Sir Keir Starmer has defended his praise of Margaret Thatcher, insisting that acknowledging her “driving sense of purpose” is not the same as agreeing with everything she did.

The Labour leader has come in for fierce criticism over his column for the Sunday Telegraph.

First Minister Humza Yousaf described it as an “insult to those communities in Scotland, and across the UK, who still bear the scars of her disastrous policies."

READ MORE: Yousaf attacks Starmer over praise for Thatcher

In his column, Sir Keir said Baroness Thatcher helped free the UK from a "stupor" and set loose the UK's "natural entrepreneurialism".

Answering questions following a speech at the Resolution Foundation, Sir Keir said: “What I was doing at the weekend in the article I wrote for The Sunday Telegraph was distinguishing between particularly post-war leaders – those leaders, those prime ministers – who had a driving sense of purpose, ambition, a plan to deliver and those that drifted.”

On Mrs Thatcher, he said: “Now it doesn’t mean I agree with what she did but you don’t have to agree with someone to recognise they had a mission and a plan.

“So I was giving Margaret Thatcher as an example of the sort of leader who had that mission and plan. That’s obviously different to saying I agree with everything that she did.”

In his speech, Sir Keir also tried to dampen down expectations of what an incoming Labour government might do on the economy.

He said delivering growth would be an “obsession” for Labour.

He described it as the “path to public service investment and keeping taxes competitive”.

“It will be a hard road to walk – no doubt about it.

“Anyone who expects an incoming Labour government to quickly turn on the spending taps is going to be disappointed.

“Inflation, debt, taxes are now huge constraints. Of course we will make different choices.”

“We will be ruthless when it comes to spending every pound wisely,” the Labour leader also promised.

He told the conference he was offering “a counsel of realism, not despair”.

Sir Keir was asked to reassure supporters that he would not cut any departmental budgets after a general election. He did not.

“I’m a massive believer in public services. I gave up five years of my life out of practice as a lawyer in order to run a public service, which was the Crown Prosecution Service.

“So I do care about, I believe in public services, and I know a thing or two about the constraints of delivering public service and I’m certainly not in the business of cutting the funding, which is why the focus is so much growth.

“What I would say though is that we must never forget that our public services need reform.”

He added: “But there is equally the question of whether you’ve got the wherewithal to carry out the reform that is desperately needed… if that reform has to happen, we’ve got to break out of the silos of delivery in government.

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During the session, Sir Keir also insisted that Labour’s scaled-back pledge to spend £28 billion a year on green initiatives would be subject to the party’s “fiscal rules”.

Labour had originally promised in 2021 to invest £28 billion a year until 2030 in green projects if it came to power.

However, in June shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the figure would instead be a target to work towards in the second half of a first parliament.

“The £28 billion, we will ramp up to that in the second half of the Parliament,” he said.

“It will be used to trigger that other investment from the private sector and we’ll ramp up – it’s not a question of the investment not starting until the middle of the next Parliament.

“It is, of course, subject to our fiscal rules. But I am confident that if we turbocharge the growth that we need, we’ll be able to achieve the investment we need within the fiscal rules.”

Taking questions later from reporters, he stressed the fundamental importance of the fiscal rules.

The party’s rules include paying for day-to-day expenditure through tax receipts and getting debt down as a share of the economy.

“Those fiscal rules are the foundation upon which we build everything,” he said.

“They’re not a straitjacket for the £28 billion. There are foundational stone for everything that we should do.

He said he was “really confident that we can make the investment that we need to within our fiscal rules, because I’m confident that we’re doing the work on growth that we need to do”.

“Now it doesn’t mean I agree with what she did but you don’t have to agree with someone to recognise they had a mission and a plan.”

Commenting, the SNP Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn said: “In the last two days Sir Keir Starmer has not only celebrated Thatcher's damaging legacy, he is now promoting a Thatcherite future. 
“Once again, it is clear that his values are far, far removed from Scotland’s values – and that only with independence can Scotland be the fairer, wealthier nation we all want to see.
“In a week where he praised Margaret Thatcher – a Prime Minister who devastated the lives of tens of thousands of Scots – and Brexit, a Tory-driven obsession which has wreaked havoc on businesses and households, it’s clear that Sir Keir Starmer and Labour’s values do not align with Scotland."