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Keir Starmer

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Keir Starmer
Portrait photograph of Keir Starmer
Official portrait, 2017
Leader of the Opposition
Assumed office
4 April 2020
Monarchs
Prime Minister
DeputyAngela Rayner
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
4 April 2020
DeputyAngela Rayner
General Secretary
Chair
Preceded byJeremy Corbyn
Shadow portfolios
Shadow Secretary of State
2016–2020Exiting the European Union
Shadow Minister
2015–2016Immigration
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 61)
London, England
Political partyLabour
Spouse
(m. 2007)
Children2
EducationReigate Grammar School
Alma materUniversity of Leeds (LLB)
St Edmund Hall, Oxford (BCL)
Signature
Websitekeirstarmer.com

Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB KC (/ˈkɪər/ ; born 2 September 1962) is a British politician and barrister 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. He was previously Director of Public Prosecutions from 2008 to 2013.

Starmer was born in London and raised in Surrey, where he attended the selective state Reigate Grammar School, which became a private school while he was a student. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree 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 being called to the bar, Starmer practised predominantly in criminal defence work, specialising in human rights matters. Becoming a member of Doughty Street Chambers in 1990, he was appointed as Queen's Counsel (QC) in 2002. In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, holding these positions until 2013. On conclusion of his five-year term as DPP, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2014 New Year Honours.

Elected to the House of Commons at the 2015 general election, Starmer was appointed Shadow Minister for Immigration by new party leader Jeremy Corbyn in September 2015. He resigned in 2016 as part of the wider June 2016 British shadow cabinet resignations in protest at Corbyn's leadership, but accepted a new post under Corbyn later that year as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union following the EU membership referendum. Starmer advocated a second referendum on Brexit, in which he stated he would vote to "remain"; this policy was ultimately included in the 2019 Labour election platform.

After Corbyn resigned following Labour's 2019 general election defeat, Starmer won the party's 2020 leadership election. His leadership has been characterised by movement towards the political centre and abandonment of much of the left-wing platform of his leadership campaign, as well as by opposition to some of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and issues such as Partygate, the September 2022 mini-budget, and the cost of living crisis. Starmer has emphasised the importance of eliminating antisemitism in the Labour Party. In 2023, he set out five missions for a Labour government, targeting issues such as economic growth, health, clean energy, crime, and education. Since late 2021, the party has maintained leads in opinion polling over the governing Conservative Party, often by very wide margins.

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, who was a toolmaker.[5][6] His mother had Still's disease.[7][8] His parents were Labour Party supporters, and may have named him after the party's first parliamentary leader, Keir Hardie,[9][10] although he told an interviewer in 2015 that he didn't actually know.[1] He passed the 11-plus examination and gained entry to Reigate Grammar School, then a voluntary aided selective grammar school.[10] The school was converted into an independent fee-paying school in 1976, while he was a student. He was exempt from paying fees until the age of 16, and his sixth-form study fees were paid by a bursary he received from the private school's charity.[11][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; he was a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists in East Surrey.[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, becoming a member of the university's Labour Club and graduating with first class honours and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree in 1985, becoming the first member of his family to graduate.[9][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][9] From 1986 to 1987, Keir Starmer served as the editor of Socialist Alternatives, a Trotskyist radical magazine. The magazine was produced by an organisation under the same name, which represented the British section of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency (IRMT).[17][18]

Legal career

Barrister

Starmer became a barrister in 1987 at the Middle Temple, becoming a bencher there in 2009.[1] He served as a legal officer for the campaign group Liberty until 1990.[9] He was a member of Doughty Street Chambers from 1990 onwards, primarily working on human rights issues.[7][9] He has been called to the bar in several Caribbean countries,[19] where he has defended convicts sentenced to the death penalty.[5] He assisted Helen Steel and David Morris in the McLibel case, in the trial and appeal in English courts, also represented them at the European court.[20] The case was seen as a David and Goliath case; a large team of leading lawyers represented McDonald's and the legal bills were estimated at £10m. By contrast Steel and Morris were denied legal aid; they acted on their own with help from lawyers including Starmer.[21]

Starmer was appointed Queen's Counsel on 9 April 2002, aged 39.[22] 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 and Commonwealth Office's death penalty advisory panel from 2002 to 2008.[1][9] 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.[9]

Director of Public Prosecutions

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

In July 2008, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Attorney General for England and Wales, 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.[9] Macdonald, himself a former defence lawyer, publicly welcomed the appointment.[10] Starmer was considered to be bringing a focus on human rights into the legal system.[9]

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 UK High Court appeal lodged by the family.[23] The family then gave up on pursuing charges and nobody has been charged with the death of de Menezes.[24] Later in 2009, when the Conservative Party proposed repealing the Human Rights Act 1998, Starmer defended it as a "clear and basic statement of our citizens' human rights".[25] Liberty and the Liberal Democrats supported Starmer, while the Conservative MP David T. C. Davies suggested he should be dismissed.[26] In the same year, he called for the CPS to modernise by being more open to scrutiny and less reliant on paper files.[27] In 2011, he introduced reforms that included the "first test paperless hearing".[28]

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 parliamentary expenses scandal.[29] They were all found guilty.[30] In the same year, he supported proposals to legally recognise different degrees of murder.[31] 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; he supported further investigation.[32][33][34] 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.[35] 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.[36][37][38] In December 2010, Starmer changed the decision process, including requiring 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".[39] He later produced guidelines to prevent women in similar circumstances from being unfairly prosecuted.[40] 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.[41][42][43] 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.[44]

During the 2011 England riots, Starmer prioritised rapid prosecutions of rioters over long sentences, which he later thought had helped to bring "the situation back under control".[45][46] 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.[47] 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.[48][49]

Starmer c. 2012

In February 2012, Starmer announced that Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, would be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice in R v Huhne. Huhne became the first UK cabinet minister in history to be compelled to resign as a result of criminal proceedings.[50] Starmer had previously said in relation to the case that "[w]here there is sufficient evidence we do not shy away from prosecuting politicians".[51] 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".[52] 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.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55][56]

In 2013, Starmer announced changes to how sexual abuse investigations are handled in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, including a panel to review historic complaints.[57][58] 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 are more common than the data support mean that police forces might adopt what he called a cautious approach that can "lead to injustice for victims" of rape.[59] He also started an inquiry into the cause of a reduction in police reports of rape and domestic abuse.[60] 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.[61]

Starmer left office in November 2013, and was replaced by Alison Saunders.[62][63] 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.[64] On 28 December, he said to BBC News he was "rather enjoying having some free time" and "considering a number of options".[65] There was speculation at the time that he would stand as a Labour Party candidate for the UK Parliament.[66]

After stepping down as Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer was granted a tax-unregistered pension.[67]

Early political career

Member of Parliament

Starmer was selected in December 2014 to be the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour UK constituency of Holborn and St Pancras, a safe seat, following the decision of the sitting MP Frank Dobson to retire.[68] Starmer was elected at the 2015 UK general election with a majority of 17,048.[69] He was urged by a number of activists to stand in the 2015 Labour Party leadership election following the resignation of Ed Miliband; he ruled this out, citing his relative lack of political experience.[70][71] During the campaign, Starmer supported Andy Burnham, who finished second to Jeremy Corbyn, the new Leader of the Labour Party.[72]

Corbyn appointed Starmer to the Shadow Home Secretary's ministerial team as Shadow Minister for Immigration, a role from which he resigned as part of the widespread June 2016 British shadow cabinet resignations in protest at Corbyn's leadership; in his resignation letter he wrote that it was "simply untenable now to suggest we can offer an effective opposition without a change of leader".[73][74]

Shadow Brexit Secretary

Starmer pictured with his shadow cabinet colleagues at the launch of Labour's general election campaign, 31 October 2019

Following Corbyn's win in the 2016 Labour Party leadership election in September, Starmer accepted an appointment as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, replacing Emily Thornberry who had held the role concurrently with her continuing position as Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.[75] 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 in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.[76]

In his role as Shadow Brexit Secretary, Starmer questioned the government's destination for the UK outside of the European Union (EU), 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.[77] He argued that the government would be need to pass a large number of new laws quickly, or risk what he called an "unsustainable legal vacuum", if Britain left the EU without a deal.[78] At the 2018 Labour Party Conference on 25 September, Starmer advocated for a referendum on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, saying that "our options must include campaigning for a public vote, and nobody is ruling out remain as an option".[79]

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

In January 2017, 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".[80] 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".[81] Starmer had 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.[82]

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.[83] Starmer was a supporter of a second referendum on Brexit.[84] This position was included as a Labour Party policy in the party's 2019 UK general election manifesto.[85]

Leadership of the Labour Party

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Starmer speaking at the 2020 Labour Party leadership election hustings in Bristol, 1 February 2020

