Keir Starmer Says 'Big' Victory In Labour Leadership Race Needed To Unite Party

Shadow Brexit secretary and frontrunner in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn tells HuffPost UK "the bigger the win the better" for the new leader "so they can get that unity".

Keir Starmer has urged Labour members to give him a “big” margin of victory in the leadership election in order to better unite the party and defeat the Tories.

As the first ballot papers were sent out for the contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow Brexit secretary said that he was “fighting for every vote” to ensure the result was decisive enough to end the divisions within Labour.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, he said: “Whoever wins, in a sense, the bigger the win the better, so they can get that unity.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Starmer:

  • Attacks Dominic Cummings for trying to “destroy” civil service independence and calls for the home affairs committee to probe allegations of Priti Patel’s mistreatment of officials.
  • Says Alastair Campbell and others kicked out of the party for voting Lib Dem in Euro elections should be encouraged to return.
  • Says Labour can “learn” from Bernie Sanders in the way he has built a coalition of working class and middle class voters.
  • Reveals how “uncomfortable” he felt with Labour’s stance on the Salisbury poisoning given he was once the lawyer for Marina Litvinenko.
  • Defends the courts over the extradition system used for Julian Assange, attacking those who believe there’s a “conspiracy” to get him to a US jail.
  • Says he’s “wary” of China’s attempts to access British 5G networks, HS2 rail project and new nuclear power stations.
  • Calls for an end to women having to report rape at police stations, saying specialist NHS clinics are a better way to get more to come forward.
  • Calls for a Royal College of Social Care to boost the profession’s standing, saying social care in the UK is “the scandal of our time”.

Having secured a big lead in local party nominations over rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, some Starmer supporters hope he can even win on the first round of the preferential vote election.

Anecdotally, many of the 100,000 new party members who joined since the last election could back him and the polls for the race have given him a healthy lead.

Supporters of Jess Phillips, who dropped out of the race last month, are expected to give him an even bigger poll lead in coming weeks.

With more than 800,000 party members and affiliate members being sent a ballot paper this week, Starmer signalled that he needs as big a vote as possible to deliver the clear verdict needed to bring the party together.

“I’m fighting for every vote. So although we’ve been weeks and weeks into the campaign, we’re only into the voting stage now,” he said. “I’m utterly focused on winning this campaign and I know that I’ve got to persuade lots of party members to vote for me in order to do it.”

Starmer has made a feature of his campaign that the party should neither “trash” the achievements of previous Labour governments nor the ideas that it has championed under Corbyn.

He said that the leadership contest had proved that members were tired of factionalism and wanted to focus on attacking the Tories.

“I genuinely detect in the weeks that we’ve had of the leadership campaign, that the membership wants to turn a page on this. There’s a lot of the membership that know now we’ve got to change the way that we behave to each other. And we’ve got to pull together and take responsibility for what comes next.

“In the hustings there hasn’t been that divisiveness either on the panel or frankly from from the audience. So, I genuinely think there’s something there within the party... Where we actually ask ‘what are you saying?’ rather than ‘which bit of the party are you from?’ and recognise that collectively. We then have to make a decision and move on.

“That’s what I mean by unity. I’m absolutely convinced by the way that if we don’t unify we won’t win. I just think carrying on taking lumps out of each other is a recipe for disaster.

“Labour governments don’t come out of nowhere. They come along rarely, but only when the party decides and the movement decides that they got to pull together, and that they’re going to take ownership of that part of the journey.”

As part of the drive for unity, Starmer said that people like Alastair Campbell, who had been booted out of the party for admitting voting Lib Dem in the Euro elections, should be welcomed back.

“Look I want anybody who wants to be in our party to be in the party. Alastair is a constituent of mine. And he was a long standing Labour member, a huge contribution to the party. I think we need to get past this whole question of chucking people out and expulsions, etc,” he said.

