Express & Star

Wes Streeting: Labour will succeed where the Tories have failed on Brexit and illegal immigration

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting does not have particularly fond memories of his last visit to Wolverhampton.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting says Labour has learned from past mistakes and is ready to lead the country

As president of the National Union of Students he was forced to deliver a speech from the steps of the Civic Hall after demonstrators occupied the stage in protest against him.

More than a decade later he's back – coincidently on the same day that the Civic opens its doors to the public for the first time in years after a long-delayed refurb.

And he is likely to have better memories this time around.

Along with Wolverhampton North East parliamentary candidate Sureena Brackenridge and fellow frontbencher Pat McFadden he hit the campaign trail in Wednesfield, where he says the weather was freezing but the welcome warm.

On a visit to Blakenhall he addressed a group of Labour members who finally see light at the end of the tunnel after some desperately dark years for their party.

It's a view Mr Streeting clearly shares, although he's quick to sound a note of caution as he mulls over Labour's prospects at the next general election from a table at the Lakshmi Sweet Centre on Dudley Road.

"We're certainly going in the right direction but there's still a mountain to climb," he tells me

"A lot of people have completely given up hope that politics can make a difference and that there's anyone who can solve this country's problems.

"We've got to make sure that we defeat both of those enemies – complacency and cynicism. We've got to earn people's trust and that happens on the doorstep.

"I think we've got a team of great people and a great leader. It's been a long time since we've been able to say that, but there are still plenty of undecided voters out there."

Mr Streeting speaking at a meeting at The Star Inn in Wednesfield during a campaign visit to Wolverhampton

The 39-year-old MP for Ilford North says his party has reflected deeply on the 2019 general election, which saw swathes of seats turn from red to blue across areas including the Black Country and Staffordshire.

He said Sir Keir Starmer had "got the message" and was committed to not only bringing back Labour voters who deserted the party in 2019 but also to attracting Tories despairing at the Government.

And, he says, addressing issues that matter to voters in the West Midlands is crucial to those plans.

They include illegal immigration, where he insists "Labour can succeed where the Government has failed" by diverting money from the "failed" Rwanda deportation plan into the National Crime Agency to crackdown on people trafficking gangs.

"The Government has tried to talk tough but people just feel even more disappointed when some of their hare-brained schemes don't work," he said.

Mr Streeting – who campaigned to stay in the EU in 2016 – also stressed his party's commitment to Brexit, saying any Remainers with lingering hopes of a return to the bloc needed a reality check.

"I think people need to move on," he said. "I say that with the greatest respect for people I have campaigned alongside over the years, but Britain isn't going back into the EU.

"The point now is to have a really strong working relationship with the EU, but plugging some of the holes in the Brexit deal that the Government has failed on.

"Some of the challenges in Northern Ireland for example. If we had a veterinary agreement, like New Zealand has with the EU, that would go a long way to solving a lot of the challenges we have got on the Irish border.

"I want us to be working with European scientists and medics to make sure we are achieving groundbreaking discoveries in medical research, particularly on rare diseases.

"I think people who voted to leave the EU would like to see that sort of cooperation. We need to make Brexit work so people can see a country that is growing."

Unsurprisingly he was scathing of the Conservatives' record in government, saying they had achieved "nothing" in 12 years and had "failed" in every key policy area.

He accused them of creating a "lawless society", citing the example of his constituent Zara Aleena's killer who was out on the streets despite a long history of violence.

Sureena Brackenridge is Labour's candidate in Wolverhampton North East

Meanwhile, Labour's "unshakeable support" for Nato proved his party could be trusted with national security, he said.

"I think there are no longer any doubts that Labour – which has a long tradition of standing up for our armed forces – is a party that will back our military, will stand up for peace and security in Europe and also recognises the role Britain plays on the international stage to protect democracy and freedom from tyrants like Putin," he said.

On the NHS he said the Tories had unravelled the good work of the last Labour administration, and admitted that issues including staffing levels, ambulance handover times and waits for GP appointments were now so acute they could take years to solve.

He said Labour would "get to the root of the problem" by delivering the biggest staff expansion in history, funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status.

A 10-year plan to modernise the NHS was already in the works and will be published in advance of the next election in a bid to "hit the ground running".

The current wave of strikes in the public sector were "made in Downing Street", he said, and while Labour would be unable to match all pay demands they would "at the very least" enter into negotiations with the unions.

"If you look at The Royal College of Nursing [which has demanded a 19 per cent pay rise], they have said they would compromise but the Government would not sit down with them," said Mr Streeting.

"It is a cynical strategy to blame workers for the NHS crisis. Workers now feel clapped out and feel they have been forced into strike action by the Government.

"It is a deeply sad time for the country. Labour's policy to deliver more staff would make life so much better for existing staff. On top of that we would also return growth to the economy so there would be more money for public services."

Looking ahead to 2024, Mr Streeting said Labour would present a manifesto that "100 per cent" can be delivered.

"We get criticised for being too cautious and not promising enough," he said. "I would rather under-promise and over-deliver, than be in the position that Rishi Sunak is in, where he does the opposite.

"After 12 years people have got to ask themselves – whether it's on immigration, on the NHS, on law and order or education – why should we believe that things are going to change under the Conservatives?

"Not all the problems in the world are their fault. Clearly there are global factors like the war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic and its aftermath, but there are so many things we can point to that they have made worse.

"Expecting them to put this right is like asking the arsonist to put out the fire. I really hope at the next election that people are willing to give change a chance with Labour."