In the 2019 general election, Labour suffered its worst election defeat since 1935, with the Conservative Party earning an 80-seat majority.[86][87] This was also the Labour Party's fourth consecutive general election defeat.[88] Following this defeat, Jeremy Corbyn announced that he would stand down as Leader of the Labour Party.[89] 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.[90] Starmer won the 2020 Labour leadership contest on 4 April 2020, beating Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, with 56.2% of the vote in the first round,[91] and became Leader of the Opposition amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.[92]

His tenure has seen the party move closer towards the political centre.[93][94][95] Speaking at the party’s annual conference in 2021, the first time Starmer addressed the annual conference in person since becoming the leader, he presented his focus on stronger economy and tougher stances on crime, repositioning the party away from the previous leadership.[96] By 2022, Starmer had dropped most of the socialist policies he advocated during his leadership run, including pledges made to nationalise water and energy, scrap tuition fees, and defend free movement within the EU.[97][98] Starmer responded to criticism in 2023 by stating that they remained "important statements of value and principle", but cited the COVID-19 pandemic, the War in Ukraine, and the economic crisis resulting from the 2022 mini-budget as having meant that these pledges have had to be adapted.[99] Under Starmer's tenure, the party still supports the Renationalisation of Britain's railways,[100] and has pledged to create a publicly owned energy company, GB Energy, to "compete with private industry and promote clean energy", differentiated from full nationalisation of the energy industry as previously pledged.[101][102]

In a speech on 23 February 2023, Starmer set out five "national missions" which would be the basis for Labour's manifesto for the next general election, whilst calling for "a decade of national renewal".[103] In the speech, Starmer aimed for the UK to obtain the highest sustained growth in the G7 by the end of his first term.[104] He also aimed for the UK to be a "clean energy superpower" with zero-carbon electricity by 2030.[104] Starmer also committed to health and care reform, improving the justice system and also to "break down the barriers to opportunity" with education and childcare reforms.[104]

Starmer's leadership has been controversial within the party; it has been charged by party members with the allegedly unfair treatment of leftist Labour members, including the blocking of leftist candidates in local elections.[105][106] The Labour Party lost almost 100,000 members during 2021.[107] The Party has also been criticised for allegedly failing to respond to anti-black racism and Islamophobia within the party, as identified in the 2020 Forde Report commissioned by Starmer and conducted by Martin Forde KC.[108] It accused the party of operating "a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination" in which certain forms of racism and abuse were not taken as seriously as others.[108] Black Labour MPs have condemned the party's response to the problems raised in the report.[109]

Starmer with then prime minister Boris Johnson and former prime minister Theresa May, 14 November 2021

Following past allegations of antisemitism in the party during the Jeremy Corbyn era, Starmer pledged to end antisemitism in the party during his acceptance speech.[110][111] Starmer apologised for the "stain" of anti-Semitism within the party, adding that he would "tear out this poison by its roots".[112] In October 2020, following the release of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)'s report into antisemitism in the party, Starmer accepted its findings in full and apologised to Jews on behalf of the party.[113][114] Later that day, Jeremy Corbyn stated that "the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons".[115] He was later suspended over his response to the report.[115] On 14 November 2022, it was reported that the leadership of the Labour Party would not restore the whip to Corbyn, preventing him from standing for election on behalf of the Labour Party.[116] In February 2023, Starmer's antisemitism reforms resulted in the party no longer being monitored by the EHRC.[117]

During the 2022–2023 industrial strikes, Starmer urged his shadow cabinet members to refrain from joining picket lines. Sam Tarry, the shadow minister for buses and local transport, appeared at a National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers strike picket outside Euston train station. He was subsequently dismissed as minister, which was criticised by trade union leaders.[118][119] However, a Labour Party spokesperson said that the sacking wasn't "about appearing on a picket line. Members of the frontbench sign up to collective responsibility. That includes media appearances being approved and speaking to agreed frontbench positions."[119]

Starmer with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, 7 November 2023

Since the end of 2021, Labour have maintained a poll lead over the Conservatives, including the highest poll lead of any party in over 20 years amid the government crisis during the Premiership of Liz Truss.[120][121] During the 2023 local elections, the Labour Party gained more than 500 councillors and 22 councils, becoming the largest party in local government for the first time since 2002.[122]

In September 2023, he reshuffled his shadow cabinet.[123] Starmer was ranked number two in the New Statesman’s Left Power List 2023, below his Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, but still described as "the overwhelming favourite to be the next Prime Minister".[124] The reshuffle was seen as a promotion of Blairites and demotion of those on the soft left.[125][126][127][128]

