Keir Starmer showcases left-wing credentials in Labour leadership battle: 'My dad worked in a factory and my mum was a nurse'

'I don’t need somebody else’s name tattooed to my head, some past leader, in order to make decisions,' shadow Brexit secretary says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Lizzy Buchan
Wednesday 18 December 2019 10:22 GMT
Keir Starmer says Labour should not 'oversteer and go back to some bygone age'

Sir Keir Starmer has attempted to showcase his left-wing credentials, urging Labour not to abandon Jeremy Corbyn’s radical anti-austerity platform as the battle for the future of the party gathers pace.

The senior Labour figure also rejected criticisms levelled at him of being too middle-class for the role and recalled how his mother worked as a nurse while his father was employed as a factory toolmaker.

“The idea that somehow I personally don’t know what it’s like for people across the country in all sorts of different circumstances is just not borne out,” he insisted.

The shadow Brexit secretary confirmed he was considering a leadership bid after Mr Corbyn announced his intention to resign in the wake of the “devastating” general election defeat where the party lost 59 of its MPs.

Sir Keir admitted there was a “mountain to climb” to restore trust and win back power, but that there was still a case for a radical and bold Labour government as he urged the party not to recede from the anti-austerity message.

He is expected to face tough competition in the battle to succeed Mr Corbyn and win over the left-wing membership from loyal-Corbyn ally, Rebecca Long-Bailey, alongside Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips.

“What we shouldn’t do now is oversteer,” Sir Keir told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. “In 2010 we oversteered on austerity and began to think it might be alright to have some cuts. In 2015 we oversteered on welfare. What we mustn’t do a third time and oversteer, make this simplistic and a go back to some foregone era.

“What Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Labour Party in 2015 was a change in emphasis - a radicalism that matters, and the rejection of austerity. We need to build on that, rather than oversteer and go back to some bygone age.

“The case for a radical government has never been stronger. The shift to a more radical position in 2015 and that rejection of austerity was really important.”

He rejected labels of “Corbynite” and “Blairite”, insisting: “I don’t need somebody else’s name tattooed to my head, some past leader, in order to make decisions. I can make them for myself.”

Pressed on whether he was too middle class for the position of Labour leader, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras said: “As for the middle-class thrust, as you know, my dad worked in a factory, he was a toolmaker and my mum was a nurse. She contracted a very rare disease early in her life which meant she was constantly in need of NHS care. Actually, my background isn’t what people think it is.

“I have actually never been in any other workplace other than a factory until I left university. I had never been in an office. So the idea that somehow I personally don’t know what it’s like for people across the country in all sorts of different circumstances is just not borne out.”

Sir Keir also said the party had failed to combat Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” slogan that was relentlessly used by the Conservatives in the general election campaign.

“We didn’t knock it back, we didn’t knock it down and neutralise it hard enough because it clearly wasn’t going to happen.

He added: “I would have liked the chance to have knocked it flat because that was what was cutting through. People thought well if I vote Conservative I’m getting it done.

“The strategists decided it would be far better if as it were Leave voices were out there. That’s fine, I didn’t complain then I’m not complaining now."

It comes as Tony Blair mounted a scathing attack on Labour's election performance, saying Mr Corbyn represented to voters a "misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting".

In a speech in London, the former Labour prime minister said Mr Corbyn had pursued a policy of "almost comic indecision" on Brexit which managed to alienate both sides, adding: "I believe with different leadership we would have kept much of our vote in traditional Labour areas."

Mr Blair warned the party would be "finished" if it appoints a continuity candidate and urged those mulling a leadership bid that Labour would be replaced as a competitor for power if it remains "marooned on fantasy island".

Asked if the party should appoint a woman from the north to woo back lost voters, he said: "I think it would be quite a good idea to have the best person for the job.

"If they are also a woman then I think that's great, that's a very sensible thing for the Labour party to have a woman leader.

"I think the most important qualification is that they are have got a chance of winning the election."

Senior Labour MP and former chair of the home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper, also revealed she would consider her own leadership bid over the Christmas holidays.

“There’s a lot to reflect on,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There are three things that we are going to have to do now.”

Ms Cooper continued: "And one of those is about recognising we cannot just become a party that is concentrated in cities with our support increasingly concentrated in diverse young fast-moving areas while older voters in towns think we aren't listening to them.

"And that is not a left/right issue, and this is where both the Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair challenge comes in, because both the left and the right of our party are seen as internationalist, not patriotic, at the moment.

"And that might not be fair, but it is how they are seen. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair are seen as internationalist, not patriots, and we should be able to be both patriotic and outward looking because that's what we were in 1945."

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