Glasgow, United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labor Party checkered leadership officially ended after Keir Starmer was elected to replace him following a protracted four-month dispute.
Corbyn, a staunch socialist who has chaired Labor for nearly five years, resigned after the general election last December, which saw him lead one of the most disastrous results of the general election in living memory.
Starmer, a knight lawyer and former director of public prosecutions, took 56.2 percent of the vote on Saturday, rejecting a challenge from two of his rivals in the party: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Corbyn’s loyalist and Lisa Nandy.
Angela Rayner was also elected as a replacement for Starmer, who made a pre-recorded victory speech online in which she described her election as “honor and privilege”.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen Labor cancel the special leadership conference that would have publicly unveiled its new leader, who will now have the daunting task of challenging the rule of the ruling Conservative Party government, which holds a parliamentary majority of 80 seats.
“Starmer was the most experienced candidate,” former Scottish press party adviser Simon Pia told Al Jazeera. “He is an intelligent man, he has his own [legal] the background … is balanced and has gravitas “.
– The Labor Party (@UKLabour) April 4, 2020
Named after the first member of the Labor Parliament, Keir Hardie from Scotland, Starmer, 57, graduated from Oxford in 1986 and became a lawyer, focusing on human rights laws.
His legal work has seen him attempt to eradicate the death penalty in some Caribbean and African countries.
In 2008 he became head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and director of prosecutors. He resigned from that role in 2013.
Two years later, Starmer won a seat in Parliament with a majority of over 17,000 votes.
Starmer, an ardent Europhile, resigned from his post appointed minister Corbyn as shadow immigration minister in 2016, citing the need to change the leader of the Labor Party following Brexit’s “catastrophic” vote in the United Kingdom.
He met as Brexit’s shadow secretary later in the same year, when the UK began the process of leaving the European Union.
Commitment to fight anti-Semitism
Starmer, who is taking over the opposition party during an unprecedented peacetime world crisis, will seek to distance Labor from the years of the Corbyn scandal towards a more credible claim to power.
Corbyn – a cA pro-Palestine activist – sensationally secured maximum Labor work from political backbenches in September 2015, but faced allegations of anti-Semitism and party resignation during his tenure as he fought and lost two general elections in the UK and successfully dismissed a challenge to the his leadership.
Critics accused him of being too harsh – even Marxist – but where is Starmer, who once asked for a more “humane approach to foreign policy”?
“Corbyn is identifiable to the left of the Labor party,” political author Francis Beckett, whose upcoming work on the post-WWII Labor Prime Minister Clement Attlee – A Little Man – is slated for November, told Al Jazeera.
“There were two traditions of the right and the left, but from the 1980s there were really three – the center-left – and this is where Starmer is.”
It is the honor and privilege of my life to be elected Head of the Labor Party.
I will lead this big party into a new era, with confidence and hope, so that when the time comes we can serve our country again – in government. pic.twitter.com/F4X088FTYY
– Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 4, 2020
Yet, for Starmer, he takes over the leadership of the official UK opposition in the middle the coronavirus crisis it is likely to be a silent occasion.
The new Labor leader used his victory speech to describe Labor’s alleged anti-Semitism as a “stain on our party”, pledging to “snatch this poison from its roots”.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera the “downside” [of winning the Labour leadership] is that Starmer will probably not see the immediate push in the polls that many new leaders experience “during the pandemic.
“The positive side is that journalists will not be scrutinizing every move, observing and waiting – and jumping up – every misstep,” he added.
While British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in self-isolation after being diagnosed with coronavirus late last month, Bale said that “the key to leadership in this time of crisis is to become an expert in the art of constructive opposition” .
In fact, while he has not been tested in a political leadership role, many commentators have agreed that Starmer’s understanding of the details could see him challenge Johnson’s more bombastic approach to politics.
“Maybe it will provide a good contrast to Johnson,” said Pia. “Starmer has a respected legal brain, which, against Johnson, could be quite effective.”
Long way to go for work
But, as loyal supporters of the work also admit, the party has a long way to go. Since 2005, when Tony Blair led the party to victory, Labor has not won the general election since it has lost the votes of the working class against the right-wing conservatives.
Scotland, which almost voted for the state six years ago, remains a thorn in the party’s side. Today, the ancient Labor heart is dominated by the Scottish National Party (SNP) in power for independence, which since 2007 has led the devolved government of Scotland to the Scottish Parliament.
The tight vote on Brexit to leave the EU in 2016, which divided the UK into four nations like no other problem, is another minefield that requires navigation once the coronavirus crisis is over.
Until the UK officially left the blockade on January 31st, Europhiles and Eurosceptics had faced off in a bitter propaganda war that was only recently replaced by a battle to save lives during the pandemic.
But the UK that would emerge from the health crisis remains shrouded in uncertainty, and so does Starmer’s role within it.
“In normal times, you should be a brave man to bet that Labor is approaching the government everywhere in the next election, given the beating he had last year,” said Bale. “But these aren’t normal times.”
Bale said the “wash out of this [coronavirus] the crisis could prove devastating for this government and the conservative party’s enthusiasm for austerity “over the past decade.
“Add to this an already unstable, less tribal electorate and perhaps nothing is impossible. In any case, if Starmer approaches also in 2024 – if this is the date of the next elections – he will have a pretty good claim.”
Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi