Sir Keir Starmer said he is “very comfortable” with displaying his patriotism and warned that “competence” on its own will not be enough for Labour to win the next general election.
The Labour leader said he is on a “four-year journey” to turn around the “worst loss since 1935” as he faced questions about why the party is still trailing in the polls despite the Government’s record during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sir Keir would not say whether he views himself as “woke” but said he is a “values-led person”.
The Labour leader has endured a rocky ride in recent weeks, with the leak of a strategy document suggesting the party must demonstrate its patriotism in order to attract voters, criticism from former allies, and a simmering row with supporters of predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
Asked what he stands for, Sir Keir told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “A driving determination to root out inequality and insecurity in our country, in our society and in our economy, and to build a better future for Britain.
“Yes, I’m patriotic – that was one of the issues that was in this report that was leaked – of course I’m patriotic. I want to be prime minister of this country because I want this country to be even better than it is now.
“Actually, the whole Labour movement is very patriotic, we are in politics to change our country for the better, you can’t be more patriotic than that, and I’m very, very comfortable with it.”
Sir Keir said he has shifted the party from facing questions over its survival to whether it will be able to form the next government.
“That tells you how far we’ve come,” he said.
“Did I think this was a one-year project that we could turn around the worst loss since 1935 in 12 months? No, I didn’t. Do I think competence is enough? No, I don’t. Do I think it’s a four-year journey? Yes, I do.”
On other issues:
– Sir Keir said he wants a “fair and humane” system but “free movement is gone” following Brexit.
– He does not support decriminalising cannabis possession but there “may be something” in initiatives to issue cautions for low-level crimes and there is “always room for grown-up debate” on the issue.
– The Government “should go further than current legislation” on trans rights but “there are no easy answers”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has described US President Joe Biden as a “woke guy”.
Asked if he endorses that description, Sir Keir said: “I’m a values-led person and I think that is what Joe Biden is.”
Pressed on whether that is “woke”, Sir Keir said: “Well, look … this bandying of words around doesn’t help.
“I’m values-driven, I’m utterly determined that we can do something to tackle inequality, to tackle insecurity, and we can do that sooner than we think if we pull together as a party, pull together as a movement.
“We obviously lost very badly in December 2019; I am convinced and I’m fighting every day, week, month and year into 2024 that we can turn this around and bring a Labour government in in 2024 and make the difference we need for our country.”
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell called for Sir Keir to end the feud with Mr Corbyn by readmitting him to the Parliamentary Labour Party.
“Let’s unite the party as he promised, that does mean giving the whip back to Jeremy Corbyn.
“Let’s unite the party so that we can move on and really be an effective Opposition, holding this Government to account but presenting an alternative.”
Mr Corbyn had the Labour whip withdrawn following his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into anti-Semitism.
Mr McDonnell also said people – including Sir Keir – “should get angry” with the Government.
“We need action from this Government, we need to hold it to account and, yes, we need to be putting forward alternatives now.
“We can’t wait until the next election; we need to be bringing forward the policies that can provide people with hope and a vision of a better society.
“Keir’s speech during the week framed this debate, now we’ve got to drive it forward.”