Keir Starmer
Portrait photograph of Keir Starmer
Official portrait, 2017
Leader of the Opposition
Assumed office
4 April 2020
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterBoris Johnson
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
4 April 2020
DeputyAngela Rayner
General SecretaryJennie Formby
David Evans
ChairAngela Rayner
Anneliese Dodds
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
In office
6 October 2016 – 4 April 2020
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byEmily Thornberry
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Shadow Minister for Immigration
In office
14 September 2015 – 27 June 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byDavid Hanson
Succeeded byAfzal Khan
Member of Parliament
for Holborn and St Pancras
Assumed office
7 May 2015
Preceded byFrank Dobson
Majority27,763 (48.9%)
Director of Public Prosecutions
In office
1 November 2008 – 1 November 2013
Appointed byThe Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Preceded byKen Macdonald
Succeeded byAlison Saunders
Personal details
Born
Keir Rodney Starmer

(1962-09-02) 2 September 1962 (age 59)
Southwark, London, England
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)
Victoria Alexander, Lady Starmer
(m. 2007)
Children2
EducationReigate Grammar School
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Alma mater
Signature
WebsiteOfficial website

Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB QC (born 2 September 1962) is a British politician and former lawyer who has served as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party since 2020. He has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Holborn and St Pancras since 2015. Ideologically, Starmer has been described as being on the soft left within the Labour Party.

Starmer was born in London and raised in Surrey, where he attended the selective state Reigate Grammar School, which became an independent school while he was a student. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Leeds in 1985 and gained a postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law degree at St Edmund Hall at the University of Oxford in 1986. After qualifying for the bar, Starmer acted exclusively as a defence lawyer, specialising in human rights issues as a member of Doughty Street Chambers, before being named a Queen's Counsel (QC) in 2002. In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), holding these roles until 2013. On conclusion of his five-year term as Director of Public Prosecutions, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2014 New Year Honours.

Elected to the House of Commons in the 2015 general election, Starmer became Shadow Minister for Immigration in 2015 before being appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in October 2016 as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Starmer advocated a second referendum on Brexit, saying he would have voted to remain. After Labour's defeat in the 2019 general election, Starmer was elected to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in April 2020.

Starmer's tenure as leader has been marked by his opposition to some of the Conservative government's COVID-19 pandemic measures, and has included removing the party whip from his predecessor. During Starmer's tenure, Labour suffered a by-election loss of the previously Labour seat Hartlepool, followed by holds in Batley and Spen and Birmingham Erdington and a gain from the Conservatives in Wakefield. Labour received mixed results in the 2021 local elections, followed by gains in the 2022 local elections.

Early life and education

Keir Rodney Starmer was born in Southwark, London, on 2 September 1962.[1][2] He grew up in the small town of Oxted in Surrey.[3][4][5] He was the second of the four children of Josephine (née Baker), a nurse, and Rodney Starmer, a toolmaker.[5][6][7] His mother had Still's disease.[8][9] His parents were Labour Party supporters, and named him after the party's first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie.[10][11] He passed the 11-plus examination and gained entry to Reigate Grammar School, then a voluntary aided selective grammar school.[11] It was converted into an independent fee-paying school in 1976, while he was a student, although he was exempt from paying fees.[12][13] Among his classmates were the musician Norman Cook, alongside whom Starmer took violin lessons, Andrew Cooper, who went on to become a Conservative peer, and future conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan: according to Starmer, he and Sullivan "fought over everything... Politics, religion. You name it."[5]

In his teenage years, Starmer was active in Labour politics, and was a member of the East Surrey Young Socialists.[6][5] He was a junior exhibitioner at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama until the age of 18, and played the flute, piano, recorder and violin.[14] Starmer studied law at the University of Leeds, graduating with a first class Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in 1985, becoming the first member of his family to graduate.[10][15] He undertook postgraduate studies at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, graduating from the University of Oxford as a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) in 1986.[16][10] From 1986 to 1987, Starmer edited the radical magazine Socialist Alternatives.[17][18]

Legal career

Barrister

Starmer became a barrister in 1987 at the Middle Temple, later becoming a bencher there in 2009.[1] He served as a legal officer for the campaign group Liberty until 1990.[10] He was a member of Doughty Street Chambers from 1990 onwards, primarily working on human rights issues.[8][10] He has been called to the bar in several Caribbean countries,[19] where he has defended convicts sentenced to the death penalty.[5] He notably worked for Helen Steel and David Morris in the McLibel case, which went to court in 1997. In an interview, he described the case as "very much a David and Goliath", and said that "there's an extremely good legal team acting for McDonald's at great expense and Dave and Helen have had to act for themselves with me as a sort of free back up whenever possible." He was interviewed for McLibel, the documentary about the case directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach.[20]