“The cases we should concentrate on are cases, for example, of anti-Semitism or other racist behaviour within the party.

“And I use Alastair’s case an example to say, if you can be chucked out of the party, almost straight away, for supporting another party at a [euro] election, surely you can be chucked out of our party in an absolutely clear case of anti-Semitism, and the mismatch was huge there.”

Asked if that welcome also applied to members of The Independent Group of MPs who quit Labour over anti-Semitism, Brexit policy and other issues, Starmer replied: “I don’t want to push anyone away from the party. I want as many people to be in the party as possible.

“I’m conscious of the fact that in the Labour Party we focus understandably on votes we’ve lost and how we get them back. But if that’s all we do we’re going to lose the next general election. We’ve got to also ask ourselves, how do we get folks that we don’t normally get. And so the coalition that we have to build across the country to win a general election is very, very wide.”

Starmer added that he wanted to “close the gap” that had opened up between Corbyn and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), but also between Corbyn and Labour council leaders and mayors, floating the idea of more places on the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) for local authority representatives.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Houston on February 23, 2020 in Houston, Texas. With early voting underway in Texas, Sanders is holding four rallies in the delegate-rich state this weekend before traveling on to South Carolina. Texas holds their primary on Super Tuesday March 3rd, along with over a dozen other states. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Houston on February 23, 2020 in Houston, Texas. With early voting underway in Texas, Sanders is holding four rallies in the delegate-rich state this weekend before traveling on to South Carolina. Texas holds their primary on Super Tuesday March 3rd, along with over a dozen other states. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

With Bernie Sanders looking set to win more primary races in the US race to be the Democratic presidential nominee, Starmer said Labour could learn from the way the senator had built an alliance of working class and middle class voters.

“I think there is something to learn from that and it’s very interesting how he’s clearly building a wider coalition this time and you can see that being reflected. And I think there is a lesson in that.

“It comes back really to the point I was making before that Labour needs a bigger coalition of voters than they’ve gotten the moment or has had any time recently. It is true that we have to win back our seats in the midlands, the north east, the north west, traditionally Labour seats. And we must sweat blood to get them back.

“But if that’s all we do we will lose. We’ve also got to have answers as to how we win in Scotland, North Wales. And then the bit everybody forgets. Draw a line from London to Bristol, look south - there’s 120 plus seats, and we’ve got a handful, and we’ve got a win in those places as well.

“So I think what’s happening in America is I think that building of that coalition that wider coalition. Now that’s going to take time and if I’m elected leader, the campaign for the next general election will start on the fourth of April this year. You can’t rock up in four years time, with a 12-week or 16-week election programme, and try to win trust, you’ve got to be winning it day in day out.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been accused of bullying staff in the Home Office
Home Secretary Priti Patel has been accused of bullying staff in the Home Office

Priti Patel and Dominic Cummings

As a former director of public prosecutions, Starmer was scathing about claims that Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings and home secretary Priti Patel had mistreated civil servants.

“[We need to] defend the civil service, I was in the civil service and a civil servant for five years. And what I saw there was people who are not just earning their living, but had a profound sense of public service, and professionalism and had to do difficult things like tell ministers that they were wrong about something and advise them independently, and that takes courage and [Dominic] Cummings is coming in and trying to destroy all that,” he said.

“[Civil servants] do need protection. What you have got in the civil service is independent and professional advice being given, that should be cherished not rubbished.

“In terms of what we can do about it in parliament, my message to the members in this leadership contest has been, we got to unify, and then we’ve got to be a very effective opposition from the get-go, from now. Although we can’t win [parliamentary] votes very easily after that general election result, we can have scrutiny.

“The home affairs select committee should be looking into what’s happening into the Home Office right now, and shining a torch on it. And I think, using those scrutiny mechanisms will have to be an important part of the armoury over the next few years as we hold to account a government that doesn’t want to be held to account.”

