Keir Starmer, who was elected leader of Britain’s Labour Party, commented in February that his wife’s father is Jewish and said her “extended family live in Israel.”
By World Israel News Staff and AP
Lawyer and lawmaker Keir Starmer was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday by a decisive margin, after a contest thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus outbreak.
A special conference to announce the winner was scrapped when the nation went into lockdown, and the news came in a press release accompanied by a pre-recorded acceptance speech.
Starmer, 57, comes from Labour’s center-left wing, and his election marks a shift from the strongly socialist course set by his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, who was personally accused of anti-Semitism.
Corbyn’s tenure as head of UK Labour involved ongoing exposure of Jew-hatred among party ranks, in addition to revelations regarding Corbyn’s association with anti-Israeli, pro-terror figures and organizations.
Starmer acknowledged in his acceptance comments that “anti-Semitism has been a stain on [his] party.”
“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry, and I will tear out this poison by its roots,” he said.
In February, Starmer told Britain’s Jewish News, “My wife’s family is Jewish. Her dad is Jewish, their family came over from Poland. The extended family live in Israel.”
Starmer acknowledged that he was becoming leader of the opposition “at a moment like none other in our lifetime” and promised to “engage constructively” with the Conservative government to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The party said Starmer won on the first round of voting with 56.2% of all the votes cast, well ahead of rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy. Angela Rayner was chosen as deputy leader in a vote of Labour’s half a million members.
A former U.K. chief prosecutor named after Labour Party co-founder Keir Hardie, Starmer faces the challenge of reuniting a party deeply divided over the policies and legacy of Corbyn.
The outgoing leader was elected party chief in 2015 and took Labour sharply to the left, miring it in an anti-Semitism scandal. Many tied Corbyn’s downfall to his consistent refusal to acknowledge the extent of the anti-Semitism problem in his party and his failure to remove from the party members who openly promote Jew-hatred.
Corbyn lost two successive elections in 2017 and 2019. In December’s election, Labour suffered its worst result since 1935, as the Conservatives won in working-class areas that had voted Labour for decades.
Labour has now been out of office for a decade that has brought the country three Conservative prime ministers — David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Starmer said the party had “a mountain to climb” before it could return to government.
His election was welcomed by colleagues such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said he was “delighted,” but the Corbyn-supporting group Momentum said “his mandate is to build on Jeremy’s transformative vision.”
Starmer has been the party’s spokesman on Brexit, the issue that has consumed British politics for four years. But the country’s departure from the European Union, which became official Jan. 31, has been pushed into the background by the pandemic sweeping the globe.
Like many other countries, Britain is in effective lockdown, with schools, bars, restaurants and many businesses shut to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
A Dec. 31 deadline set by the government to forge a new relationship with the EU on trade and a host of other issues looks increasingly hard to meet.
The Parliament is currently on an extended recess, and it is unclear when lawmakers will return.
Starmer faces a delicate challenge: How to hold the government to account during a national emergency while also supporting the fight against the virus.
Johnson announced Saturday that he was inviting leaders of opposition parties to a briefing with him and the government’s top medical and scientific advisers on the fight against COVID-19.
“As party leaders, we have a duty to work together at this time of national emergency,” Johnson wrote.
Starmer said he would not engage in “opposition for opposition’s sake” but would criticize the government when necessary.