Interview: Another election? The sooner, the better, says Keir Starmer
The mood has completely changed, says Labour big hitter as he reveals he can now picture Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street
15 June, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Keir Starmer rallies the Labour troops during the campaign
SIR Keir Starmer says he can now picture the day Jeremy Corbyn walks through the doors of Downing Street as Britain’s prime minister – and is chomping at the bit for another general election.
In an interview with the New Journal, the Holborn and St Pancras MP said: “The Labour Party has been transformed from the party that people were saying were incapable of winning for 10 years or more, to a party which will win the next election if we play our cards right.”
Asked whether that meant he could see Mr Corbyn as the nation’s prime minister, a prospect some of his own colleagues at Westminster have ridiculed in the past, he added: “Yes. I think if there is an election, we will win. I think it’s doable under Jeremy. The election was transforming in this sense: we are now in a position to win the next election – and the sooner it comes, the better.”
His confident predictions came as the Conservative gamble on a snap election backfired on Thursday, with Prime Minister Theresa May surrendering the Tory majority in the House of Commons as Labour protected vulnerable seats and made gains in other areas. In Camden, Labour’s majorities rocketed, with Mr Starmer now sitting on a lead of more than 31,000 – a greater tally of votes than even his famous, long-serving predecessor Frank Dobson ever achieved over seven consecutive wins in the constituency.
With Mrs May on the ropes and now needing to prop up her government through an agreement with Northern Irish MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party, Mr Starmer said it was time for the party to look like a “government in waiting” and called for unity inside Labour’s ranks.
This could include seeing some sceptics of Mr Corbyn’s leadership brought back into the fray, he suggested. Mr Starmer, in this sense, led by example by rejoining the leader’s shadow frontbench team following Owen Smith’s failed attempt to win control of the party last summer. He said Mr Corbyn now needed to be given credit for Labour’s election performance. The results, he suggested, had been fuelled by a mix of young people becoming more engaged, anger at ongoing austerity, the sense of hope he says ran through Labour’s manifesto and a hardline Tory approach to quitting Europe.
“My rules of leadership haven’t changed: if you fail you carry the can. If we had been wiped out in the way that had been predicted, I would have expected the leader to carry the can. When we do better than expected, you have to act the same, so I think we have to give credit to Jeremy Corbyn as the leader, and particularly the manifesto that he put together,” Mr Starmer said. “I think the manifesto, you can go through it line by line and agree or disagree with different bits, but the central core message that there is a progressive, better alternative future out there which is full of hope, is something that people were yearning to hear.”
Keir Starmer and Tulip Siddiq celebrate their wins on election night
He said the election had struck at the heart of old electoral logic that announcing tax rises before going to the polls could only spell disaster because Labour had provided a “costed manifesto” and pledged not to tax the lowest paid, hardest. “We explained where the money would come from. The broad thrust of it was we need to invest more in people, in the future, in infrastructure and in public services, and we are going to do it by a combination of corporation tax rises and rises to tax those at the upper end,” the former director of public prosecutions said.
He added: “The mood has completely changed. I think in 2010, two years after the crash, people thought we were going to have to buckle down in order to clear the deficit and the promise was: buckle down, let’s have austerity, the deficit will be cleared by 2015. That promise from the Tories has been completely shattered because they moved the date to clear the deficit back from 2015 to 2020 and then running into this election they moved it back to 2025. So people said, ‘we are not going to have this sort of austerity for 15 years’.”
He said that the result of the general election could not overturn the EU referendum result but added that it meant Mrs May would be forced to consider a softer divorce.
“I felt this going around 50 constituencies. There is something deep in the British psyche that says in relation to Brexit, however you voted, whatever your view, we’ve now got to get on with it to get the best possible outcome and I think that’s where the debate is,” he said. “I’m a Remainer. I voted Remain and all my friends and family voted Remain, but I did it because of the values I believe in. We are now having technical discussions about the single market and customs union, but that actually isn’t what we should be focussing on. We should be focussing on the values: Why do we want to be in the EU? We want to be in the EU because we believe in internationalism, collaboration and co-operation. That is available to us if we negotiate the right, new arrangement, but we are not going to get there by pretending we can rub out the referendum result.”