Sir Keir Starmer is the recently elected leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. He was appointed as Leader of the Opposition in the UK in April 2020, replacing Jeremy Corbyn following Labour’s loss in the 2019 general election.
Unlike his predecessor, who has been an MP for 37 years, the father of two was elected Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015.
Coming from a Labour-supporting background, he was named after the Party’s first leader, Keir Hardie.
His first foray into left-wing politics involved a stint with the East Surrey Young Socialists as a teenager. Politically, Starmer has been identified with the “soft left,” and has promised to unite Labour and restore public trust.
Starmer is an outspoken opponent of private healthcare, stating that he will never use it, and that his children will never attend private schools. He recently spoke about his mother’s long-term struggle with Still’s disease, a condition that left her wheelchair-bound and forced her to undergo multiple amputations in later life.
He is in favor of a clean, green economy, championing policies within the Democratic Party like the Green New Deal, a proposal where the UK would use its COP Presidency position to decarbonise the economy and build a net-zero coalition worldwide.
Here’s what you need to know about Sir Keir Starmer:
1. Starmer Is a Zionist & a Convert to the Jewish Faith
Challenging pre-conceptions about endemic anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks, Starmer is a convert to Judaism – and he’s keeping his faith all in the family.
While Starmer wasn’t born into a Jewish family, his wife’s father is Jewish, with relatives living in Israel – and they are raising their son and daughter to be observant Jews, including regular Shabbat dinner attendance.
The Times of Israel reports that Starmer is a supporter of Zionism, “in the sense of someone who believes in the State of Israel”, and he has vowed to “tear the poison” of Anti-Semitism from the Labour Party.
In April 2020, UK paper Metro reported that the newly elected leader was battling internal factionism within the Labour Party after an 860-page document was leaked, revealing dissent surrounding former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and anger at the way Corbyn handled complaints regarding anti-Semitism.
Starmer launched an “urgent” independent inquiry into the report in April.
Starmer has publicly apologised to the Jewish community for what he calls the “stain” of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, and for the grief it has caused. However, he drew some criticism in 2017 when he invited an anti-Israeli charity, the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Society, to speak at the House of Commons.
2. Starmer Stood Up to Fast Food Giant McDonald’s, Representing Activists in the McLibel Case. By 2005, it was the Longest-Running Libel Case in the UK
Sir Keir Starmer acted as a pro-bono lawyer in a case known as ‘McLibel’, following the distribution of a 1986 leaflet, ‘What’s wrong with McDonald’s: everything they don’t want you to know,’ on the streets of London.
The leaflet, distributed by Greenpeace activists Helen Steel and David Morris, accused McDonald’s of paying low wages, animal cruelty, and the use of environmental exploitation in the creation of their products.
The distribution of the leaflet saw the activists go toe-to-toe with McDonalds, who claimed it was libellous to hand out a factsheet critical of the company.
By the time the case ended, 20 years later, with the Human Rights Court ruling the activists were denied fair trial, it was the longest-running libel case in English legal history. The court eventually awarded a judgment of £57,000 in damages against the UK government.
Starmer is no stranger to high-profile legal cases, including working in 1999 with the Kurdish Human Rights Project, acting on the legal team for M-15 whistle-blower David Shayler, and overseeing the implementation of parts of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland from 2003-2008.
In 2005, he acted with Amnesty International to challenge the use of torture evidence in post-9/11 court proceedings.
In 2014, Starmer was knighted for his services to law and criminal justice and for his work as head at the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions. It has been widely reported that he dislikes the use of the term “sir,” and in 2015 he told the Ham & High newspaper he would prefer if people didn’t use the title.
3. Starmer, Like Other High Profile Labour Figures, Has Publicly Expressed Disapproval of President Trump’s ‘Divisive & Undemocratic’ Behavior
Along with other Labour politicians, Starmer has disagreed with the actions of President Trump.
On February 3, 2020, Starmer linked a Huffington Post article to his Twitter page urging Tory MPs and members of cabinet to “call out Trump’s behaviour” as “divisive and undemocratic”.
The article in question refers to an incident at Downing Street where political editors at a No. 10 briefing on Boris Johnson’s planned trade deal with the EU were separated into two groups – those on Downing Street’s favored list, and anyone else.
The second group was then instructed to leave.
A senior Labour source told Huffington Post that Johnson was using Trump-like tactics to avoid media scrutiny, while SNP culture spokesman John Nicholson called the move a “sinister… approach to the press borrowed from Trump”.
4. Starmer Is an Anti-Brexiteer, but Claims the UK’s Immigration Laws Need to be Redressed
Starmer has a history as an anti-Brexiteer, and a proponent of a second referendum.
In 2019, Starmer was Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, and encouraged former Prime Minister Theresa May to “abandon her Brexit Red Lines”. He spoke out against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s view that the free movement of people should be maintained.
At the time, Corbyn suggested the free movement of workers across the EU should continue after Brexit, while Starmer argued that all immigrants should only be allowed in Britain if they had found work, and that immigration rules in the UK needed “a fundamental rethink”.
During a 2019 speech in Harlow, Starmer claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to turn the UK away from “our shared values (with) Europe. For him, that’s always been the purpose of Brexit. And once he’s done that, where will he turn? To America, and Donald Trump”.
5. Starmer Was Not The Inspiration for Mark Darcy, ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ Author Helen Fielding Says
They both fought the behemoths to find justice for the dispossessed; they were both top of their field in the legal profession; both Oxford-educated; both well-spoken and charming, and both, undeniably, English. Londoners, to be more exact.
Earlier this year, several British broadsheets began speculating upon whether Sir Keir Starmer’s literary equivalent was Mark Darcy, the hero of English novelist Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’ series, who in turn was modelled on Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy (‘Pride and Prejudice’.) Darcy was immortalised on screen by ‘The King’s Speech’ actor Colin Firth – and both the fictitious character and Starmer share similar personality traits and career trajectories.
In several recent reports in The Guardian and Tatler, the author herself has confirmed the connection is purely coincidental.
However, Guardian reporter Zoe Williams said she thought “Colin Firth and Hugh Grant (would) both endorse Starmer”.
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