He was appointed Queen's Counsel on 9 April 2002, aged 39.[21] In the same year, he became joint head of Doughty Street Chambers. Starmer served as a human rights adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and was also a member of the Foreign Office's death penalty advisory panel from 2002 to 2008.[1][10] He later cited his work on policing in Northern Ireland as being a key influence on his decision to pursue a political career: "Some of the things I thought that needed to change in police services we achieved more quickly than we achieved in strategic litigation... I came better to understand how you can change by being inside and getting the trust of people". During this time he also marched and authored legal opinions against the Iraq War.[5] In 2007, he was named "QC of the Year" by Chambers and Partners.[10]

Director of Public Prosecutions

Starmer as Director of Public Prosecutions speaking at Chatham House in 2013
Starmer as Director of Public Prosecutions speaking at Chatham House in 2013

In July 2008, Attorney General Baroness Scotland of Asthal named Starmer as the new Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Director of Public Prosecutions. He took over from Ken Macdonald on 1 November 2008.[10] Macdonald, himself a former defence lawyer, publicly welcomed the appointment.[11] Starmer was considered to be bringing a focus on human rights into the legal system.[10]

Within the first few months of his tenure, Starmer upheld the decision not to prosecute the police officers who had killed Jean-Charles de Menezes in a High Court appeal lodged by the family.[22] The family then gave up on pursuing charges and nobody has been charged with the death of de Menezes.[23] Later in 2009, when the Conservative Party proposed repealing the Human Rights Act, Starmer defended it as a "clear and basic statement of our citizens' human rights".[24] Liberty and the Liberal Democrats supported Starmer, while the Conservative MP David T. C. Davies suggested that he should be sacked.[25] In the same year, he called for the CPS to modernise by being more open to scrutiny and less reliant on paper files.[26] In 2011, he would introduce reforms that included the "first test paperless hearing".[27]

In February 2010, Starmer announced the CPS's decision to prosecute three Labour MPs and a Conservative peer for offences relating to false accounting in the aftermath of the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal.[28] They were all found guilty.[29] In the same year, he supported proposals to legally recognise different degrees of murder.[30] In 2010, and 2012, Starmer said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute two members of the UK security services for their alleged role in torture overseas, but supported further investigation.[31][32][33] In July 2010, Starmer announced the decision not to prosecute the police officer Simon Harwood in relation to the death of Ian Tomlinson; this led to accusations by Tomlinson's family of a police cover-up.[34] After a subsequent inquest found that Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed, Starmer announced that Harwood would be prosecuted for manslaughter. The officer was acquitted by a jury in July 2012, but dismissed from the police that September.[35][36][37] In December 2010, Starmer changed the decision process to require his personal approval to prosecute women who withdraw accusations of rape after a woman was convicted for perverting the course of justice "despite judges' belief that her claim of long-term abuse, intimidation and rape at the hands of her husband was true".[38] He later produced guidelines to prevent the same women from being unfairly prosecuted.[39] In 2011, thirteen serving and former police officers were prosecuted for perverting the course of justice in the 1988 murder of Lynette White. The prosecution were unable to provide documents which "could have helped" the defendants, that were claimed to have been destroyed by the police officer leading the case against them. The prosecution made the decision, approved by Starmer, not to offer any further evidence, and the trial collapsed.[40][41][42] Starmer ordered a review into the circumstances that had led to the decision and ordered a further review in 2012 when the missing documents were found.[43]

During the 2011 riots, Starmer prioritised rapid prosecutions of rioters over long sentences, which he later thought had helped to bring "the situation back under control".[44][45] Later that year, after revelations concerning the undercover police infiltration of environmental campaigns, Starmer ordered a review of related convictions and invited protestors convicted of aggravated trespass to appeal their sentences.[46] Starmer declined to authorise a wider enquiry, after a report from the judge Christopher Rose found the issue to be a result of individual fault rather than a systemic problem.[47][48]

