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Everything to Know About U.K. Prime Minister Contender and Labour Leader Keir Starmer

7 minute read

Over a week into the U.K. election race that was called early by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the opposition Labour Party—led by Keir Starmer—is polling ahead of the incumbent Conservatives. 

After five Prime Ministers in 14 years of Conservative rule—which saw the right-wing party guide policy on Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and contentious immigration reform—Labour may well be on course for an election victory on July 4.

This wasn’t always the case. Labour suffered back-to-back electoral defeats under its erstwhile leader, the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn. This will be the party’s first electoral test since being taken over by Starmer, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Holborn and St Pancras and a former lawyer and prosecutor.

“Starmer has been lucky in the sense that he's become leader at a time when the party he's up against has just basically imploded,” Anand Menon, the director of the think tank U.K. in a Changing Europe, tells TIME. For Menon, Labour’s victory will be “comfortable but soft” as voters are not necessarily flocking to the opposition party for its policies, but rather to remove the Tories, as the Conservatives are known, from power. 

As Starmer makes his case to become the next U.K. Prime Minister this summer, here’s what to know about the British politician. 

Keir Starmer’s background

Born on Sept. 2, 1962, to a nurse mother and toolmaker father, Starmer describes his background as “working class.” Starmer grew up in Oxted, a town located 20 miles south of London and attended a free grammar school.

He became the first member of his family to receive a university education, studying undergraduate law at the University of Leeds before pursuing a postgraduate degree from Oxford University.

The bulk of Starmer’s career before politics was spent as a human-rights lawyer, during which time he took on high-profile cases against corporations such as Shell and McDonalds, and acted as legal advisor to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. He eventually went on to lead the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the public prosecutor for England and Wales.

Elected to the House of Commons in 2015, Starmer served as Shadow Minister for immigration under Corbyn’s leadership. He resigned in 2016 in protest of the then-leader, and replaced Corbyn as head of the party during the party’s 2020 leadership elections. 

Keir Starmer’s wife and children

Starmer married his partner Victoria, a lawyer-turned-occupational health worker, in 2007. The couple have two children, a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. 

In an interview with British Vogue in February, Starmer said he and Victoria didn’t meet under the most romantic of circumstances. Victoria, then working in law, received a call from Starmer to question her on the accuracy of documents. 

He told the publication that before the call ended, he heard Victoria ask her colleague, “Who the f-ck does he think he is?”

Read More: The Man Who Wants to Fix Britain

How Keir Starmer has shaped the Labour Party

Menon and Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, note that Starmer represents stability, both within his party and as an alternative to Conservative leaders. He has also taken the Labour Party from a very left-wing slant to a more centrist position often likened to that of former Prime Minister and Labour leader Tony Blair

“He’s dragged the party back into the center ground of British politics, which is… where elections are normally won,” Bale tells TIME, noting the differentiation Starmer has made in contrast to the ultra liberal policies that Corbyn, a self-proclaimed socialist, was known for. 

While that moderation has benefited Labour in the polls, it hasn’t necessarily translated into significant popular support for Starmer himself. “I don't think he inspires people,” Menon says. “In the polling that we have, he is seen as more competent and a safer bet than Rishi Sunak.” 

But the campaign hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for Labour. The party’s internal infighting broke out into public view this week as the Labour leadership was accused of purging left-wing figures from the social democratic party, something it has since denied

“There is a kind of authoritarian streak on the right of the party, which seems to encourage some people to want to get rid of anybody on the left who might cause Starmer problems,” says Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. “But that’s more noise than 


What are Keir Starmer’s policies? 

Following Sunak’s announcement of an early election, Labour has outlined the policies it will focus on if elected. Its key areas of focus are investing in the country’s National Health Service (NHS), which has seen emergency wait times and care backlogs skyrocket. Sustainability, education, and asylum policies are also among the party’s cited priorities.

Overarchingly, Starmer is a believer in a “dynamic capitalist economy,” says Bale, noting that the Labour leader is viewed as a classic social democrat in his policies. “He's obviously a strong believer in the National Health Service and the need for the state to educate its population, particularly in a kind of knowledge economy,” Bale adds.    

Menon says that Labour appears to be leading its campaign with “as few policies as possible.” He notes that Labour has outlined its plan to reduce immigration rates by upskilling British workers to carry out the jobs that migrants have historically held. But for medical roles this will require several years of training. The party has also stressed its desire to reduce the number of migrants traveling to Britain in small boats across the English Channel—a crisis that, according to the Labour Party, sees the U.K. spending £8 million ($10.1 million) a day to house asylum seekers in hotels. The party says it will crack down on so-called criminal smuggler gangs facilitating illegal crossings, and strengthen its border security. 

What has Keir Starmer said about the Israel-Hamas war?

Many protests have taken place across the U.K. calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. In the aftermath of a Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that saw around 1,200 people killed, Israel has carried out an extensive bombing campaign in the Palestinian enclave. The death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 36,000—according to figures from the Hamas-led Gaza Ministry of Health, and supported by the U.N. and the U.S. government—and has caused international alarm.

As the death toll in Gaza has soared, Starmer has insisted on Israel’s “right to self defense” in a number of speeches. On Dec.1, Starmer issued a statement calling for “all sides” to return to “cessation” and encourage the pursuit of a long-term solution to the decades-long conflict. In February, he called for "a ceasefire that lasts.” 

Bale described Starmer’s stance on the war as “fairly non-committal,” and while this could give some voters pause, he suggests this will be “more noise than signal” by July.

“There is a danger that Muslim and left-wing voters don’t support Labour,” says Menon, citing cities such as Bristol, Brighton, and Rochdale, where Labour could lose votes to the Green Party. “Keir Starmer is lucky partly because Muslim voters tend to be concentrated where Labour have got healthy majorities anyway,” he adds, noting that the poll lead should be large enough to secure a parliamentary majority.

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com