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Sir Keir Starmer has dropped Labour’s plans to renationalise the UK’s Big Six energy companies as he seeks to take Britain’s main opposition party in a less radical direction.
Asked if a Labour government would nationalise the energy sector amid a spiralling gas and electricity price crisis, the leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, “no”, adding: “I do not agree with the argument that says we must be ideological”.
The last Labour election manifesto in 2019 under former leader Jeremy Corbyn promised to nationalise various industries including rail, energy, water and broadband provision.
When running for party leadership in early 2020 Starmer said he would uphold those policies. However, he is expected to drop many of the former pledges, reflecting a more pro-business approach than his predecessor.
“When it comes to common ownership I’m pragmatic about this, I do not agree with the argument that says ‘we must be ideological’,” he said on Sunday.
His comments appear to be at odds with Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary, who recently said on the BBC’s Newsnight that the party still supported nationalisation of the energy industry.
Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday that he had not abandoned the idea of “common ownership” altogether, giving the example of how the government’s “Track and Trace” Covid-19 programme should not have been outsourced to the private sector.
The start of Labour’s annual conference in Brighton this weekend has been dogged by an internal row over the party’s rule book, which will be resolved in a vote on Sunday afternoon.
Starmer has, meanwhile, sought to flesh out the policies he would take forward if Labour wins the next election, including an end to tax breaks for private schools.
He said Labour would end the existing charity status for private schools, which would raise about £1.7bn a year for other educational priorities.
Starmer will also use his speech on Wednesday to pledge scrapping universal credit benefits replacing them with a new social security system and a plan to get all under-25s into jobs or training.
Miliband used his speech on Sunday to announce a £3bn investment over a decade to support the steel industry’s efforts to decarbonise.
“We will make the steel industry not simply a proud industry of our past and present but a proud industry of our future,” said the shadow business secretary. “That’s what I mean by a green industrial revolution.”
Conference delegates will vote at 5pm on a package of Labour rules changes designed to make it harder for the party to elect a future leader from the hard left.
The Labour leader was unable to force through a proposal to scrap the current one member, one vote policy in favour of a return to an electoral college made up of MPs, union members and constituency members.
However, Starmer did win approval from the party’s ruling national executive committee on Saturday for a package which would still turn the clock back on the Corbyn era.
The proposals would see any leadership candidate need backing from 20 per cent of MPs, up from 10 per cent. That would make it much harder for a left-winger to get on the ballot, given that most MPs are more centrist than the grassroots members.
Momentum, the leftwing pressure group, said changing the threshold would destroy the right of ordinary people to shape the future of the party.
“If the 20 per cent threshold applied to the 2020 leadership election it would have been a contest between Sir Keir Starmer QC and Sir Keir Starmer QC,” it said.
A second change in the package of measures would make it harder for grassroots members do deselect MPs with the threshold for “trigger ballots” lifted.
Thirdly the party would no longer allow non-members to become registered supporters who could vote in leadership elections in exchange for a fee of £25.
A failure to secure backing for the proposals would be a humiliating setback for Starmer’s reform project.
But Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor and MP for Leeds West Labour, said Labour needed to change its rule book if it wanted to “face outwards” to voters rather than members.
“I spent the best part of that summer (2019) focusing almost exclusively on what the 1,200 members of Leeds West Labour party wanted, rather than the voters,” she told the Sunday Times. “It was three months before the general election.”