In February 2012, Starmer announced that Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, would be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. Huhne became the first cabinet minister in British history to be compelled to resign as a result of criminal proceedings.[49] Starmer had previously said in relation to the case that "[w]here there is sufficient evidence we do not shy away from prosecuting politicians".[50] Later that year, he wrote advice for prosecutors, saying that they should consider whether violent protestors organised or prepared for violence, compared to protestors who got "caught up in illegal actions".[51] In the summer of 2012, journalist Nick Cohen published allegations that Starmer was personally responsible for allowing to proceed the prosecution of Paul Chambers in what became known as the "Twitter joke trial". Chambers’ conviction of sending a message "of a menacing character" was quashed after a third appeal. The CPS denied that Starmer was behind the decision, saying that it was the responsibility of a Crown Court and was out of Starmer's hands.[52] Later that year, Starmer published a plan for the criminal justice system to better handle cases of female genital mutilation. At the time, the offence had never been successfully prosecuted.[53] At the end of 2012, he published guidance on prosecuting cases of grossly offensive posts on social media that called for caution in prosecuting cases, and considering whether users quickly removed posts or showed remorse.[54][55]

In 2013, Starmer announced changes to how sexual abuse investigations would be handled in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, including a panel to review historic complaints.[56][57] In the same year, he published a study showing that false reports of rape were rare, saying that the "devastating impact of false allegations" and the perception that they're more common than the data support mean that police forces might adopt a "cautious" approach that can "lead to injustice for victims" of rape.[58] He also started an inquiry into the cause of a reduction in police reports of rape and domestic abuse.[59] In the same year, he altered guidelines for those improperly claiming benefits enabling them to face ten years in prison under the Fraud Act instead of a maximum of seven years under more specific legislation.[60]

Starmer left office in November 2013, and was replaced by Alison Saunders.[61][62] Later that month, the Labour Party announced that Starmer would lead an enquiry into changing the law to give further protection to victims in cases of rape and child abuse.[63] On 28 December, he said to BBC News he was "rather enjoying having some free time" and "considering a number of options".[64] There was speculation at the time that he would stand as a Labour Party candidate for Parliament.[65]

Early political career

Member of Parliament

Starmer was selected in December 2014 to be the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the safe Labour constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, following the decision of the sitting MP Frank Dobson to retire.[66] Starmer was elected at the 2015 general election with a majority of 17,048.[67] He was urged by a number of activists to stand to be leader of the Labour Party in the 2015 leadership election following the resignation of Ed Miliband, but he ruled this out, citing his relative lack of political experience.[68][69] During the campaign, Starmer supported Andy Burnham, who finished second to Jeremy Corbyn.[70]

Corbyn appointed Starmer to the shadow Home Office ministerial team as Shadow Minister for Immigration, a role from which he resigned in 2016 in protest at Corbyn's leadership, along with numerous other Labour MPs, saying that it was "simply untenable now to suggest we can offer an effective opposition without a change of leader".[71][72]

Shadow Brexit Secretary

Starmer pictured with his shadow cabinet colleagues at the launch of Labour's general election campaign in October 2019
Starmer pictured with his shadow cabinet colleagues at the launch of Labour's general election campaign in October 2019

Following Corbyn's re-election as leader in September 2016, Starmer accepted an appointment as shadow Brexit secretary, replacing Emily Thornberry who had held the role concurrently with her continuing position as shadow foreign secretary.[73] On taking up the role, Starmer resigned from a consultancy position with the law firm specialising in human rights, Mishcon de Reya, that had acted for Gina Miller in bringing legal proceedings against the Government.[74]

Starmer discussing the Labour Party's Brexit policies with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in December 2019
Starmer discussing the Labour Party's Brexit policies with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in December 2019

In his role as shadow Brexit secretary, Starmer questioned the Government's "destination" for the UK outside of the European Union, as well as calling for Brexit plans to be made public. On 6 December 2016, the prime minister Theresa May confirmed the publication of Brexit plans, in what some considered a victory for Starmer.[75] He has argued that the government would be need to pass a large number of new laws quickly, or risk an "unsustainable legal vacuum", if Britain left the EU without a deal.[76] On 25 September 2018, Starmer said at Labour Party Conference that the party "campaigning for a public vote must be an option".[77]

Starmer called for a reform to the EU free movement rules following Brexit and for a "fundamental rethink of immigration rules from start to finish".[78] In his first interview after being appointed to the shadow cabinet, Starmer said that immigration should be reduced after Britain left the EU by "making sure we have the skills in this country".[79] Starmer told Politico in November 2016 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.[80]

In May 2017, Starmer said that "free movement has to go", but that it was important to allow EU citizens to migrate to the UK once they had a job offer, given the importance of immigration for the UK's economy.[81] Starmer was a supporter of a second referendum on Brexit.[82] This position was included as a Labour Party policy in the party's 2019 general election manifesto.[83]

