.
He defended his decision to push for a change in Labour’s leadership rules at the conference, saying “a tough, strong leader makes tough decisions”.
Starmer also gave a veiled slapdown to his deputy, Angela Rayner, who spoke at a fringe meeting on Saturday night calling the Conservatives a “bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute pile of banana republic …”
The Labour leader said it was “not language I would use” and said “Angela and I take different approaches”. Asked if she should apologise, he said: “That’s a matter for Angela, but I would not have used those words … I will talk to Angela about it later on.”
Having criticised the government’s national insurance rise as unfairly hitting workers, Starmer also did not rule out increasing income tax to raise public finances.
“We are looking at tax – nothing is off the table – but we don’t know what the state of the national finances will be as we go to the election,” he said. “What we don’t want to do – whether it’s income tax, or any other sort of tax, national insurance – is unfairly to hit working families, which is what this government is doing.”
Starmer also hinted at a wealth tax to rebalance the fairness of the taxation system. “Look at the choice the government is making. Under their provision, under their tax they announced the other week, those with many properties as landlords don’t pay a penny more, their working tenants do,” he said.
Citing the gap between the children of wealthy and poor families being further exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Labour leader also set out a plan to increase the tax burden of England’s private schools by scrapping their charitable status – a move that he said would raise an estimated £1.6bn from VAT and £100m from business rates.
Starmer said: “This is a political choice to take that money and switch it to our state schools so that children and young people in our state schools have the best chance they can have to come out of schools ready for life, ready for work.”