Labour's "First Steps": A Calculated Gambit or Genuine Vision for Change?

Keir Starmer's "First Steps for Change" plan aims to provide Britain with immediate relief and long-term renewal. But is it a genuine vision for change or a calculated political strategy? Our in-depth analysis explores the implications of Labour's six-point plan.

Labour's "First Steps": A Calculated Gambit or Genuine Vision for Change?

In a strategic move to position Labour as a credible government-in-waiting, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled his party's "First Steps for Change" - a six-point plan designed to provide immediate relief to the British public and set the stage for long-term renewal. But is this a genuine vision for transformative change or merely a calculated political gambit aimed at winning over swing voters?

Starmer's pledge card, reminiscent of Tony Blair's 1997 campaign, focuses on six key areas: economic stability, NHS waiting times, border security, clean energy, anti-social behaviour, and education. By prioritizing these issues, Labour aims to demonstrate its readiness to govern and its understanding of the nation's pressing concerns.

Step 1 - Economic Stability

The centrepiece of the plan is a commitment to economic stability. In the wake of the disastrous Truss mini-budget, which sent markets into turmoil and caused mortgage rates to spike, Starmer is positioning Labour as the fiscally responsible choice. By adhering to strict spending rules and only borrowing for investment, not day-to-day spending, Labour seeks to win back trust in the economy—traditionally a strength of the Conservatives.

However, this emphasis on stability has drawn criticism from some on the left, who argue that it represents a continuation of austerity-lite policies and fails to address the underlying issues of low growth and underinvestment in public services. Starmer's caution may be politically astute, but it risks alienating those hungry for radical change.

Step 2 - NHS Waiting Times

On the NHS, Labour's plan to cut waiting times by providing extra evening and weekend appointments is a welcome step, but it is no panacea. With a record 7.2 million people currently on waiting lists, the scale of the challenge is immense. While the 40,000 additional appointments per week will make a difference, Labour's reliance on staff overtime is a stopgap that fails to address the deeper issues of workforce burnout and chronic understaffing. Labour's NHS pledges risk falling short without a comprehensive long-term workforce plan.

Step 3 - Border Security Command

The proposed Border Security Command represents an attempt to outflank the Conservatives on immigration, an issue that Labour has often struggled to cut through. By focusing on tackling smuggling gangs and securing borders, Starmer aims to project an image of toughness while avoiding the toxic rhetoric that has poisoned the debate. However, some will question whether the counter-terror powers granted to the new command are proportionate or necessary, and there are concerns that this muscular approach could further stigmatize asylum seekers and refugees.

Step 4 - Great British Energy

Great British Energy, the publicly-owned clean power company, is perhaps Starmer's boldest and most distinctive policy. By investing in homegrown renewables and creating green jobs, Labour hopes to establish the UK as a clean energy superpower while cutting bills and boosting energy security. This vision of an active, entrepreneurial state marks a departure from the market-driven orthodoxy of recent decades and could help to drive the green industrial revolution Britain desperately needs.

However, after Labour watered down its green pledges at last year's conference, citing cost implications, there are doubts about the party's commitment to truly transformative action on the climate crisis. If Great British Energy is to succeed, it must be backed by a comprehensive green investment program and a genuine willingness to take on vested interests in the fossil fuel industry.

Step 5 - Anti-Social Behaviour

On crime, Labour's focus on anti-social behaviour taps into a real sense of public frustration and insecurity. The promise of more neighbourhood police and tougher penalties will resonate with many voters, particularly those in marginal seats outside the big cities. However, the evidence on whether increased patrols reduce crime is mixed, and there is a risk that this approach could exacerbate tensions between police and communities, particularly in areas where trust is already low.

Labour's pledge to create a network of youth hubs to tackle the root causes of antisocial behaviour is more promising. By providing young people with safe spaces, positive activities, and access to support services, these hubs could help break the cycle of alienation and disadvantage that often fuels criminality. However, the details of how these hubs will be funded and delivered remain unclear.