Leadership of the Labour Party

Leadership election

Main article: 2020 Labour Party leadership election (UK)

Starmer speaking at a leadership hustings in Bristol in February 2020
Starmer speaking at a leadership hustings in Bristol in February 2020

Following Labour's heavy defeat at the 2019 general election, Jeremy Corbyn announced that he would stand down as leader of the Labour Party. Starmer announced his candidacy in the ensuing leadership election on 4 January 2020, winning endorsements from MPs, as well as from the trade union Unison.[84] Supporters of Rebecca Long-Bailey criticised Starmer for releasing details of his campaign donations on the register of members' interests rather than independently, as Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy had done, which meant that details of his donors weren't published until after voting had opened.[85][86][87][88] He went on to win the leadership contest on 4 April 2020, beating Long-Bailey and Nandy, with 56.2% of the vote in the first round,[89] and thus became leader of the Opposition.[90] In his acceptance speech, he said would refrain from "scoring party political points" and that he planned to "engage constructively with the government", having become opposition leader amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.[91]

Tenure

Starmer's approval rating during 2020
Starmer's approval rating during 2020

During the April pandemic lockdown, Starmer called for the government to publish an exit strategy outlining which parts of the economy and society would be prioritised once the government's tests for coming out of lockdown were met.[92] He said that the government had been "too slow to enter the lockdown" and called for an exit plan in a "careful, considered way with public health, scientific evidence and the safety of workers and families".[93] In June, he said he would support the government in "trying to do the right thing" when scrutinising the government's plans to ease lockdown restrictions.[94] On 16 August, he called for the government to reopen schools in September, saying there were "no ifs, no buts, no equivocation" regarding the decision.[95]

Starmer made his first speech to the Labour Party Conference on 22 September 2020.[96] He attacked the Government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis, calling it "serial incompetence" and suggesting that Boris Johnson was "just not up to the job".[96] Labour unveiled "A New Leadership" as its slogan the day before the conference.[97] In October 2020, Starmer called for the government to introduce a "circuit-breaker" lockdown for at least two weeks to reduce the impact of COVID-19 over the winter, which had been revealed to have been recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies but not implemented by the government.[98] In December 2020, Starmer was criticised for failing to challenge white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theories made by a caller when Starmer was a guest on Nick Ferrari's programme on talk radio station LBC.[99][100]

Election results

See also: 2021 United Kingdom local elections and 2022 United Kingdom local elections

Starmer led the Labour Party into the 2021 local elections.[101] On 11 March, Starmer launched Labour's local election campaign, with deputy leader Angela Rayner, mayor of London Sadiq Khan, first minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and West Yorkshire metro-mayor candidate Tracy Brabin as speakers. The party focused its election priorities on giving nurses a pay rise.[102][103] This was during a period of popularity for the government in the wake of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and going into the short campaign period, the Conservative Party started to develop a 6–7% poll lead on the Labour Party.[104][105]

Starmer was criticised for the Labour Party's failure to retain Hartlepool at the 2021 Hartlepool by-election. The seat is part of the "red wall", a set of constituencies that historically supported the Labour Party but where the party is being challenged by increasing Conservative support.[106] The Labour Party candidate Paul Williams was a vocal advocate of a second referendum on EU membership; however, the 70% of voters in the constituency of Hartlepool had voted to leave the EU, leading to criticism that Starmer had made the wrong decision in advocating for Williams to be selected as the candidate.[107][108][109] The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won the by-election with 51.9% of the vote and a swing from Labour of almost 16%.[110] It became only the second time since 1982 that the governing party gained a seat in a by-election,[110] and the first Conservative win in the constituency since its creation in 1974, with a majority of 6,940 votes.[111]

At the local elections, the Labour Party lost 327 councillors and control of 8 councils. It gained the West of England and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoralties'.[112] However, the Labour Party failed to take the position of mayor of the West Midlands.[113] The party won a net equal number of police and crime commissioners.[114][112] Elections also took place to the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments. In Wales, Labour equalled its best ever result in a Senedd election falling one seat short of an overall majority, which has never been achieved in that institution,[115] which the BBC reporter Adrian Browne credited to Mark Drakeford and approval of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.[116] In Scotland, the party achieved its worst ever result at a Holyrood election winning just 16 seats two less than in 2016.[115] On 1 July, Labour held the seat of Batley and Spen in a by-election, a result which was considered to have taken some pressure off Starmer's leadership.[117]

