Keir Starmer to declare Labour as ‘party of national security’

<span>Keir Starmer is to pitch to parliamentary candidates in the north-west of England and military veterans. </span><span>Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images</span>
Keir Starmer is to pitch to parliamentary candidates in the north-west of England and military veterans. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images

Keir Starmer will declare Labour is the “party of national security” as he seeks to switch the focus of the general election campaign to issues of defence.

The Labour leader will reaffirm his commitment to a “triple lock” for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, and his aim to raise defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product “as soon as resources allow”.

He will make his pitch in front of a group of Starmerite parliamentary candidates in the north-west of England, 14 of whom have military experience, and is expected to meet veterans.

Related: Keir Starmer needs to have a frank conversation with voters about the price of security | Andrew Rawnsley

Labour’s nuclear deterrent triple lock includes a commitment to construct four new nuclear submarines in Barrow-in-Furness, maintaining Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrent, and the delivery of all future upgrades needed for the submarines to patrol the waters.

In a speech alongside the shadow defence secretary, John Healey, Starmer will contrast the stability and security that the country needs with the chaos after 14 years of the Conservatives.

The Labour candidates boasting military experience include Fred Thomas, a former Royal Marines captain who is standing against the veterans minister, Johnny Mercer, in Plymouth.

Others include Calvin Bailey, a former Royal Air Force commanding officer, in Leyton and Wanstead; Louise Jones, a former intelligence officer for the army, in northeast Derbyshire; Alistair Carns, who until last week was a colonel in the Royal Marines, in Birmingham Selly Oak; and the former army intelligence operator, Mike Tapp, who is standing in Dover.

Labour may hope to use their presence at the speech to shift perceptions of the party’s perspective on defence, as the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a longstanding critic of Nato and Trident.

Starmer said: “National security will always come first in the changed Labour party I lead. Keeping our country safe is the bedrock of stability that the British people rightly expect from their government.

“My message to them is clear: Labour has changed. No longer the party of protest, Labour is the party of national security. The excellent former service personnel that are standing as Labour candidates are a testament to that change.

“In the face of increasing threats to national security, actions will speak louder than words. That’s why, alongside our unshakeable commitment to Nato, an incoming Labour government will introduce a ‘triple lock’ commitment on our nuclear deterrent – providing vital protection for the UK and our Nato allies in the years ahead, as well as supporting thousands of high paying jobs across the UK.”

Healey added: “Even Ben Wallace admitted that the Conservatives have ‘hollowed out and underfunded’ our armed forces since 2010. The Tories have cut the army to its smallest size since Napoleon, missed recruitment targets every year, and allowed morale to fall to record lows. Our armed forces can’t afford another five years of the Conservatives.”

Last week Starmer made a personal speech to voters, declaring the general election was simply a choice about “whose side are you on?”

He said: “I would describe myself as a socialist. I describe myself as a progressive. I’d describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second.

“I know there are countless people who haven’t decided how they’ll vote in this election. They’re fed up with the failure, chaos and division of the Tories, but they still have questions about us: has Labour changed enough? Do I trust them with my money, our borders, our security? My answer is, yes, you can, because I have changed this party, permanently.”