is sir keir starmer labour's new hope?

By Izzy McCarthy / 11 April 2020


Starmer’s Election Triumph

A great deal has happened for the Labour Party since their crushing defeat in the 2019 General Election. The Conservatives gained an 80-seat majority and Jeremy Corbyn was forced to stand down. This led to an intense Labour leadership race which ended with the election that took place on the 4th April 2020.  The position has rightfully been won by the frontrunner, Sir Keir Starmer, who beat Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey with 56.2% of the vote.  

Described by The Guardian as having the “ability and character”, Sir Keir Starmer has been a Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras since 2015. Prior to Politics, Starmer was heavily involved in the legal and criminal system, whereby he fought on behalf of dockers rights, print workers, environmental campaigners and the family of Stephen Lawrence. From this, he earnt a knighthood for being director of public prosecutions and fighting for justice in the criminal system.

Starmer’s campaign was successful from the outset.  His team was ideologically diverse which attracted a broad range of followers, from Corbyn supporters to those who supported Liz Kendall – the most Blairite of the candidates in the 2015 leadership contest. On top of this, Starmer’s campaign gained the backing of UNISON, the largest of the trade unions who represent low-paid workers. UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis believes Starmer is the leader “to bring the party together” and “win back the trust” of the thousands who deserted Labour last year.

What Does He Stand For?

Despite standing as a soft left socialist, Starmer is determined to detoxify the party and depart from Corbyn’s rhetoric, by not wanting someone else’s name “tattooed on [his] head”. In many ways, he is attempting to create a new identity for the Labour Party which is both exciting and promising for the future of politics. The fundamental way in which this is taking place is his attitude towards anti-Semitism.

Views on anti-Semitism...

Anti-Semitism has been the biggest ongoing issue for the Labour Party over the last few years.  The anti-Jewish racism under Corbyn was instrumental in causing the party’s demise as many MPs and voters abandoned the Labour Party and making the decision to support the opposing Conservative Party. The BBC Panorama, ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic’ served to uncover numerous scandals and political upheavals that were unknown to the public. The Labour Party ended up expelling 12 members of the Party over anti-Semitism complaints.

But this is all going to change. For the first time ever, Starmer, under the Labour Party, has acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and issued a fulsome apology to the public. He has called for a “future with honesty” and avows he is committed to ridding  the “poison”. Although many Labour MPs have made similar claims in the past, the public seem to have put their trust in Starmer. Perhaps this is due to the fact that his wife, Victoria Alexander, is Jewish and they are raising their two children within the Jewish faith, attending the synagogue every week.

The BBC revealed that Jewish leaders believe Starmer has done more to tackle the issue in his first four days than Corbyn ever did. This is evidenced by video conferences held with Jewish organisations attempting to repair relations. He has promised to create a report on all outstanding cases by the end of his second week. No one can deny his commitment and determination in dealing with the issue head on.

Views on Brexit...

Brexit has engulfed British Politics for the last four years and plays an important role in Starmer’s career. He was an avid and vocal advocate for Britain to remain in the European Union (EU). Between 2017-2019, he  voted 13 times in the Commons for UK membership of the EU, and 43 votes towards more EU integration. He also clearly stated that he wanted a second referendum which he made clear in 2016, as the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Despite Britain leaving the EU, Starmer’s efforts have not wavered. He has been pragmatic and forward thinking when tackling issues that have arisen from Brexit, such as immigration rules, calling for a ‘fundamental re-think’. Starmer’s willingness to cooperate became visible in November 2016 when he told Politico that negotiations with the EU should start on the understanding that there must be "some change" to freedom of movement rules, given that remaining in the EU single market is no longer a reality.

Views on Climate Change...

Climate Change is ascribed by The World Health Organisation as the cause of “serious implications” for both public health and the environment. It is a leading concern for scientists across the world, which is why it is refreshing that Starmer has a clear approach. Starmer openly admits that he “genuinely” tries to walk more and “obviously use public transport”. This is reflected in his speeches and policy aims.

At an environmental summit in Camden, May 2019, Starmer conversed with experts and campaign groups. He acknowledged the disruption that activists caused to the public and police but argued that he was “glad we are talking about climate change” and believes that the message is really important.  As a result, his 2019 manifesto put the “Green New Deal” at the heart of his campaign, alongside a Clean Air Act that can tackle pollution locally. Starmer has outwardly critiqued the Conservative government for not allocating more money to greener and cheaper forms of government. He has also opposed the expansion to Heathrow airport, unlike his opponent Boris Johnson.

Views on equality...

Starmer is a strong advocate for equality, as witnessed by his attitude towards the LGBT+ community and gender pay gap. Between 2015-2019, he voted 5 times in favour of promoting equality, thanks in part to his career in public prosecutions and his work as a human rights lawyer, which often involved dealing with homophobic cases. In February 2020, Starmer told PinkNews that “Trans rights are human rights” and he would continue to support the LGBT+ community, “especially in Commonwealth countries with colonial-era laws.”

Similarly, Starmer is a strong proponent of women’s rights and equal pay. In 2013, he led an enquiry into amending prosecution guidelines on violence against women. His efforts into change led to a 15,000 rise in convictions over four years.  His actions are ongoing, especially towards addressing the gender pay gap. Starmer vented his frustration to The Stylist in March 2020, astounded that the pay gap was still prevalent despite the Equal Pay Act being around for 50 years.

Starmer faced criticism during the race for being a man and was told by Labour party chairman, Ian Lavery, to “stand aside” for Nandy and Long-Bailey to take control. Yet, Starmer stood his ground, proclaiming himself to be a feminist and stating that he would have a strong team of women surrounding him in office so that he is “doing it with them”. He has not disappointed – multiple women are working within his Shadow Cabinet, such as Rebecca Long Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary, Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary, Angela Rayner as Deputy Leader and Chair of the Party, Annaliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jo Stevens as Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister and Louise Haigh as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. These are just a few of the leading ladies who will set Starmer’s agenda for the future.

The future of the Labour Party under Starmer is promising and positive. We can expect a more united Labour that aims to take back control at the next general election. In the meantime, it is expected that less polarisation and more cross-party alliances will occur. Starmer is willing to work constructively with Boris Johnson to tackle Covid-19 and has already set up meetings and arrangements for Privy Council briefings. With Starmer at the forefront of politics, this era could be the era of unity.

Words by
Izzy mccarthy

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