During the Israel–Gaza war, Starmer has emphasised his support for Israel, stated he would favour military aid to the country, and called the actions of Hamas and other militants terrorism.[129][130] In an interview with LBC on 11 October 2023, Starmer was asked whether it would be appropriate for Israel to totally cut off power and water supplies to Gaza, with Starmer replying that "I think that Israel does have that right" and that "obviously everything should be done within international law".[131][132] On 20 October, after criticism and resignations of Labour councillors, Starmer said that he only meant that Israel had the right to defend itself.[132][133] Starmer had said that a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas for future attacks, instead calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to reach Gaza.[134]

On 16 November 2023, Starmer suffered his largest defeat as leader when 56 of his MPs (including ten frontbenchers) defied a three-line whip in voting for an SNP motion to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.[135][136] Prior to the vote, Starmer stated that Labour MPs with positions in his Shadow Cabinet would be sacked if they voted in favour of the ceasefire vote.[135] This then led to the loss of ten frontbenchers, including eight shadow ministers.[135]

Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, 7 February 2024

In December 2023, Keir Starmer followed Rishi Sunak in changing his stance by calling for a "sustainable ceasefire" in relation to the conflict in Gaza. This also came after the Foreign Secretary David Cameron's same change in position. Starmer stated his support for a "two-stage" "two-state solution".[137][138][139] The Labour Party under Starmer suspended several parliamentary candidates and MPs, including Graham Jones, Andy McDonald, Azhar Ali and Kate Osamor, for allegedly making anti-Semitic comments about Israel during the Israel-Hamas war, or for describing its conduct as genocide.[140][141]

Political positions

Starmer's politics have been described as unclear and "hard to define".[142][143][144] When he was elected as Labour leader, Starmer was widely believed to belong to the soft left of the Labour Party.[145] However, he has since moved to the political centre-ground.[146][147] By the September 2023 shadow cabinet reshuffle, most analysts concluded that Starmer had moved to the right of the party, and had demoted and marginalised those on the soft left, replacing them with Blairites.[148][149][150][128][127]

The term Starmerism has been coined to refer to Starmer's political ideology and his supporters have been called Starmerites.[151][152] In June 2023, Starmer gave an interview to Time where he was asked to define Starmerism:[153]

Recognizing that our economy needs to be fixed. Recognizing that [solving] climate change isn’t just an obligation; it’s the single biggest opportunity that we’ve got for our country going forward. Recognizing that public services need to be reformed, that every child and every place should have the best opportunities and that we need a safe environment, safe streets, et cetera.

In April 2023, Starmer gave an interview to The Economist on defining Starmerism.[152][154] In this interview, two main strands of Starmerism were identified.[154] The first strand focused on a critique of the British state for being too ineffective and over-centralised. The answer to this critique was to base governance on five main missions to be followed over two terms of government; these missions would determine all government policy. The second strand was the adherence to an economic policy of "modern supply-side economics" based on expanding economic productivity by increasing participation in the labour market, mitigating the impact of Brexit and simplifying the construction planning process.[154]

Relationship to socialism

Starmer wrote articles for the magazines Socialist Alternatives and Socialist Lawyer as a young man in the 1980s and 1990s.[155] In July 1986, Starmer wrote in the first issue of Socialist Alternatives that trade unions should have had control over the "industry and community".[155] 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.[155]

In 2005, Starmer stated that "I got made a Queen’s Counsel, which is odd since I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy".[156]

Gavin Millar, a former legal colleague of Starmer, has described his politics as "red-green", a characterisation Starmer has agreed with.[5] In a January 2020 interview, Starmer described himself as a socialist,[157] 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".[158]

In an interview with the i's Francis Elliott in December 2021, Starmer refused to characterise himself as a socialist as he seeks to move Labour to the political centre for the 2024 United Kingdom general election, asking "What does that mean?" He added: "The Labour Party is a party that believes that we get the best from each other when we come together, collectively, and ensure that you know, we give people both opportunity and support as they needed."[159]

In 2023, Starmer removed the ten socialism-based pledges that he had made in the 2020 party leadership contest from his website, after having abandoned or rolled back on many of these, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic situation as reasons for having to "adapt".[160][99]

In the run-up to the 2024 United Kingdom general election, Starmer told the BBC "I would describe myself as a socialist. I describe myself as a progressive. I’d describe myself as somebody who always puts the country first and party second".[161]

