Keir Starmer has billed a Labour plan to overhaul the constitution, including greater devolution and abolishing the House of Lords, as an attempt to seek longer-term political solutions rather than what he called “sticking plaster politics”.
Ahead of the formal launch in Leeds on Monday of the 40-point plan written by Gordon Brown, the Labour leader rejected the idea that voters would be less interested in such reforms than in cost of living issues, saying many day-to-day problems were exacerbated by a fixation on short-term thinking.
On the Brown plan, Starmer endorsed the idea of replacing the Lords with an elected chamber focused on devolution, but refused to commit to this happening during a first Labour term, saying a timetable for all the ideas would be consulted on.
It was, however, Starmer told BBC One’s Breakfast programme, “utter nonsense” to say constitutional reform and devolution was an irrelevance to people’s lives.
“I‘m not going to shy away from the medium and long term because that’s what we’ve been doing for 12 years. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in,” he said.
“It’s the same old story of this government, whether it’s cost of living, whether it’s the energy crisis, whether it’s the NHS. I think it’s time to call time on this sticking plaster politics.”
Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future, which will be co-launched by Starmer and the former prime minister, also makes recommendations on devolution and the future of the union, with a particular focus on a transfer of power from Westminster to local areas.
Brown recommends cultivating “300 emerging clusters of the new economy” and eliminating “Westminster and Whitehall bias and giving everywhere a fair share of our future prosperity”.
“This is about answering the question: how do you allow decisions about people to be made close to where they are, and by them?” Starmer said.
“One of the reasons that our economy has failed over the last 12 years or so is because we haven’t used all the resources, all the innovation, all the ability and talent that we’ve got across the whole of the country. And that’s because too much power in the end is held in Westminster.”
On abolishing the Lords, Starmer said it was clear the current upper chamber was “indefensible” as a concept.
“Anybody who looks at the House of Lords would struggle to say that it should be kept,” he said. It would be replaced by “an elected chamber that has a really strong mission”, much of it related to devolution and the regions.
But Starmer refused to confirm whether this would happen in a first Labour government, following reports his team worried this could take up too much political bandwidth.
The timing to implement Brown’s recommendations would be put into “a process of consultation”, Starmer said, adding: “Obviously, there’s a discussion to be had about how and when every bit is implemented.”
As well as abolishing the Lords, Brown is seeking new rules to “end the undue influence of wealth and foreign money, and prevent MPs part-timing the job”.
Brown also recommends “tighter enforcement of the rules, with the public directly represented in a new integrity commission” for politicians and public life.