The 2022 local elections took place during a more difficult period for the government which was seeing problems such as the "Partygate" scandal and a rising cost of living.[118][119] The Labour Party made gains across Great Britain winning by far the largest number of seats overall.[120] However, Starmer was criticised by many on the British left, both in and outside of the Labour Party, as many felt that Starmer had underperformed in comparison with smaller parties which made bigger net gains.[121][122]

Internal party affairs

In April 2020, Starmer appointed his Shadow Cabinet over the course of the week following the leadership election, which included former leader Ed Miliband, as well as both of the candidates he defeated in the contest. He also appointed Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, making her the first woman to serve in that position in either a ministerial or shadow ministerial position.[123]

On 25 June 2020, Starmer sacked his former leadership rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, from her post as Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Long-Bailey had refused to delete a tweet calling the actress Maxine Peake an "absolute diamond" and linking to an interview in The Independent in which Peake said that the practice of kneeling on someone's neck by US police, as used in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was "learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services". The original article stated that "the Israeli police has denied this."[124] Starmer said that because the article "contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories" it should not have been shared by Long-Bailey.[125][126] The decision to sack Long-Bailey was criticised by the Socialist Campaign Group, whose members had a meeting with Starmer about the decision.[127] The decision was welcomed by some Jewish groups including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement. Starmer said that "restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it."[128][129] On 27 June, he replaced her with Kate Green.[130]

On 23 September 2020, three frontbenchers (Olivia Blake, Nadia Whittome, and Beth Winter) rebelled against Labour's position of abstention on the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill and voted against the bill; all three lost their frontbench roles over the issue. This move was seen as an indication of the firm discipline Starmer intends to exert over his party.[131] This same discipline was seen with the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.[failed verification] In its third reading on 15 October 2020, the Labour Party stance was to abstain, yet 34 Labour MPs rebelled, including shadow ministers Dan Carden and Margaret Greenwood, and five parliamentary private secretaries who all resigned from their frontbench roles. These 34 were penalised the next day by being put on probation for going against the one-line whip to abstain.[132]

At the end of the following month, following the release of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's report into antisemitism in the party, Starmer accepted its findings in full and apologised to Jews on behalf of the party.[133][134] Later that day, Labour suspended former leader Corbyn over his response to the report.[135] Some saw Starmer's actions as "civil war" against the left wing of the party,[136] and many on the left called for Corbyn's suspension to be lifted.[137] Starmer's refusal to reverse the decision regarding Corbyn's suspension, and later the whip, resulted in sections of the left feeling alienated.[138]

In the aftermath of relatively poor results in the 2021 local elections, Starmer carried out a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. Starmer sacked Angela Rayner as Chair of the Labour Party and National Campaign Coordinator following the elections.[139][140] The move was criticised by former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.[141][142] The major outcome of the reshuffle was the demotion of the Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds.[143] Rachel Reeves was appointed as the new Shadow Chancellor and Angela Rayner succeeded Reeves as Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Nick Brown was dismissed as Chief Whip and replaced by his deputy, Alan Campbell. Valerie Vaz departed as Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and was replaced by Thangam Debbonaire, who in turn was succeeded as Shadow Housing Secretary by Lucy Powell. On 11 May 2021, Starmer's Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) Carolyn Harris resigned, which The Times reported was after allegedly spreading false rumours about the private life of Angela Rayner prior to her sacking.[144][145] Sharon Hodgson was appointed as Starmer's new PPS.[146]

In the run up to Labour's 2021 conference, the party announced plans to reform its governance structure with changes including the return of its older electoral college which would give MPs, members and trade unions a third of the vote each in future leadership elections.[147] Starmer's spokespeople said that this was a way to strengthen the party's link with the trade union movement but commentators described the changes as an attempt to increase the power of MPs and trade unions at the expense of the general membership along with being a symbolic act to draw a distinction between Starmer and Corbyn.[148][147] Starmer gave up on the electoral college after it failed to gain the support of trade unions;[149] however, the party's executive committee agreed to send a series of more modest reforms to conference, including increasing the percentage of Labour MPs a candidate would need the support of to get on the leadership election ballot, banning the party's newest members from voting, and making it harder for members to deselect MPs.[150] These changes were later passed by a small margin.[151][152] Meanwhile, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union voted to end its affiliation to Labour dating back to early in the party's history, commenting that it had "travelled away from the aims and hopes of working-class organisations like ours" under Starmer's leadership.[153]

