My take on the recent Labour Party Leadership elections and on Sir Keir Starmer as the new Labour Party Leader
Sir Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions (head of the Crown Prosecution Service that covers England & Wales, in other words, their senior public prosecutor) from 2008 to 2013, who was knighted for that service, and who had worked as a human rights attorney before that, current Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras since 2015, recently (4 April 2020) was elected by the Labour Party as its new leader by an overwhelming margin. Of the 784,000 eligible to vote in the Labour Party Election earlier this month, 490,000 did, awarding Sir Keir 56.2 pc of the vote, the other two candidates, both of the Corbyn wing of the Party, receiving 27.6 pc (Rebecca Long-Bailey, Corbyn’s preferred successor), and 16.2 pc (Lisa Nandy, a Labour backbencher).
Given his working class roots (son of a nurse and a toolmaker/mechanic), he isn’t keen on being referred to as “Sir Keir”, but of course, with a law degree from Oxford (along with one from Leeds before that) & designation as Queen’s Counsel for his achievements in his legal career (it’s an honorific in the UK awarded by the Monarch, designating those in the legal profession in the UK considered of the highest esteem, which entitles those so awarded special rights and ceremonial wardrobe, when the sitting Monarch is a King, the award is “King’s Counsel”), he tends to be referred as such in more formal contexts, as well as in the media.
Now, of course, Sir Keir is definitely left leaning, but he’s definitely not as far left as Jeremy Corbyn or his wing of the Party, and was seen by many as a compromise candidate between the Blairite and Corbynite wings of the Labour Party. He’s also pro-Israel (and as it happens with a Jewish wife and children, but was pro-Israel prior to that), who apologised for Labour’s (read Corbyn’s) prior slow response to antisemitism and the stain of that on the Labour Party in recent years.
Undeniably, I view that apology as a positive step, and done so immediately on assumption as Labour leader I think marks a different tone on such issues than had Jeremy Corbyn had before him. I also very much find Sir Keir’s statement as a whole conciliatory in nature, and as hopeful as can be under the circumstances. Now of course, since Boris Johnson recently led the Conservatives to a massive victory, the next election won’t be until 2024, which means that Labour, even under the new leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, will be limited in how much it can actually do within the Commons against that Tory-led government. Sir Kier also embraced in his statement Labour’s need to re-engineer itself after four electoral failures in a row in the last decade.
Fundamentally, this means that Sir Keir’s job will be to position Labour to try to overturn a de facto wartime government lead by Boris Johnson and his strong Tory majority in the House of Commons, which will have four years of response to COVID-19 to point to once that election does happen, so any early mistakes by Johnson’s government can potentially be overlooked if the response as a whole, and especially later over time, is seen in a positive light. Of course, the Labour Party, under Clement Attlee did so in 1945, right towards the end of the war, after five years of Winston Churchill’s leadership during WW2, the British people seeing Attlee as the person better able to rebuild Britain after the war. However, the difference I see here is that, since COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 will presumably be petered out within a year or so, that a lot of the rebuilding can in theory happen before the next Parliamentary elections in the UK in 2024.
This also requires of Sir Keir, who like most talented attorneys, speaks in a very measured and deliberate way, born of deep study and the need to be precise in order to make exacting legal argument (at which he is well regarded as someone with great skill at forensic debate), to demonstrate a facility for the witty riposte & cutting insult, in contretemps with the bombastic ostentation and withering jibes that Boris Johnson exudes in his public persona, the former journalist with his education in the Classics from Oxford (and Eton before that), is wont and often eager to display (in part I think to minimise the perception he is the epitome of a toff). Maybe as Sir Keir grows in his role as Labour leader, he finds a way to be effective in countering Boris and overcoming the previous perceptions of him as boring without embracing the jibes and insults that are common amongst British party leaders in Parliament.
This period of Boris as Prime Minister (once he has fully recovered from his COVID-19 infection) and Sir Keir as leader of the opposition, especially in such troubled times, will be interesting to observe and undeniably will shape the next parliamentary election four years hence. Media coverage, across the political spectrum, has generally been positive to Sir Keir’s leadership so far over the last almost three weeks, including during his first Prime Minister’s Questions as leader yesterday. What this all means for the future, in a phrase just as valuable in the English language now as since Daniel Defoe used it in Robinson Crusoe in 1719: “We had no remedy but to wait and see”.
Background and election:
BBC (with part of his video-recorded statement): https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-52164589
The Guardian (which has his full video statement): https://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2020/apr/04/keir-starmer-labour-leadership-acceptance-speech-in-full-video
BBC video summarising Sir Keir’s background for those not familiar with him: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-politics-51515612/keir-starmer-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-labour-leader
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/apr/22/an-impressive-debut-readers-on-keir-starmers-first-pmqs
Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/1e80bd9d-ece4-42e8-b819-556c544e6827