Step 6 - Recruiting New Teachers

Finally, on education, Starmer's promise to recruit 6,500 new teachers is a step in the right direction. Still, it lacks the transformative investment needed to build a world-class education system. With schools facing a perfect storm of budget cuts, staff shortages and rising child poverty, a few thousand extra teachers will only go so far. Labour needs to be bolder in its vision for education, with a clear plan to reverse the damage inflicted by a decade of austerity and tackle the entrenched inequalities that hold back too many children.

Political Reaction

The unveiling of Starmer's plan has sparked a flurry of reactions from across the political spectrum. Predictably, the Conservatives have come out swinging, accusing Labour of making unfunded spending commitments and threatening to raise taxes. The Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden dismissed the pledges as insignificant, claiming they "did not amount to a hill of beans."

The Tories have also sought to paint Labour as soft on immigration, warning that the party's plans include an "asylum amnesty" that would undermine efforts to control borders. This line of attack, while not new, reflects the Conservatives' belief that immigration remains a potent issue among their base.

More broadly, the Conservatives have sought to portray Starmer as a "serial promise breaker" who lacks the courage and conviction to stick to his pledges. They have described the "First Steps" speech as "window dressing" and criticized it for being shallow and lacking substance. This critique, while predictable, underscores the challenge Starmer faces in convincing a sceptical public that he is a leader of principle and integrity.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been similarly scathing on the other side of the aisle. SNP leaders have argued that the public "don't trust a single promise" Starmer makes, citing his slimmed-down list of pledges as evidence of a lack of substance. In the devolved parliament of Holyrood, senior SNP figure John Swinney has aimed at Starmer's pitch, arguing that it fails to address key issues like the crisis in NHS waiting times.

The SNP's criticism reflects Labour's unique challenges in Scotland, where the party has struggled to regain ground since its collapse in the 2015 general election. With the SNP continuing to dominate Scottish politics and the question of independence looming large, Starmer will need to work hard to convince Scottish voters that Labour offers a credible alternative to the Tories and the Nationalists.

Elsewhere, the reaction has been more muted. The Liberal Democrats, hoping to regain some of the seats they lost to the Tories in 2015 and 2019, have cautiously welcomed Starmer's plan while emphasizing the need for more ambitious action on climate crises and electoral reform. The Green Party, meanwhile, has criticized Labour's NHS pledges for failing to address the root causes of the crisis, namely chronic underfunding and staff shortages.

Overall, the political reaction to Starmer's speech suggests that the battle lines for the next election are already being drawn. The Conservatives will seek to paint Labour as fiscally irresponsible and weak on immigration while questioning Starmer's credibility and leadership. The SNP, meanwhile, will continue to argue that only independence can deliver the change Scotland needs while portraying Labour as a pale imitation of the Tories.

For Starmer, the challenge will be to cut through the noise and convince voters that Labour offers a genuine alternative to the status quo. By focusing on bread-and-butter issues like the economy, health and crime, he hopes to build a broad coalition to propel him into Downing Street. But with trust in politics at an all-time low and the scars of past defeats still raw, he will need to work harder than ever to earn the public's trust and confidence.


So, is Starmer's plan a genuine vision for change or a calculated political gambit? The truth is probably somewhere in between. By focusing on bread-and-butter issues like the economy, health and crime, Starmer is trying to reassure swing voters that Labour can be trusted with the levers of power. His emphasis on stability and responsibility is a deliberate attempt to draw a line under the Corbyn era and present Labour as a serious, credible alternative to the chaos and incompetence of the Conservatives.

At the same time, Starmer's plan contains flashes of genuine radicalism, particularly around clean energy and the role of the state in driving economic transformation. If Labour can build on these ideas and develop a more comprehensive vision for social and economic renewal, it could inspire the kind of broad coalition needed to win power and deliver meaningful change.

Ultimately, the success of Starmer's plan will depend on whether he can convince a sceptical public that Labour has both the competence to govern and the courage to tackle Britain's deep-rooted challenges. With the Conservatives mired in scandal and division and the country crying out for change, Labour has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine the political landscape. But to seize that opportunity, Starmer must be bolder, more ambitious and more willing to take risks than he has been.

The "First Steps for Change" is a good start but only a start. If Labour is to win the next election and deliver the transformative change Britain needs, it will need to go much further and faster in the months and years ahead. The question is whether Starmer has the vision, courage, and political skills to rise to that challenge.