Standing up to Russia and China

Starmer is also determined to restore Labour’s reputation on national security and on standing up to Russia he points to his experience as the lawyer for the widow of poisoned Russian national Alexander Litvinenko.

Jeremy Corbyn faced heavy criticism from his MPs for suggesting that Moscow may have not had a role in the Salisbury nerve agent poisonings in 2018.

Asked how uncomfortable he felt at the way his party handled that incident, Starmer replied: “Uncomfortable because I profoundly believe that, where there are human rights abuses we should call them out without regard to the politics of the country involved or or or the business case of the country involved.

“And having worked on Marina’s [Litvinenko] case, we were litigating against Russia for what had happened and so I had got a pretty intense line of sight.

“I had to give the case up eventually when I was appointed DPP, but I was in the team that represented her internationally in proceedings against Russia, making very serious allegations about Russian involvement.”

More broadly on national security, Starmer says: “I’d obviously point to my track record because as director of public prosecutions. I worked hand in hand with the security and intelligence services for five years.

“Not just prosecuting cases that were very, very serious, but also with my team advising them on ongoing investigations, because in almost every terrorist situation there are agonising choices that the security and intelligence services have to make, because one when they get wind of a plot or conspiracy to commit terrorist act, they have to decide the point to which they intervene.

“And you have to try and intervene when you’ve got enough evidence to take effective action. But of course if you leave it too late, you run the risk that a terrible attack could be carried out.

“So anybody trying to accuse me of not understanding or supporting our security and intelligence services, or not being safe with security, I think, would struggle quite considerably.”

On China, as well as Russia, Starmer suggests Labour would be more robust too. With many Tory MPs uneasy at the decision to allow Huawei access to the UK’s 5G network, there are concerns too at Chinese firms bidding for contracts for HS2 and new nuclear power stations.

Asked if he shared those concerns, he said: “I’m wary of China, I’m wary of Russia. Whether it’s on Huawei or anything else and to award a contract but to say that you can’t go into certain areas that just speaks volumes. So you’re, you’re building, you’re building in risk, you know this risk in this. I’ll be much more wary.

“It actually speaks to a different question as well which is how on earth are we going to the stage where we have so failed to develop our own technology that we are so now reliant on others.”

On crime too, Starmer wants more police on the beat than the 20,000 that Johnson is pledging.

“I’ve worked with the police for many years I know what the psyche of the police is not to outsource their problems or moan about what’s happening, and therefore they haven’t tended in the past to say these cuts are having a real impact, but they are.

“And it’s obvious, and in Camden in my constituency it’s obvious that we’ve got a need for more police officers and we’ve got a need for more support officers. And so we’ve got to not just make up the gap. This 20,000 is it just puts back what was taken out, it doesn’t actually add any new officers to the beat.”

Tackling Domestic Violence

One area where Starmer is keen for much better conviction rates is on domestic violence and the murders that stem from it. New figures show that the number of women killed by a current or an ex-partner rose by a third last year. A total of 241 women and girls were killed overall, the highest for many years.

“This has been a shocking statistic for a very, very long time. For years it was stuck to two women a week being killed by a partner or ex-partner. And then that’s now gone up, not down, and that does that should be a sobering moment for all of us,” he said.

“Of course they are the tip of a much wider set of violent behaviours by men - and predominantly men not always men - day in, day out.”

He said it is time for a new approach where women are encouraged to give evidence of domestic violence and rape not just at police stations but in specialist clinics, similar to one in St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. The idea is for every police force to have designated safe spaces for reporting domestic abuse, away from police stations.

“When I was director of public prosecutions, one in 10 victims was coming forward and nine out of 10 wasn’t. We were all focused on what we do in the criminal justice system quite rightly,” Starmer said.

“But the real problem was that very many victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, didn’t feel like a tell anyone about it. And I think that does mean profound change, I tried to change the criminal justice bit, you know, how do you actually prosecute these cases, how do you link up with the police?

