ANDREW PIERCE on Sir Keir Starmer

26 Apr

Sir Keir Starmer was meant to bring long-overdue clarity to Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit yesterday.

But in truth, his performance was an utter shambles – ridiculed for being weak and floundering. 

Most damningly, it betrayed the impression that Labour wants to ‘surrender’ to Brussels over Brexit and to reject the verdict of the British people in last year’s referendum.

Also, Starmer embarrassed himself.

Sir Keir Starmer was meant to bring long-overdue clarity to Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit. But in truth, his performance was an utter shambles

Sir Keir Starmer was meant to bring long-overdue clarity to Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit. But in truth, his performance was an utter shambles

Sir Keir Starmer was meant to bring long-overdue clarity to Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit. But in truth, his performance was an utter shambles

Undoubtedly, the uber-ambitious former Director of Public Prosecutions had secretly hoped his high-profile appearance would help position himself as a front-runner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn after the expected Labour defeat on June 8.

How the 54-year-old human rights lawyer would have enjoyed a blog for the Left-leaning New Statesman magazine yesterday which oozed praise, saying ‘Labour’s best election bet is Keir Starmer’ – a ‘reassuring figure’ for voters torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain.

But the opposite is the truth.

It has been a troubled year for Starmer, during which he has been exposed for an embarrassing flip-flop.

This time last year he held the home affairs brief in the Shadow Cabinet. But amid a rush of resignations from Corbyn’s team and talk of a coup against the Labour leader, Starmer joined the exodus and called for Corbyn to be replaced. He said: ‘It is simply untenable now to suggest that we can offer an effective opposition without a change of leader.’

Many suspected he would begin plotting his own leadership bid – distancing himself further from Corbyn and waiting like a vulture for the moment to strike.

But yet, four months later, Starmer was suddenly back alongside Corbyn – appointed as shadow Brexit secretary.

Four months after Starmer called for Jeremy Corbyn to be replaced as Labour leader, he was suddenly back alongside him – having been appointed as shadow Brexit secretary

Four months after Starmer called for Jeremy Corbyn to be replaced as Labour leader, he was suddenly back alongside him – having been appointed as shadow Brexit secretary

Four months after Starmer called for Jeremy Corbyn to be replaced as Labour leader, he was suddenly back alongside him – having been appointed as shadow Brexit secretary

Had Starmer missed the limelight? Had he baulked at the idea of a three-year, behind-the-scenes campaign to try to establish himself as the grassroots’ favourite to be the next Labour leader? Or had he simply been bought off by Corbyn with a plum Shadow Cabinet job?

Only the suave, Oxford-educated lawyer himself can give the true answer.

Certainly, his decision to quit the opposition front bench infuriated members of his constituency association in north London, whose members overwhelmingly back Corbyn.

Almost forgotten was the time when the debonair Starmer had put himself forward to be their candidate – having secured the backing of Labour big-wigs such as Lord (Neil) Kinnock and David Miliband.

Simpering media reports highlighted his smart suits, floppy hair and chiselled good looks. Indeed, actor Colin Firth was said to have based his performance as Mark Darcy (the human rights lawyer character in the Bridget Jones films) on Starmer.

Starmer  has enjoyed flattering comparisons with that other North London lawyer-turned-politician, and later Prime Minister, Tony Blair

Starmer  has enjoyed flattering comparisons with that other North London lawyer-turned-politician, and later Prime Minister, Tony Blair

Starmer has enjoyed flattering comparisons with that other North London lawyer-turned-politician, and later Prime Minister, Tony Blair

There were also flattering comparisons with that other North London lawyer-turned-politician, Tony Blair, who held the shadow home affairs brief as the base for his own push to become Labour leader in the early 1990s. 

Starmer enjoyed confronting the Government as it tried to fight off challenges to Brexit in the High Court, but faced criticism for receiving £125,000 for work and legal advice from Mishcon de Reya, one of three law firms that brought the successful anti-Brexit legal challenge to the court.

During his legal career, he’d championed the underdog, representing tree-dwellers, anti-road protesters, hunt saboteurs and a renegade ex-MI5 officer. In 2001, he was named Human Rights Lawyer of the Year. 

He was also a member of the legal team working for sleazy former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. While Starmer never met the billionaire, he was part of the group preparing a case on his behalf for the European Court of Human Rights.

As DPP, Starmer introduced so-called ‘guidance’ to the Crown Prosecution Service when it was considering whether to charge journalists with criminal offences and he was well known for arguing that the Press should have a public interest defence when charged with certain offences.

During his legal career, Starmer championed the underdog, representing tree-dwellers, anti-road protesters, hunt saboteurs and a renegade ex-MI5 officer. Pictured, Starmer as director of public prosecutions

During his legal career, Starmer championed the underdog, representing tree-dwellers, anti-road protesters, hunt saboteurs and a renegade ex-MI5 officer. Pictured, Starmer as director of public prosecutions

During his legal career, Starmer championed the underdog, representing tree-dwellers, anti-road protesters, hunt saboteurs and a renegade ex-MI5 officer. Pictured, Starmer as director of public prosecutions

Nevertheless, a 13th-century law – misconduct in public office – was used to bring a series of prosecutions against national newspaper journalists. A total of 24 reporters were arrested and charged after a £30 million Metropolitan Police investigation into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials by journalists.

Nine police officers were convicted, but none of the journalists was. Jurors decided the information the journalists paid for was in the public interest.

To this day, Starmer hasn’t apologised for what has been described as a witch-hunt. In another controversial move as DPP, he tried to push the law – without actually changing it – towards allowing assisted suicide. 

He took an accommodating attitude to people helping a friend or relative kill themselves at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. For Starmer, the right to die is a vital human right.

So, can Sir Keir – named by his Left-wing parents after the founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie – go all the way to the top of the party? Not judging on yesterday’s bungling performance.

A knight of the realm has never led the Labour Party in its 116-year history. And the odds are against Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC being the first to do so.

 

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