So who is Sir Keir Starmer, today the most solidly implanted leader of the left in Europe?

By Denis MacShane, former UK Europe Minister

Britain’s new Prime Minister has the same age as Clement Attlee, Labour’s most famous premier (1945-51).
It was Attlee who transformed Britain by nationalising most industries, creating a health service which even today is free for every citizen, making trade unions partners in industry and giving India and Pakistan their independence without the wars in IndoChina and Algeria of socialist ministers in France 1945-1958.

The “Sir” (Donald Trump likes that, it seems) in Sir Kier is a title bestowed upon senior state functionaries.
Mr Starmer became a “Sir” when he was named Chief Prosecutor of England during the Tony Blair government (one I served in). He could have remained a simple “Mister” Starmer but took the title.

Last week he entered No10 Downing Street to begin his first ever period of political office.

Attlee had been a famous left-wing mayor of a poor East London working class suburb and pioneered social housing and child care policies. He was a minister in 1929 and then Leader of the Labour Party in 1935 and deputy prime minister in Winston Churchill’s cabinet in the second world war.

By the time Attlee, or Harold Wilson or Tony Blair became Labour prime minister they had years of political practice and experience from an early age.

Starmer has never sought election as an MP or even a local councillor. He was a lawyer specialising in human rights case oversea. Human rights law has become a major branch of the legal profession following the legislation of supra-national human rights conventions at the EU and UN level.

Starmer was no Robert Badinter or theatrical court room advocate specialising in dramatic appeals. He was a methodical, step-by-step lawyer who defended his clients with rational arguments based on legal precedents. It was this calm sobriety that appealed to the Tony Blair when Starmer was named state prosecutor for the England in 2008. He was a high state functionary but not involved in politics.

In 2015 aged 50 he was elected a Labour MP and accepted to serve Jeremy Corbyn, the Jean-Luc Mélenchon of Britain’s Labour Party. Other more experienced MPs challenged the anti-European Corbyn as they knew he would guarantee Labour’s defeat and keep the Right in power.Starmer stayed loyal to Corbyn and when Labour was defeated by Boris Johnson in 2019 he put himself forward to be leader. All alternative candidates on the Left were discredited as the ultra-leftism of Corbyn was rejected by voters.

Other more centrist candidates who had raised the banner of progressive reformist pro-European democratic Socialism in the tradition of the Northern European social democrats were demoralised and some had been driven out of politics by the Corbynistas.

Starmer had no special profile, had made no enemies, and was seen as professional and competent. He was lucky as the Brexit-era Conservative prime ministers he faced were incompetent, stupid and told open lies to Parliament.
Starmer moved to promote centrist Labour MPs as future ministers. They accepted Conservative economic practice promising there would be no increase in taxes on individuals. The broken public services of health, schools, care-homes, railways would be improved by better management not new investment.
He removed left-wing deputies and candidates and replaced them with men and women who supported policies that appealed to the English middle classes.

The Labour leader avoided re-opening the Brexit divide in Britain and refused to challenge the 2016 plebiscite which was partly financed by Vladimir Putin and supported by the Rupert Murdoch press with non-stop lies in both major papers like The Times as well as in nearly all British tabloids.

Starmer waited patiently for the Conservatives to make mistakes. Boris Johnson was forced to resign from the House of Commons after MPs decided he had lied once too often to them. Liz Truss, the pro-Brexit prime minister for 49 days, had to resign after she proposed a financial programme of tax cuts for the rich and leaving all middle class British citizens seeing the interest rates most pay on loans to buy their homes massively increase. The international markets raised the cost of borrowing to finance the British state and Conservative MPs removed Ms Truss before she could do more damage.

The last Tory prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was like Emmanuel Macron, a clever Davos elite technocrat. Both men had been bankers – Sunak with Goldman Sachs and Macron with Rothschild – before they decided they were men of providence who should enter politics, and go straight to the top job without any apprenticeship in the craft of professional politics.

The Conservatives had their right wing racist, anti-immigrant, Muslimphobe faction using identical language to Jordan Bardella and Eric Zemour, leaders of France’s two racist extreme right parties, the National Rally and Reconquest. Starmer was lucky that as Labour activists accepted his moderate social democratic leadership the Conservatives looked like a right-wing Trotskyist sect full of personality clashes and an open contempt for the party leader, Rishi Sunak.

Starmer stayed calm and avoided radical rhetoric. His wife’s father was a Polish Jewish immigrant and her mother converted to Judaism. The family – he has a teenage son and daughter – are not religious but keep the Friday Shabbat evening family meal as a fixed point in their family life. While sharing in the condemnation of the brutality of the Netanyahu slaughter of innocent Palestinian women, pensioners and children Labour has repudiated the Islamaphobe ideologues who want to use the Gaza conflict as a reason to support the elimination of Israel as Middle East state.

He has a passion for playing weekend football and watches all Arsenal games. In other words a typical north London professional.

He speaks no foreign languages and has never worked in Europe. While polls show 57% of British citizens now think Brexit was a mistake, there is no majority in the polls for a return to the EU if a new referendum was held. Labour over many decades was bitterly divided on Europe. The paradox of leaving the EU means that the Europe question no longer divides Labour and so the party can appear united on this historically divisive issue in left politics in Britain.

Labour has won 412 seats in the Commons which is a triumph. Yet only 35 % of voters backed Starmer. The British system of single seat majority election can give a party control of the House of Commons without winning 50% of votes cast.

So do not expect a rapid return of Great Britain as an EU member state. Nigel Farage’s Reform Party made the biggest increase in vote share -14% more than the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. If Starmer risked a referendum to return to the EU he would lost.

He made the correct judgement in his four years as party leader to place Labour where British voters are rather than as the left often does believing voters will follow what party political ideologues and activists desire.He is in power for five years. As France and other European nations see the rise of anti-system populist nationalist parties and countries like Germany and Spain struggle with quarrelling coalitions under a left head of government and across the Atlantic the spectre of President Trump menaces world peace and stability, Sir Keir Starmer, has created a British politics that is stable, measured, and progressive if not ultra radical. It is not revolutionary but it has won power so perhaps comrades in European democratic left parties might come and learn how Labour has won power with a big majority?

Denis MacShane was a Labour deputy for 18 years and was Minister for European Affairs in the government of Tony Blair.

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