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Keir Starmer launches Labour’s general election campaign in Abergavenny

Keir Starmer speaking to television reporters after launching Labour's general election campaign in Wales at the Priory Centre in Abergavenny (Pic: LDRS)

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer brought his campaign to be Britian’s next prime minister to a key Gwent seat and launched the party’s push in Wales. 

Along with first minister Vaughan Gething he unveiled the party’s “six steps for change in Wales” which closely resemble Labour’s six steps announced earlier in May, before the election had been called. Those are economic stability, cut NHS waiting times, a new border security command, a state owned clean energy company and a crackdown on anti-social behaviour. 

The sixth step is to recruit 6,500 new teachers which would only apply in England with the Welsh pledge being to recruit new teachers.

Similar to the promise on waiting times is related to a devolved responsibility already under the Welsh Labour Government’s control and Wales has the longest NHS waits in the UK. 

The event, at the Priory Centre in Abergavenny next to the Priory Church, was attended by high profile Welsh candidates, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. 

Candidates from key target seats also spoke from the stage – with Labour bringing the fight to Monmouthshire an area where it hasn’t won in a general election since 2001 and which has been represented for the past 19 years by Conservative Welsh secretary David Davies. 

His Labour challenger, Catherine Fookes a county councillor from Monmouth, told the assembled crowd of party volunteers and council leaders from across Wales: “We have to win in Monmouthshire if we want to see Keir head the next UK government.” 

She also said her Conservative opponent shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Labour Monmouthshire candidate Catherine Fookes at the party’s Welsh launch event in Abergavenny (Pic: LDRS)

Mr Starmer – who was introduced on stage by a “lifelong Conservative voter” and RAF veteran from another key Welsh constituency who intends voting Labour in July – spoke without notes, only prompts from key words on a video screen at the back of the hall, on the six steps and promised to fight for steel jobs in Port Talbot. 

He said: “I’ve been there and looked them in the eye and I will fight for every single job and the future of steel here in Wales.” 

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The video screen displayed “Working with Vaughan” at several points in the Labour leader’s speech and he promised there would be “no more conflict” between the Westminster and Welsh Governments and said they would be two governments working together. 

Keir Starmer speaking from the stage at the Priory Centre in Abergavenny launching the Labour Party’s general election campaign in Wales (Pic: LDRS)

Following the speeches Mr Starmer did a round of interviews with television and other media where he faced a number of questions on whether Diane Abbbott, the UK’s first Black female MP, could stand again as a Labour candidate and if he will instruct those who are standing not to knock on doors during England’s football matches in the Euros which coincides with the later stages of the general election campaign. 

The Labour leader repeated several times that Ms Abbott is a “trailblazer” but “no decision” has been taken on whether she could be a candidate, and refused to offer his own opinion. 

A ban on knocking on doors during England matches was a “good point” and the Labour chief said he would be watching the matches rather than campaigning. 

He was also questioned about a vote of no confidence that has been tabled on Welsh leader Mr Gething, who is under fire over a £200,000 donation from a firm owned by a man convicted in relation to dumping waste on the protected Gwent Levels. 

It is “absolutely clear that no rules have been broken” in relation to the donation said Mr Starmer who dismissed the confidence vote as “just the Conservatives playing games”. 

The party’s first step on economic stability promises “tough spending rules to grow the economy” but the Labour leader said there would be “no return to austerity”. When questioned on the two pledges on devolved areas he said they could be delivered as a result of new spending in England, paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and new taxes on private schools. 

Head teachers in Monmouthshire have urged parents to lobby the Labour-led council and Welsh Senedd members for more funds – as they fear having to make cuts to support for pupils with additional learning needs, projects to improve attendance and after-school activities.

Mr Starmer suggested the sixth step on recruiting new teachers is around additional funding rather the a guarantee on new teachers, that could only be delivered by the Welsh Government. 

He said: “What I’m setting out is the first steps that we would take in a Labour government if we’re privileged enough to come in and serve and how that would apply in Wales. 

“Obviously as far as teachers are concerned that’s a matter for Wales, that’s not a matter for me. But it’s important because if we put money behind more teachers in England that necessarily means more money for Wales so it is an important first step for Wales.  

“What Wales is already doing is what I think is the biggest school and college building programme since the 1960s and what I was saying here is imagine what more we could do if you had a joined up government with a prime minister working together with the first minister here, delivering education.”