Keir Starmer photo Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: RWENDLAND/CC
Keir Starmer photo Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: RWENDLAND/CC

John Williams, Cardiff East Socialist Party

In the so-called ‘class ceiling’ speech from Labour leader Keir Starmer, supposedly on transforming education, we heard baseless sound bites and no policies – just what we’ve been used to! The Labour leadership actually prides itself on saying it won’t commit to any new funding.

In his speech, Starmer conveniently missed out that it was a Labour government, under Tony Blair, which first brought in tuition fees. Now they’re more than £9,000 a year, riddling millions with debt. Under Starmer, Labour has U-turned on Jeremy Corbyn’s previous policy for free university education.

Starmer has promised to bring ‘child poverty reduction specialists’ into schools. But if he was serious about ending child poverty, Labour would commit to providing free school meals for every child. This was Labour’s previous policy under Corbyn, until it was changed by Starmer.

Labour will ‘save’ £400 million a year by scrapping its previous free school meals policy in England. But what a difference this would make to families.

Labour is in power in Wales, so could be showing a lead on this. But instead, Welsh Labour is failing to tackle child poverty just as much as Starmer’s pledges would.

In 2020, Welsh Labour’s scandalously voted down a proposal in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) to introduce free school meals for all children whose families receive Universal Credit.

Wales has the highest levels of child poverty in the UK. But under Welsh Labour, we also have the lowest provision of free school meals.

But, under pressure, Welsh Labour has been forced to zig-zag on this issue. The Welsh government has now said it will eventually bring in free school meals for primary pupils.

Councils have been told they will be funded to give pupils free meals ahead of the painfully slow timetable. But only one council in the whole of Wales is actually giving all primary school children in its area free meals.

Starmer says he wants to “improve teacher recruitment and retention”. But it’s clear that pay and conditions are the biggest factors in retention. This is what teachers in the National Education Union (NEU) in England are still striking for.

But, yet again, when Starmer was asked directly if Labour would meet the NEU demands on pay, or even implement the 6.5% pay rise suggested by the ‘pay review body’, he refused to answer. The exact same line as Rishi Sunak and the Conservative government.

The constant U-turning from Keir Starmer and Labour, away from the anti-austerity policies of Jeremy Corbyn has led to anger and disappointment, especially from young people. Some climate activists interrupted Starmer’s speech, and unfurled a banner saying: “No more U-turns – green new deal now”.

Beforehand, the two students had been invited on stage to stand behind Starmer during the speech. The group’s spokesperson later said that if Labour “is going to use young people as props, [it] should be interested to hear what they have to say”.

They’ve got every right to be angry, with Labour dropping its previous pledge of £28 billion for climate measures.