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Tags: keir starmer | parliment | prime minister | labour party | united kingdom | prosecutor

Britain's New PM: A Pragmatic Progressive

Keir Starmer speaking
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer delivers a speech on Downing Street in central London, after the Labour Party won a historic victory. (Steve Taylor/AP)

John Gizzi By Monday, 08 July 2024 07:22 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Following a landslide election of near-record proportions July 4, the Labour Party has assumed power in the United Kingdom for the first time in 14 years.

Sir Keir Starmer — the first knighted prime minister since Sir Alec Douglas Home in 1963 and the first-ever Labour prime minister to hold the honor — is a mystery to most Americans, not to mention many British voters who voted Labour but knew next to nothing about its leader.

Small wonder. After years as a human rights lawyer and chief prosecutor of the nation's criminals, Starmer (who was named after the first head of the Labour Party) entered Parliament in 2015 and assumed the helm of Labour just over four years ago. He never held a Cabinet ministry, was briefly shadow Secretary for Brexit in the shadow Cabinet under arch-leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and, upon succeeding Corbyn, helped orchestrate his ouster from the party for antisemitic statements.

Five years after Corbyn and Labour suffered a devastating loss to the opposition Conservative Party, Starmer led Labour to its biggest-ever win with roughly 410 seats out of the 610-seat British House of Commons.

For those who want to learn something about the prime minister, a reading of Tom Baldwin's biography of Starmer is highly recommended. Baldwin is a past communications director for the Labour Party who took up the mission of writing the Starmer saga after his friend the party leader abandoned the idea of an autobiography.

But what he produced is by no means hagiography. The reader gets a clear portrait of Starmer as someone who, his own passion for Labour and left-of-center causes notwithstanding, is also very pragmatic about a lot of things.

"There is no version of my life that does not largely revolve around me being a human rights lawyer," Starmer once said. When he completed this early phase of his career, the author notes, "he deliberately positioned himself on what was then its most radical cutting edge."

While the death penalty had been banned in Britain since 1964, the young Starmer took on cases to thwart its use by former British colonies. Among the more controversial cases he took on was that of Private Lee Clegg, a British serviceman accused of killing a Catholic girl in Northern Ireland.

As much as he admired Tony Blair for expanding human rights, Starmer joined hundreds of thousands of protest marchers in the streets opposing the then-prime minister's 2003 decision to join the invasion of Iraq (although he never questioned Blair's integrity in making that decision).

When Starmer was tapped to be director of public prosecutions and thus the overseer of who the British government deems a criminal, he did disappoint numerous admirers on the left. He toughened up prosecution of those accused of defrauding funds from the government's benefits system — in U.S. shorthand, "welfare cheats" — and on extradition of people accused of crimes abroad.

One such case was that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, over whom Starmer began talking with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder over extraditing to Sweden on charges of sexual assault. (Assange was taken in as a political refugee by the Ecuadorean embassy in London and by the time he was indicted in 2018, Starmer had left his position).

One finds all kinds of fascinating nuggets about the little-known politician now about to become the most powerful man in the U.K.

In contrast to the three significant Labour prime ministers since World War II — Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair, all of whom had upper-middle class upbringings — Starmer came from an authentically humble and working class background. Father Rod Starmer was a toolmaker who worked with his hands and rarely told his four children he loved them. Mother Jo suffered from a rare ailment known as Still's disease, which causes the immune system to attack itself, which left her unable to walk or speak in her final years.

As much as he clearly loved his family, the young Starmer compensated for his complicated home life with a passion for football that is often exaggerated by fellow politicians but which was and remains very big with the Labour chieftain. Now in his early 60's, he still coaches and plays for his home team and will often drop in at a local pub to cheer on his favorite team.

Reluctant to discuss his childhood and relations with his father, Starmer was influenced by a series of Zoom calls with Barack Obama (arranged by Foreign Secretary-to-be David Lammy) in which the former president urged him to publicly discuss his past. Obama, who had his own difficult relationship with an absentee father, helped bring out what would be a narrative by Starmer about how the establishment too often looks down on ordinary working-class people.

How Keir Starmer will perform at No. 10 Downing Street and on what course he will take the United Kingdom is uncertain now. But if one wants some clues, Tom Baldwin's revealing biography is a pretty good way to start.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Following a landslide election of near-record proportions July 4, the Labour Party has assumed power in the United Kingdom for the first time in 14 years.
keir starmer, parliment, prime minister, labour party, united kingdom, prosecutor
Monday, 08 July 2024 07:22 AM
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