Sir Keir Starmer will vow to take on those who commit “fraud against the public purse” in a major speech that will mark the start of campaigning for the general election.
The Labour leader’s first speech of 2024 is expected to focus on the erosion of trust in politics following a series of scandals, including the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
He is expected to announce that those who defraud the government could face a jail sentence of more than 10 years – the current limit – as part of Labour’s “total crackdown on cronyism”.
Sir Keir, who led the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) from 2008 to 2013 and previously worked as human rights lawyer, is expected to say that trust in politics is now “so low, so degraded, that nobody believes anyone can make a difference any more”.
“After the sex scandals, the expenses scandals, the waste scandals, the contracts for friends – even in a crisis like the pandemic – people think we’re all just in it for ourselves,” he will say.
“To change Britain, we must change ourselves – we need to clean up politics. No more VIP fast lanes, no more kickbacks for colleagues, no more revolving doors between government and the companies they regulate.
“I will restore standards in public life with a total crackdown on cronyism.”
Sir Keir will point to his past in the legal profession to highlight his desire to “serve”.
He will say: “Politics isn’t a hobby, a pastime for people who enjoy the feeling of power, and nor is it a sermon from on high, a self-regarding lecture, vanity dressed up as virtue.”
The Labour leader will make his speech just weeks after Tory appointed peer Baroness Michelle Mone admitted involvement with PPE Medpro, which received over £200m in government contracts during the pandemic.
Baroness Mone is set to benefit from its £60m profits that have been put into a trust by her husband, Doug Barrowman.
PPE Medpro is currently being sued by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over claims millions of the gowns it supplied failed to meet the standard required – something Baroness Mone and Mr Barrowman deny – while the company is also under investigation by the National Crime Agency.
Sir Keir has previously branded the scandal a “shocking disgrace from top to bottom”.
A source told The Guardian, which first reported on the story, that a range of policy options are being considered including tougher sentences for “fraud against the public purse”, including the billions wasted through COVID loan schemes.
In March, the National Audit Office (NAO) found that £21bn had been lost to fraud since the start of the COVID pandemic, with more than £7bn linked to schemes introduced during the pandemic.
The maximum sentence for serious fraud currently stands at 10 years’ imprisonment.
Under Labour proposals those who fraudulently claim money from the government – for example through the bidding of public contracts – could be sent to prison for a longer time.
However, the newspaper reported that a separate pledge to ban former ministers from lobbying for five years is likely to be scaled back.
Speaking to Sky News, shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said Sir Keir would highlight how the government has “denigrated the sense of public service”.
He pointed to breaches of the ministerial code – which sets out how ministers should behave – and said Labour would set up a new ethics and integrity commission with powers to investigate ministers
“When we’re knocking on doors, we find people saying almost despairingly to us, ‘can things be better?’ Things can be better, but that’s why we need that general election and change as soon as possible.”