Domestic issues

Starmer has repeatedly emphasised the reform of public institutions (against a so-called tax and spend approach), localism, and devolution. He has pledged to abolish the House of Lords, which he has described as "indefensible", during the first term of a Labour government and to replace it with a directly-elected 'Assembly of the Regions and Nations', but the details of which will be subject to public consultation. He criticised the Conservative Party for handing peerages to "cronies and donors".[162] Upon becoming leader of the Labour Party, he tasked former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown with recommending constitutional reforms to British democracy.[163] The report was published in 2022 and was endorsed and promoted by Starmer, and recommended the abolition of the House of Lords, greater powers given to local councils and mayors, and deeper devolution to the nations of the United Kingdom.[164] However, in 2024, early plans for Labour's election manifesto for the 2024 general election reportedly would not call for abolition of the House of Lords, instead committing only to removal of the remaining hereditary peers from the Lords during the first term of a Labour government.[165]

Starmer supports social ownership and investment in the UK's public services, including the National Health Service (NHS).[166][167][168] In 2020, he pledged to increase income tax for the top 5% of earners and to end corporate tax avoidance,[166] but receded from the income tax commitment in 2023.[169] 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.[166][167] On social inequality, Starmer proposes "national wellbeing indicators" to measure the country's performance on health, inequality, homelessness, and the environment.[170] He has called for an "overhaul" of the UK's Universal Credit scheme.[171] 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".[172][173] 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.[174]

Starmer strongly favours green policies to tackle climate change and decarbonise the British economy. He has committed to eliminate fossil fuels from the UK electricity grid by 2030, five years earlier than the Conservative government's target.[175] In 2021, Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves pledged that a Labour government would invest an extra £28 billion a year in green industries if elected; in June 2023 this was changed to £28 billion per year by the middle of their first term of government.[176]

Starmer vowed in 2021 and 2022 to strip independent schools of their VAT-exempt charitable status, a move opposed by the Independent Schools Council,[177][13][178] During the 2020 Labour leadership election, Starmer pledged to scrap university tuition fees; he dropped this pledge in May 2023, citing a "different financial situation" following Liz Truss' premiership. Starmer instead said that he aimed to reform the tuition fee system, which he said was unfair to both students and universities.[179] He is supportive of faith schools, and said he would not change policy on faith schools.[180] He has ruled out extending free school meals to all primary school pupils in England,[181] instead pledging to extend breakfast clubs including free breakfasts for every primary school in England.[182]

Starmer's position on public ownership over national infrastructure has changed over time. In the 2020 Labour Party leadership election, Starmer ran on a pledge to renationalise rail, mail, water, and energy back into common ownership; he dropped this pledge in July 2022 and said he would take a "pragmatic approach" to public ownership.[183][184] As of September 2023, he remained committed to renationalising the railways as existing contracts expire, the creation of a publicly owned energy company, and stricter regulation of water companies.[185][186][187][188] 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."[189]

Starmer has pledged to halve the rates of violence against women and girls, halve the rates of serious violent crime, halve the incidents of knife crime, increase confidence in the criminal justice system, and create a 'Charging Commission' which would be "tasked with coming up with reforms to reverse the decline in the number of offences being solved".[190] He has also committed to placing specialist domestic violence workers in the control rooms of every police force responding to 999 calls to support victims of abuse.[191]

In 2023, the Byline Times wrote that Starmer "actively opposes a move to proportional representation for the House of Commons".[192]

After confirming he would not scrap the current two-child benefit cap, Starmer was criticised by many within his own party.[193]

Foreign affairs

Starmer meets with then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, July 2020
Starmer meets with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Munich Security Conference, February 2024

Starmer voted remain in the Brexit referendum and, as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, advocated a second Brexit referendum after the UK withdrawal from the EU. In 2021 he ruled out a return to free movement with the EU or substantial renegotiation of the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement if Labour won the next general election.[194] In 2023, Starmer wrote in the Daily Express that "Britain's future is outside the EU" and he would not take the UK back into the EU or into the single market, customs union, or return to freedom of movement.[195][196] However, he has called for much closer economic, diplomatic, and military collaboration between the UK and EU, and would seek to revisit the Brexit deal negotiated and implemented under former Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson.[197][198]

Starmer has advocated an end to "illegal wars" and a review of UK arms exports.[166] 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.[199][200] 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."[201] Starmer called for sanctions against Chinese officials who have been involved in human rights abuses.[202] He criticised the Johnson government for approving of major UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, which intensified the humanitarian crisis in that country.[203][204] Starmer condemned the U.S.'s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force within in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; Starmer said the world needed to "engage, not isolate" Iran and called upon "all sides ... to de-escalate tensions and prevent further conflict."[205]

