Keir Starmer: New Labour leader charged with uniting party after election wipeout
Shadow cabinet selections will provide first signpost of direction he will take the party
Keir Starmer established himself as the clear frontrunner early on in the Labour leadership race, and his victory today is a vindication of his decision to present himself as the unity candidate appealing to all sides of a deeply fractured party.
But his safety-first approach of dodging a showdown with Labour’s hard left may rebound on him in office, as he may struggle to convince activists that he has won a mandate to move the party on from Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda.
The lawyer and former shadow Brexit secretary sought to maintain a balance between Labour’s centrists and left-wingers, Remainers and Leavers, metropolitans and provincials, but faced accusations of vagueness about how he will lead the party.
Now he faces the daunting challenge of winning back the voters who deserted it for Boris Johnson in December, while at the same time keeping onside the guardians of the Corbyn flame, who currently dominate the party’s ruling National Executive Committee.
The selection of his shadow cabinet this weekend will provide a strong signal of whether he will take a "big tent" approach accommodating the left or seek confrontation in a bid to put his own stamp on the party.
Jobs for centrists like Rachel Reeves or Yvette Cooper would infuriate Corbyn loyalists, while keeping the likes of Richard Burgon and Jon Trickett would dismay those hoping for a sharp change in political direction under the new leader.
Starmer, 57, entered parliament only in 2015, as MP for the central London safe seat of Holborn and St Pancras.
But he had been steeped in campaigns for social justice throughout his previous career as a barrister, which saw him take up cudgels on behalf of clients including to so-called McLibel Two activists sued by McDonalds over a pamphlet they wrote about the fast food chain.
A specialist in human rights law, he worked on legal battles to abolish the death penalty in the Caribbean and Africa and served as human rights adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Appointed a QC in 2002, he became director of public prosecutions in 2008, leading the Crown Prosecution Service until 2013.
In this role, he brought the successful prosecution against two men accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. He was knighted in 2014 for services to law and criminal justice.
In parliament, Starmer backed Andy Burnham in the 2015 leadership election and was appointed a shadow Home Office minister within months of entering the House of Commons.
He quit the post in 2016 as part of a mass resignation by Labour MPs protesting about Corbyn’s leadership, but returned to the frontbench later that year as shadow Brexit secretary.
In that role, he exerted pressure to shift the party’s position gradually towards support for a second EU referendum, famously declaring at the 2018 Labour conference that Remain must be on the ballot paper in any vote.
As Corbyn tried to maintain an “honest broker” stance keeping both Remain and Leave options open, Starmer appeared alongside other senior figures at last October’s giant Final Say rally in Westminster to demand a public vote.
His increasingly open support for a referendum infuriated some Labour MPs who blamed him for helping drive Leave-voting Labour supporters in the Midlands and North into the arms of Johnson’s Conservatives at the subsequent election.
Soon after Corbyn’s announcement he was standing down, Starmer signalled his determination to hold the party’s wings together by declaring it was important for Labour not to “oversteer” away from the outgoing leader’s programme.
In a list of 10 pledges, he has promised to stick to a series of Corbyn’s policies, including increasing taxes for the top 5 per cent of earners, reversing corporation tax cuts, abolishing Universal Credit, establishing a green “new deal”, scrapping university tuition fees and renationalising rail, mail, water and energy.
Despite calls from some quarters for Labour to broaden its appeal by choosing a woman from outside London as its new leader, Starmer swiftly secured nominations from influential unions including Unison, Usdaw and the TSSA and took an overwhelming lead in constituency nominations, with 374 to 164 for his main rival Rebecca Long-Bailey – even picking up the support of Corbyn’s Islington North.
Born in London in 1962 to a toolmaker father and nurse mother, Starmer was named after the Labour Party’s founder and first MP Keir Hardie. He passed the 11-plus to win a place at grammar school and studied law at Leeds University and Oxford, becoming a barrister in 1987.
Married to Victoria with two children, his leadership campaign was disrupted by a serious accident suffered by his mother-in-law, who died on 8 February after two weeks in hospital.