“There’s a step before that, which I don’t think we properly tackled or got right which is: where’s the safe space for victims to actually go to discuss what’s happened to them? And the idea that a victim of domestic violence or sexual violence is going to walk into a police station and report what’s happened to them is so unlikely that we shouldn’t have it as the model anymore.”

Starmer said he remembers vividly when he called in specialist trainers at the DPP to underline why safe spaces were needed.

“They had a group of about a hundred staff in a training programme. And then they said to the staff ‘turn to the person next to you and tell them the best sexual experience you’ve ever had’. And of course everyone blushes red and doesn’t know what to do. And then they said ‘imagine how difficult it would be to tell someone the worst’. And it really brought it home to people.

“So I think it’s way down in the early stages of how to actually put the support in for people.”

Starmer also praised Vera Baird, former police and crime commissioner in the north east and now the victims’ commissioner, for her work in getting employers to create safe spaces at work where staff suffering domestic abuse can talk to an appropriately qualified person who can provide advice and offer support.

“Persuading big local employers to have a quiet room at coffee time where people could go in and talk about what was happening to them, as a way of just creating a space for people to start the journey that might end up with something actually being done about it. It’s a massive problem, and there has been progress there’s been good progress, but there’s a long long way to go.”


“Everybody seems to be asking me what role I’m going to assign to other people just at the moment. I’m utterly focused on winning this campaign and I know that I’ve got to persuade lots of party members to vote for me in order to do it.

“I genuinely haven’t had a discussion with anyone, about a role for anyone - other than in the hustings the questions come up as to whether if I became a leader I would offer Lisa and Rebecca positions, and of course I’ve said yes. And equally they were asked that and said they would have me. So that’s another example of that camaraderie, but I have not gone into that space. All the rumours, there’s loads of names flying around if, it is all rumour.”


“Nobody votes in a government that says we’re going to keep things the same and Labour’s only ever won when it’s coming into government saying ‘we’re going to change things but you can trust us to do it’. We lost that.

“The Labour party only becomes a Labour government when people feel that you’re heading in the right direction, what you’re saying is along the lines of change that they want, and it gives them hope for a better future - and they trust you. And there’s a really important bit of looking you in the eye and saying actually ‘do I trust you with what’s coming next?’”


“I find the whole idea of this low skill completely offensive. And that’s why I profoundly disagree with the government where it measures the worth of an individual by what they’re paid. It is highly skilled, not just in terms of what you do for the job but the way that you do it. A care worker will often be the only person that somebody may speak to, in a day, so there’s a huge pastoral role in it.

“The staff are subjected to worse and worse conditions, low pay, cutting periods for going between jobs, zero hours contracts. And that needs to change. I agree with the idea of a [Royal] College. Not because I think people need skilling up in that sense, but we need to recognise this as the profession that is. I think social care of the scandal of our time now, it really is. We need a national care service.”


“I do genuinely think that the gap between the leader of the opposition and the PLP has to be closed.

“And it’s one of the reasons that I was keen to get as many nominations from MPs, as possible. It’s obviously only one of the gateways for the competition. But I think for the next leader of the Labour Party, having the PLP firmly behind him or her really matters.

“You’ll never get this perfect. Having had the Brexit brief for three and a half years, [I know] getting the PLP in one place is not the easiest thing in the world, But actually what I did was constantly talking to people lots of drop-ins, lots of discussions, recognising the differences across the PLP and that’s the way I would do it. “


“I also think there’s too much of a gap between the leader of the Labour party and our elected local authority leaders. We’ve got people who are exercising power on behalf of Labour in difficult circumstances because of the cuts and doing quite innovative stuff. We don’t bring them in enough.

“And of course Welsh Labour are in government, and Scottish Labour are too distant so I would actually bring the Labour family closer together, not just concentrate on the PLP.”

