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After Labour’s disastrous result at the General Election in December last year, questions emerged about their defeat. At the centre of it, Jeremy Corbyn, a leader who managed to attract and excite an entirely new voter base whilst galvanising and dividing the country at the same time. With his resignation, the question of Labour leadership is an open one and will define the direction and future of the Labour party. You may have heard about the favourite among bookmakers leading in the leadership contest, Sir Keir Starmer.
Starmer began his career in the legal sector after graduating from Leeds and Oxford in 1985 and 1986 respectively. After a slew of service on the bar, he was appointed as the new Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008. In these two roles, Starmer was responsible for 7000 staff and 800,000 prosecutions taken by the department each year.
It was during his legal service that Starmer was knighted, partly because of his work to abolish the death penalty in several Caribbean countries, although he does not like to use the title. It, in fact, seems to be something of a burden for the Labour politician who is trying to distance himself from the bourgeois image of the ‘liberal elite’ that Labour has earned itself, something that Home Secretary Priti Patel took a swipe at whilst vowing to end free movement after Brexit. He’s just as likely to mention how his legal career was aimed at helping everyday people as he is to mention his mother is a nurse and his name an honour to the first Labour leader, Keir Hardie.
Starmer was first elected as the Labour MP for Holburn and St Pancras and urged to apply for the leadership the same year, following Ed Miliband’s resignation, turning it down because of his lack of experience. Despite supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s rival, Andy Burnham, Starmer was appointed as a Shadow Home Office minister.
In October 2016, he accepted the position of Shadow Brexit Secretary, where he made a name for himself by questioning Theresa May’s handling of Brexit and demanding that the Government make the plans publicly available.
Starmer also made headlines by announcing at the Labour conference in 2018 that if Labour could not oust May’s government in a general election, other options, particularly a public vote, should be on the table. Standing firmly against Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament in 2019, Starmer also suggested that Labour could vote for Boris Johnson’s deal if a second referendum was attached. This was despite Corbyn’s previous statement that Labour could not vote for the deal even with a second referendum.
Now he is running for the top job of the Labour party, positioning himself as a unifier of the party, for Corbynites on the left and Blairites on the right. In an article published in The Guardian, Starmer argues that Labour will be strengthened and would be able to win future elections if it makes the ‘moral case for socialism’. The three foundations to his socialism are ‘economic justice, social justice and climate justice’, claiming that the free market has in fact ‘failed’.
Starmer freely embraces the term ‘socialist’, describing it as a practical label. He argues that some sectors of the economy simply should not be in private hands to make a profit, such as prisons, and some private sectors have failed, like the railways. Despite his ardent leftist rhetoric, Labour members sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and MPs like John McDonnell have mostly shifted their support to Rebecca Long-Bailey, Starmer’s rival in the leadership contest.
He is also keeping some of the policies most identifiable with Corbyn by signing up to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s plan to increase taxes for the top 5% of British earners. Climate action is also at the top of his list. Starmer expressed sympathy with Extinction Rebellion protestors who disrupted everyday life in London in early 2019.
But the extent to which Stamer can bridge the divide between Labour members and MPs is doubted by some. Tom Blackburn recently commented that Ed Miliband’s leadership suggests that without a ‘grassroots’, no Labour leader is safe from the party’s right-wing and the British press.
A newcomer to politics with a wealth of legal experience, Starmer’s time as shadow Brexit Secretary has led to him becoming a recognisable face among Labour politicians. If things keep as they are in the leadership contest, we may well see him become the new Labour leader as well.