Monday, July 15, 2024

WORLD | 04-07-2024 14:38

Sir Keir Starmer: Britain's next prime minister

Keir Starmer, named after Labour's founding father, is the centre-left opposition party's most working-class leader in decades, despite his knighthood.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is a former human rights lawyer turned state prosecutor whose ruthless ambition and formidable work ethic look set to propel him to Britain's highest political office.

The 61-year-old, named after Labour's founding father Keir Hardie, is the centre-left opposition party's most working-class leader in decades.

"My dad was a toolmaker, my mum was a nurse," Starmer often tells voters, countering depictions by opponents that he is the epitome of a smug, liberal London elite.

With his grey quiff and black-rimmed glasses, Starmer remains an enigma in the eyes of many voters, who are predicted to propel him to Downing Street after Thursday's general election.

Detractors label him an uninspiring opportunist, but supporters insist he is a managerial pragmatist who will approach being prime minister the same way he did his legal career: tirelessly and forensically.

"Politics has to be about service," Starmer said in a recent campaign speech, repeating his mantra to put "country first, party second" following 14 years of Conservative rule under five different prime ministers.

Sometimes appearing uncomfortable in the spotlight, the devoted Arsenal fan, who came to politics late in life, has struggled to shed his public image as buttoned-up and boring.

But Starmer, whose wife Victoria works as an occupational therapist in the National Health Service, is said to be funny in private and loyal. The couple have two teenage children, a girl and a boy.

If elected, he has pledged to maintain his habit of not working after 6pm on a Friday to spend time with them.


Mother's death

Born on September 2, 1962, Keir Rodney Starmer was raised in a cramped, pebbledashed semi-detached house on the outskirts of London by a seriously ill mother and an emotionally distant father.

He had three siblings, one of whom had learning difficulties. His parents were animal lovers who rescued donkeys.

"Whenever one of us left home, they replaced us with a donkey," Starmer has joked.

A talented musician, Starmer had violin lessons at school with Norman Cook, the former Housemartins bassist who became DJ Fatboy Slim, and attended a prestigious London music school at weekends.

After legal studies at the universities of Leeds and Oxford, Starmer turned his attention to leftist causes, defending trade unions, anti-McDonald's activists and death row inmates abroad.

He is friends with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney from their time together at the same legal practice and once recounted a boozy lunch he had with her and her Hollywood actor husband George Clooney.

In 2003, he began moving towards the establishment, shocking colleagues and friends, first with a job ensuring that police in Northern Ireland complied with human rights legislation.

Five years later, he was appointed director of public prosecutions for England and Wales when Labour's Gordon Brown was prime minister.

Between 2008 and 2013, he oversaw the prosecution of MPs for abusing their expenses, journalists for phone-hacking, and young rioters involved in unrest across England.

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II but rarely uses the prefix "Sir," and in 2015 was elected a member of parliament, representing a seat in left-leaning north London.

Just weeks before he was elected, his mother died of a rare disease of the joints that had left her unable to walk for many years.



In 2021 he broke down in tears during a TV interview as he described how her agonising death "broke" his father.

Just a year after becoming an MP, Starmer joined a rebellion by Labour lawmakers over radical left-winger Jeremy Corbyn's perceived lack of leadership during the EU referendum campaign.

It failed, and later that year he rejoined the top team as Labour's Brexit spokesman, where he remained until succeeding Corbyn, who took the party to its worst defeat since 1935 in the last general election five years ago.

Starmer has since shown ruthlessness by moving the party back to the centre ground, purging Corbyn and rooting out anti-Semitism.

The left accuses him of betrayal for dropping a number of pledges he made during his successful leadership campaign, including the scrapping of university tuition fees.

But his strategic repositioning of Labour to put it back on a path to power is indicative of a constant throughout his life: a drive to succeed.

"If you're born without privilege, you don't have time for messing around," Starmer once said.

"You don't walk around problems without fixing them, and you don't surrender to the instincts of organisations that won't face up to change."

related news

by Peter Hutchinson, AFP


More in (in spanish)