He wants to be the man who unites the Labour party. But to understand Starmer, we should look not to his political career—but to his legal oneby Martin Kettle / February 28, 2020 / Leave a comment
On a winter’s evening in 1986-7, a 24-year-old law graduate called Keir Starmer was shown into a book-lined Dickensian office in the heart of London’s ancient legal quarter in the Inner Temple. He was there for an interview, hoping to take the first step up the professional ladder by becoming a pupil barrister.
“He was obviously brilliant,” recalls Gavin Millar, now a QC at Matrix Chambers, who interviewed the young Starmer that evening along with Stephen Irwin, now an appeal court judge, and Peter Thornton, later to be chief coroner of England and Wales. “I remember very clearly that he gave a powerful and thorough critique of the prison system and how it didn’t work,” Millar says. Starmer duly got the job.
Today, as the 57-year-old stands on the threshold of election as the next leader of the Labour Party, it is natural to wonder what a possible future Starmer government might do about the chronically resource-starved crime factories that Britain’s still-failing prisons have become. Yet this is merely one among the many ways in which a focus on Starmer’s legal career may illuminate some of the elusive answers to the question of how he would lead Labour.
It will be a major upset if Starmer is not declared the winner of Labour’s prolonged leadership contest on 4th April. He has been the front-runner since the contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn officially began in January. He has led in the polls, in nominations from MPs, in support from affiliates and trade unions, and by winning the backing of more than 360 constituency Labour parties, far more than all the other candidates together. He is 7-1 odds-on favourite to win with the bookies.
Yet Starmer is in many respects an unknown, both to his party and to the wider public. He was first elected to the House of Commons in May 2015, succeeding Frank Dobson as MP for Holborn and St Pancras, the seat in which he lives with his wife Victoria, a solicitor, and their two children. Starmer has been in Westminster for less than five years. He has never served in government and he lacks deep roots in the unions. He would be the least experienced parliamentarian to lead Labour in a century.
The most remarkable thing about Starmer’s victory…