During the U.S.'s transition 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."[173]

In 2021, Starmer said that Israel "must respect international law" and called on the Israeli government to work with Palestinian leaders to de-escalate the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[206] Starmer opposes 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.[207][208] Starmer also has expressed support for the creation of an "inverse OPEC" to promote renewable energy.[209] He has rejected the contention that Israel is an apartheid state.[210] During a June 2023 meeting with Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom head Husam Zomlot, Starmer recommitted the Labour Party to the recognition of a Palestinian state if it wins the next general election.[211] In January 2024, Starmer said that a future Labour government would recognize a State of Palestine as part of a multi-national peace process, rather than extending recognition immediately or unilaterally; this confirmed a recommendations from the party's policy forum in October 2023.[212] During the first months of the Israel–Hamas war, Starmer declined to call a ceasefire;[213][214] in February 2024, Starmer called for a "ceasefire that lasts" and said it must "happen now".[215]

During the 2021–2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis, Starmer met with Secretary General of NATO 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 NATO was "unshakeable"; he added that "stand united in the UK ... Whatever challenges we have with the [Boris Johnson's] government, when it comes to Russian aggression we stand together."[216] Starmer called for "widespread and hard-hitting" economic sanctions against Russia.[217] He also criticised the Stop the War Coalition in an op-ed for The Guardian, writing that the group's members were "not benign voices for peace" but rather "[a]t best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders" such as Vladimir Putin "who directly threaten democracies."[218] In February 2023 he met Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, and pledged support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion of the country; Starmer that if he became prime minister, there would be no change in Britain's position on the war in Ukraine.[219][220] He also called for Russian leaders, including Putin, to be tried at The Hague for crimes against humanity.[221][222] Starmer supported the International Criminal Court's issuance of an arrest warrant for Putin, after he was indicted in the ICC.[223]

Starmer supports maintaining the UK's nuclear arsenal as a nuclear deterrent, and voted for renewal of the Trident programme; he supports the general post-Cold War British policy of a gradual reduction in nuclear stockpiles.[216][224]

According to Declassified UK, Starmer is a former member of the Trilateral Commission.[225]

Personal life

Starmer married Victoria Alexander in 2007.[226] She was previously a solicitor but now works in NHS occupational health.[5][227] The couple's two children are being brought up in the Jewish faith of their mother.[228] Starmer himself stated he does not believe in God, but does believe in faith and its power to bring people together.[229] He is a pescatarian and his wife is a vegetarian. They raised their children as vegetarians until they were 10 years old, at which point they were given the option of eating meat.[230]

Starmer is a keen footballer, having played for Homerton Academicals, a north London amateur team,[10] and supports Premier League side Arsenal.[5]

Awards and honours

The star given to those appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, including Starmer
Honorary degrees issued to Keir Starmer
Date School Degree
21 July 2011 University of Essex Doctor of university (D.U.)[238]
16 July 2012 University of Leeds Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[239]
19 November 2013 University of East London Doctor of university (D.U.)[240]
19 December 2013 London School of Economics Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[241][242]
14 July 2014 University of Reading Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)[243]
18 November 2014 University of Worcester Doctor of university (D.U.)[244]

Publications

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

  • Justice in Error (1993), edited with Clive Walker, London: Blackstone, ISBN 1-85431-234-0.
  • The Three Pillars of Liberty: Political Rights and Freedoms in the United Kingdom (1996), with Francesca Klug and Stuart Weir, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-09641-3.
  • Signing Up for Human Rights: The United Kingdom and International Standards (1998), with Conor Foley, London: Amnesty International United Kingdom, ISBN 1-873328-30-3.
  • Miscarriages of Justice: A Review of Justice in Error (1999), edited with Clive Walker, London: Blackstone, ISBN 1-85431-687-7.
  • European Human Rights Law: the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights (1999), London: Legal Action Group, ISBN 0-905099-77-X.
  • Criminal Justice, Police Powers and Human Rights (2001), with Anthony Jennings, Tim Owen, Michelle Strange, and Quincy Whitaker, London: Blackstone, ISBN 1-84174-138-8.
  • Blackstone's Human Rights Digest (2001), with Iain Byrne, London: Blackstone, ISBN 1-84174-153-1.
  • A Report on the Policing of the Ardoyne Parades 12 July 2004 (2004), with Jane Gordon, Belfast: Northern Ireland Policing Board.

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Further reading

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
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