In November 2021, he carried out a surprise reshuffle of his shadow cabinet.[154] Changes included the promotion of Yvette Cooper and David Lammy to shadow home and foreign secretary, respectively, while former Labour leader Ed Miliband was moved from Business to Climate Change. The appointment of Cooper in particular was described by some as a sign of Labour further splitting from the Corbyn leadership and moving to the right.[155] The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, and Robert Peston of ITV News, said that the reshuffle aimed to "combine experience and youth" and end "the fatuous project of trying to ... placate Labour's warring factions", and instead chose "shadow ministers for their perceived ability".[156][157] In the New Statesman, journalist Stephen Bush suggested that Starmer had "removed underperforming shadow cabinet ministers and rewarded his biggest hitters – but the resulting shadow cabinet looks to be less than the sum of its parts."[158]

Shortly before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, 11 Labour backbench MPs signed a letter by the Stop the War Coalition that accused the UK government of "sabre-rattling" and said that NATO "should call a halt to its eastward expansion and commit to a new security deal for Europe which meets the needs of all states and peoples", whilst also arguing that NATO was an aggressive organisation due to military actions taken by its members outside its borders in the past. The MPs were asked by the party whips, representatives of the leadership tasked with maintaining discipline among Labour MPs, to remove their names from the statement under threat of being expelled from the party and all quickly agreed to do so. A spokesperson for the Labour Party said that this action ensured that every Labour MP understood that their party was on the side of "Britain, Nato, freedom and democracy".[159][160] At around this time, Young Labour's Twitter account was suspended after it criticised the leadership policy towards NATO.[161] In an interview with the BBC in March 2022, Starmer was asked whether he would be hoping that MPs who backed Stop the War "won't be standing at the next election or if they do whether [he would] be fully supporting them to do so". After repeatedly being accused of not answering the question, Starmer gave the answer of "well, they are Labour MPs and of course I support them, but all of our MPs will go through a process for selection into the next election".[162]

The summer of 2022 saw significant amounts of industrial unrest.[163][164] Starmer instructed members of his shadow cabinet to refrain from joining picketlines.[165] However, some Labour MPs did appear on picket-lines including frontbenchers Kate Osborne, Paula Barker, Peter Kyle and Navendu Mishra. The Labour Party's contingents in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments also took a different approach.[166][167] Shadow junior Transport Minister Sam Tarry was sacked on 27 July after appearing on a rail strike picket. He said in a TV interview that workers should receive a pay rise in line with inflation though Labour policy was that pay increases should be based on negotiation. A spokesperson for the party said that "Sam Tarry was sacked because he booked himself onto media programmes without permission and then made up policy on the hoof."[168] However, his sacking was criticised by trade union leaders and Tarry wrote in an opinion piece for the I newspaper that "failing to join the striking rail workers on a picket line would have been an abject dereliction of duty for me as a Labour MP."[169][170]

Incident near Parliament

On 2 February 2022, during Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson alleged that when Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) he was "prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile" (the serial sex offender Jimmy Savile).[171][172] Starmer described this as a "ridiculous slur" and Johnson's comment was criticised by the Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. BBC Reality Check says Johnson's unfounded claim had already been discredited.[173] Johnson later said that Starmer personally had "nothing to do" with the failure to prosecute Savile, but that he was "making a point about [Starmer's] responsibility for the organisation as a whole".[174][175]

On 7 February, while he was leaving Parliament, Starmer was harassed by a group of people, who shouted "traitor" and "Jimmy Savile". Two of the protesters were arrested.[176] A week later it was reported that Starmer had received death threats.[177] MPs, including seven Conservatives, called on Johnson to fully withdraw what Conservative Julian Smith called "false slurs", but Johnson merely said the actions of the protesters were "absolutely disgraceful" and harassment of elected representatives was "completely unacceptable".[175]

Partygate and Beergate controversy

Main article: Beergate

On 30 April 2021, Starmer was part of a campaign team for the Hartlepool by-election and local elections, in the Durham office of MP Mary Foy.[178] In the evening, a student took a short video through the office window. The next day, The Sun published pictures from it showing Starmer with a beer while others ate a takeaway, with a Labour statement that they had complied with the rules, including a pause for food.[179][180] At that time, COVID-19 regulations allowed gatherings when reasonably necessary for work purposes.[181]