Asked if he would increase the number of places for local councils on the ruling National Executive Committee [NEC], he replied: “I think we might have to look again at where the representation is. Not just the NEC but more generally there is a very strong case for saying our elected leaders who’ve won elections and are now doing things ought to see their fingerprints more obviously on what we do and I would like to close that gap.

“Some of the local authorities, for example, have done really innovative stuff on council house building and bringing tenants into decision-making on what the things should look like or the designs. Or the way they’ve reconfigured public services. We don’t make anything of it, we don’t showcase it. And I think Scottish and Welsh Labour feel that, whilst they don’t want to be dictated to understandably and I wouldn’t do that, feel that they’re a remote part of the family and I would bring them in.”


“Let’s just focus on the fact it’s really shocking. I saw a statistic the other day that nine out of every 30 children in a classroom, on average, is living in poverty. This is really shocking.

“When people say ‘are you sure you want to do anything radical and transformational?’ I’ll just give them these examples. For a mental health assessment for an eight year old it can take up to 18 months. Child poverty and homelessness, of course. So we do need to do something about it. I mean, what we will do in the future, we’ll have to argue about and carve out and forge.

“But what the last Labour government did has been dismantled and that needs to be put back in Sure Start was fantastic. Child mentoring was fantastic. My wife was a child mentor in primary schools in London for a number of years. And she was working with children who didn’t have learning difficulties as such but had difficulty learning because of the circumstances they were living in at home.

“And the one to one, mentoring in school that she and others did meant that child had a better chance. The other children had a better chance because there wasn’t the disruption that was there. And all of that has been stripped out. And that is shocking. So, of course we need new ideas for 2024, actually some of the ideas from the last Labour government need to be restored and fast.”


“We were new in. It was a three line whip, I’m a team player, I follow the whip. But it was a mistake. And there’s no point me pretending otherwise. I voted against a third reading, with everybody else, that is mitigation it’s not an excuse. It was a mistake. It’s plain and simple.”


“The whole idea was to take the politics out of it. And therefore, in any extradition case, the judge, a high court judge in most cases, has to decide whether it’s lawful or appropriate whether the evidence is there to extradite someone, so it’s independent judges.

“So all of those in the Assange case or any other case, who say it’s all a big conspiracy are either missing the point that this is an independent judge-made decision or they’re implying that our High Court judiciary is corrupt. And I do not subscribe to that view by a very, very long shot. We’ve got a very good independent judiciary. It’s revered across the world. And we knock it at our peril.

“It’s up to politicians what they want to campaign for or not, but on extradition High Court judges made the decision, they do it in open court with the evidence, and they give recent judgments, you can read the judgments and work out why the judge decided that an individual should be extradited. This is not done in secret. It’s not done without evidence, it’s not done without argument both sides have advocates, and then a judge makes a decision, they think the judges got it wrong, you can appeal. It’s a very simple system, it’s very good system, and it should be upheld.”


“Theresa May used to say, it’s not just the number, it’s what they’re doing. And she’s right about that. She is right about that and smarter policing really gets results, I accept that. But she was wrong to imply that the numbers don’t matter. In those circumstances the numbers do matter.”


“Science, medical research are areas where Labour’s traditionally strong, we should reclaim it. And there is brilliant work going on that could really change the future. The Crick Institute in my constituency has brought together experts from across the world who are doing brilliant research scientific or medical on cancer prevention and they feel they will get there because of what they’re doing. They got a very good model where they innovate they build teams for four or five years and those teams then go out and rebuild elsewhere. And of course Gordon Brown pushed the Crick Institute. So this is Labour heartland stuff if you like.”


“Good Enough Mother, by Bev Thomas. She’s an upcoming author, she’s really brilliant.”


“I play in the middle of midfield but on the left hand side. I’ll tell you why, because I’m right handed but left footed. That’s a very weird combo. I’d like to still see myself as a midfield general, but you’d have to ask the others about that.”


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