BRITAIN needs a “new national contract” for 2021, Keir Starmer has insisted, where the people abide by the strict Covid-19 rules and in return the UK Government delivers on its priorities.

In a keynote speech, the Labour leader said the country was “at the most serious stage” of the pandemic and argued Boris Johnson should now be “ramming home” the stay-at-home message.

He accused the Prime Minister of “serial incompetence” and of “not being up to the job” but invoked the spirit of post-war Britain that created the NHS to see the country through the bleakest of times.

“A dark winter will give way to a brighter spring and when it does, I know that together we can build a better future: a country worthy of the sacrifices of the British people. Just as we did in 1945 when Attlee’s Government built the welfare state from the rubble of war,” declared Sir Keir.

He also urged the Government to put “families first” by abandoning any plan to withdraw the rise in Universal Credit and urging local authorities against hiking council tax.

The Labour leader admitted the country was now at a critical moment in its fight against coronavirus and said that, as it engaged in a “huge national effort,” people should obey the rules and stay at home.

He declared: “We have to follow the guidance and we have to protect our amazing NHS.

“I appreciate how hard another lockdown will be for the millions who are juggling childcare and working at home, for young people when the school gates are closed and for businesses that aren’t allowed to open.

“We all want to see our loved ones. We all want to reclaim our lives. But we have a job to do first, as a people and as a country.”

Sir Keir explained that in the race between the virus and the vaccine, the country’s task was to do everything it could to suppress the virus and that he knew the British people would rise to the challenge.

He described the current time as one of “national solidarity and heroism” from, among others, care workers, delivery drivers, shop workers and NHS life-savers with extraordinary achievements from British science, business and manufacturing.

Stressing how there had been some heroic acts of kindness and compassion during the pandemic, the party leader said the UK had witnessed the “best of British people in the most difficult times”.

However, Sir Keir bemoaned how Mr Johnson’s Government had not emulated that but had been found wanting at every turn.

“Even in the best of times, you can’t be indecisive in government; in the worst of times, indecision can be fatal,” he insisted.

The Labour leader accused the Prime Minister of forming a habit of taking big decisions too late from the lockdown last March and being too slow to get PPE to NHS and care staff to ignoring calls for a circuit-breaker in September to a two-week delay on acting on scientists’ advice for a lockdown in December.

“The indecision and delays of the Prime Minister cost lives and they cost people’s jobs. The British people will forgive many things. They know the pandemic is difficult.

“But they also know serial incompetence when they see it and they know when a Prime Minister simply isn’t up to the job,” said Sir Keir.

He pointed out that in the Government’s attempt to balance the health crisis with the economic crisis, Britain had ended 2020 with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy.

“That’s not bad luck. That wasn’t inevitable. It’s the consequence of the PM’s repeated delay and incompetence.

“As we start the new year, we need a new approach and a new national contract; the British people stay at home and help to get the virus under control. In return, the Government delivers on their priorities; by delivering the vaccine and securing the economy to protect family incomes and support business.”

The main priority, explained Sir Keir, was to get people vaccinated, describing it as the “only way out of the darkness”.

He insisted: “Let’s be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated. This must be the focus of all our efforts. The biggest peacetime project in our history.

“We need a round-the-clock vaccine programme, 24-hours a day, seven days-a-week. In every village and town, every high street and every GP surgery. We all need to play our part.”

The Labour leader also called for the Government to do much more to protect incomes and “put families first” given the country was gripped by the worst recession for 300 years.

“Yet the Prime Minister and the Chancellor want to hike council tax; a £1.9bn bombshell that lands a bill of around £90 on every family. They plan to cut Universal Credit; taking £1,000 a year from millions of families and pulling another 200,000 children into poverty.”

He called on Mr Johnson to support local councils to prevent council tax rises, to stop any cut to Universal Credit, to extend the ban on evictions and repossessions and to give key workers the pay rise they deserved.

Sir Keir said the next major priority over the coming months was to support businesses, which he called the “engine of our economy”.

He highlighted Labour’s call for the creation of 400,000 good jobs in low carbon sectors, “because this recovery has to be a green recovery,” its High Streets Fightback Fund to protect local shops and retail, “because Britain can’t re-open if our towns and our high streets are closed,” and for the Government to “close the huge gaps in support for the self-employed, because if we’re to rebuild our economy, we need the dynamism and creativity of everyone”.

The Labour admitted there would be hard months ahead but stressed the “seasons will turn”.

He added: “For now, let us come together to walk through the darkness, safe in the knowledge that our scientists, our NHS and the power of our solidarity will win out.”