In an early Partygate debate, Johnson alluded to Starmer "quaffing beer".[180][182] In January 2022, after Starmer repeatedly called on Johnson to resign, Conservatives brought up the Durham event and called Starmer a hypocrite.[180][183] Durham Constabulary reviewed the video, and on 7 February said no action was warranted.[184] After Johnson got a fixed penalty notice (FPN) for breaching the regulations, media ran "beergate" stories and government ministers pressed the police to reopen investigations.[185][186] Following press coverage in the lead-up to the local elections, on 6 May 2022, police said that, following the receipt of "significant new information", they had launched an investigation into the activities in Durham.[179][187][188] On 7 May 2022, a leaked Labour Party document was revealed and showed that the ordering of takeaway and beer was made in advance. The barrister Adam Wagner, a specialist in lockdown rules, told The Guardian that this document could be used to clear Starmer, as it showed that the event was pre-planned for a political purpose, unlike multiple Partygate events which obviously had a social purpose.[181][189]

On 9 May, Starmer stated that, if he were to receive a fixed penalty notice over the event, he would resign as the leader of the Labour Party.[190] Starmer said: "This is my decision about what is the right thing to do in these circumstances." He added: "This is about me. It's about what I believe in in politics. It's about integrity, and I believe in integrity, and integrity requires me to take the course of action I have set out if, in the event, I get a fixed-penalty notice." Labour sources said they had prepared documentary evidence to give to the police, proving that rules were not broken.[191][192]

On 8 July 2022, Starmer (along with Angela Rayner) were cleared by Durham Police of any wrongdoing. The police said they had concluded that the gathering was reasonably necessary for work purposes.[193]

Breach of code of conduct

In June 2022 Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, launched an investigation into Starmer, following complaints that he had been late to register income and hospitality.[194] On 4 August 2022, Starmer was found to have breached the MP's code of conduct 8 times, however Stone said the breaches were "minor and/or inadvertent."[195][196]

Political positions

Starmer wrote articles for the magazines Socialist Alternatives and Socialist Lawyer as a young man in the 1980s and 1990s.[197] In July 1986, Starmer wrote in the first issue of Socialist Alternatives that trade unions should have had control over the "industry and community".[197] He wrote in Socialist Lawyer that "Karl Marx was, of course, right" in saying it was pointless to believe a change of society could only be achieved by arguing about fundamental rights.[197]

In a January 2020 interview, Starmer described himself as a socialist,[198] and stated in an opinion piece published by The Guardian the same month that his advocacy of socialism is motivated by "a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice";[199] however, Starmer refused to characterise himself as a socialist in an interview with the i's Francis Elliott in December 2021.[200] He has been described as being on the soft left,[201][202][203] in continuity with former Labour leader Ed Miliband.[204] Gavin Millar, a former legal colleague of Starmer's, has described his politics as "red-green", a characterisation Starmer has agreed with.[5]

Domestic issues

Starmer supports social ownership and investment in the UK's public services, including the National Health Service (NHS), as well as the abolition of university tuition fees.[205][206][207] He has called for an increase in income tax for the top 5% of earners and an end to tax avoidance by corporations.[205] He advocates the reversal of the Conservative Party's cuts in corporation tax and supported Labour's anti-austerity proposals under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.[205][206] On social inequality, Starmer proposes "national wellbeing indicators" to measure the country's performance on health, inequality, homelessness, and the environment.[208] He has called for an "overhaul" of the UK's Universal Credit scheme.[209] Opposing Scottish independence and a second referendum on the subject, the Labour Party under Starmer's leadership has set up a constitutional convention to address what he describes as a belief among people across the UK that "decisions about me should be taken closer to me."[210][211] Starmer is against the reunification of Ireland, having stated that he would be "very much on the side of Unionists" if there were to be a border poll.[212] On education, he vowed in 2021 to strip independent schools of their charitable status, a move that has been criticised by the Independent Schools Council.[213] He repeated the pledge in July 2022.[214]

In 2022 speeches, Starmer criticised the Conservative government and vowed to restore trust in government if he came to power.[215] Starmer described the Labour Party as "deeply patriotic" and cited its most successful leaders, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair, for policies "rooted in the everyday concerns of working people".[215]

Starmer advocates a government based on "security, prosperity and respect". Starmer wants crime reduced, maintaining that "too many people do not feel safe in their streets". Starmer wants to see "repairing after the pandemic".[215] Starmer favours partnership between government and business, having said: "A political party without a clear plan for making sure businesses are successful and growing ... which doesn't want them to do well and make a profit ... has no hope of being a successful government."[216]

In the 2020 Labour Party leadership election, Starmer ran on a pledge to renationalise rail, mail, water, and energy back into common ownership. In 2022 he dropped this pledge.[217][218]

Foreign affairs

Starmer meets with the US Secretary of State in the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo (right) and the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson (left), in 2020
Starmer meets with the US Secretary of State in the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo (right) and the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson (left), in 2020

Starmer has advocated an end to "illegal wars" and a review of the UK arms export.[205] During his leadership campaign, he pledged to create a "Prevention of Military Intervention Act", which would only permit lawful military action with the support of the House of Commons.[219][220] Starmer stated in 2015 that he believed that the Iraq War was "not lawful under international law because there was no UN resolution expressly authorising it."[221] Starmer called for sanctions against Chinese officials who have been involved in human rights abuses.[222] He criticised the United Kingdom's involvement in the Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen, saying that "it is Boris Johnson and his government who have signed off on the sale of billions of pounds of fighter jets, bombs and missiles, weapons that have destroyed civilian infrastructure, targeted schools and hospitals, and fuelled the humanitarian crisis that Yemen faces. The government must face up to its complicity in this crisis, and we must all talk about Yemen."[223][224] Starmer condemned the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and said the world needed to "engage, not isolate" Iran and warned that "all sides need to de-escalate tensions and prevent further conflict."[225]

Though previously an advocate for a second Brexit referendum after the process of the UK's withdrawal from the EU was completed, he ruled out in 2021 a return to free movement with the EU or substantial renegotiation of the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement if Labour won the next United Kingdom general election.[226] Of the United States as it transitioned from the presidency of Donald Trump to that of Joe Biden, he said: "I'm anti-Trump but I'm pro-American. And I'm incredibly optimistic about the new relationship we can build with President Biden." He argued that "Britain is at its strongest" when it is "the bridge between the US and the rest of Europe."[211] Starmer said that Israel "must respect international law" and called on the Israeli government to work with Palestinian leaders to de-escalate tensions.[227] Starmer opposes illegal Israeli settlements, proposals for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, and "the eviction of Palestinians" in the Israeli-occupied territories; he also opposes the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.[228][229]

During a period of difficult relations between Russia and the West in early 2022, Starmer held a meeting with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and said in an interview with the BBC that his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn was "wrong" to be a critic of NATO and that the Labour Party's commitment to the alliance was "unshakeable". He elaborated on this point that he felt it was "important for me to make clear that we stand united in the UK... Whatever challenges we have with the [Boris Johnson's] government, when it comes to Russian aggression we stand together."[230] He said Russia should be hit with "widespread and hard-hitting" economic sanctions.[231] Starmer said he would be willing to use nuclear weapons, adding: "If you believe in the deterrent, that's the whole point."[230] He also criticised the Stop the War Coalition in an opinion piece for The Guardian arguing that they were "not benign voices for peace" but rather "[a]t best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies."[232] He described NATO as an "unprecedented alliance of democracies".[233]

Personal life

Starmer married Victoria Alexander in 2007.[234] She was previously a solicitor but now works in NHS occupational health.[5][235] The couple's son and daughter are being brought up in the Jewish faith of their mother and the family attend shabbat dinners.[9] Starmer himself stated he does not believe in God but does "believe in faith" and its power to bring people together.[236] Starmer is a keen footballer, having played for Homerton Academicals, a north London amateur team,[11] and supports Premier League side Arsenal.[5]

Starmer is a vegetarian, believing that "it's better for yourself and for the environment".[237]

Awards and honours

The star given to those appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
The star given to those appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Honorary degrees issued to Keir Starmer
Date School Degree
21 July 2011 University of Essex Doctor of university (D.U.)[247]
16 July 2012 University of Leeds Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[248]
19 November 2013 University of East London Doctor of university (D.U.)[249]
19 December 2013 London School of Economics Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[250][251]
14 July 2014 University of Reading Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[252]
18 November 2014 University of Worcester Doctor of university (D.U.)[253]

Publications

Starmer is the author and editor of several books about criminal law and human rights:[1]

Further reading

See also

References

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Legal offices Preceded byKen Macdonald Director of Public Prosecutions 2008–2013 Succeeded byAlison Saunders Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byFrank Dobson Member of Parliamentfor Holborn and St Pancras 2015–present Incumbent Political offices Preceded byEmily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 2016–2020 Office abolished Preceded byJeremy Corbyn Leader of the Opposition 2020–present Incumbent Party political offices Preceded byJeremy Corbyn Leader of the Labour Party 2020–present Incumbent