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Who Is Keir Starmer, British Labour Party Leader on the Road to Downing Street?

A Review of “The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right” by Oliver Eagleton, Verso Books 2022

Keir Starmer,The Guardian

The widely expected Labour Party victory over the British Conservatives (Tories) will be an important and positive development. 14 years of austerity under the Tories has done terrible damage to the British working class. Now it is important to understand who the new Prime Minister of the UK – Sir Keir Starmer – really is, because his politics and way of operating will present another important arena of struggle.

While spending a month in England recently, I snatched up the last copy for sale of “The Starmer Project – a Journey to the Right” at Oxford’s famous Blackwell’s Books. It was written by Oliver Eagleton, and published by Verso Books in 2022. Eagleton is an editor at New Left Review and writes for The Guardian and other publications.

Eagleton’s account of Starmer’s career has 25 pages of end notes, so readers are free to delve more deeply into the often shocking facts that he documents about Starmer.

Americans are most familiar with Starmer’s campaign against the previous Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and prominent Labour MP Diane Abbott.

But Starmer’s campaign has been not only to marginalize and purge Corbyn, Abbott, and other Left elected officials of the Labour Party – it has been to transform the party into a Center-Right organization whose “number one mission is wealth creation” (Starmer interview in May 2024). What is Starmer’s backstory?

He grew up working class. He attended Oxford and developed an interest in human rights law. Dabbling in the socialist movement on the Left of the Labour Party, he was a member of the editorial collective of a publication called “Socialist Alternatives” and became secretary of a socialist lawyers’ society.

But in the early 1990s, some of his colleagues perceived Starmer to be “mutating”, as Eagleton puts it. He advocated for changes in the socialist lawyers’ group that would end its more militant character. He overhauled the group in a way that forecast his make-over of Labour 30 years later.

During this period Starmer worked in apparently contradictory ways – endorsing British police violence against Northern Irish Republicans, but also working against the death penalty in Britain’s former Caribbean and African colonies, while taking pains to say he was not opposed to the death penalty “per se”.

At this point Starmer achieved the position for which he would later be knighted: he became head of the Crown Prosecution Service – similar to the US Attorney General, and held the job for 5 years. By the end of his term of office, his achievements had put him on the road to Parliament.

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What were these achievements in a hugely important job in the British government? He made a major mission of his office to work closely with the British security agencies and their international partners in the “war on terrorism”, getting deployed to work with the Obama Administration and developing a relationship with Attorney General Eric Holder to the point that Holder actually asked Starmer to write a comprehensive critique of the US Justice Department!

Starmer’s Crown Prosecution Service was in charge of the Julian Assange case, when Sweden requested Assange’s extradition, which Assange feared would then lead to his extradition to the United States. During these years, Starmer traveled to the US to meet with Eric Holder about Assange multiple times. The documents from those meetings have been destroyed.

In another case, Starmer worked “doggedly” to extradite to the US an autistic computer expert who breached US security. During his imprisonment the young man became suicidal. But Starmer persisted in trying to get the extradition, until Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May ultimately intervened, based on the young man’s mental illness.

Starmer refused to prosecute police officers who killed three innocent migrants. The author of the book estimates that there could be dozens of cases of police violence which Starmer refused to prosecute. Instead, Starmer turned his attention to prosecuting victims of crime, as well as social justice demonstrators. In particular, during years when rape cases were rising, he prosecuted several women whom he claimed had lied about being sexually assaulted.

He wrote new guidelines making it easier for police to charge political activists, as well as re-writing guidelines for charging welfare claimants who had misclaimed small amounts of benefits.

Accompanying the Tories’ “welfare reform”, Starmer advocated a “superdatabase” for government access to the public’s personal data. This type of “law and order” is now reflected in the Labour Party’s advocacy of eliminating “anti-social behaviour”. Starmer’s stint as Crown Prosecutor includes many more shocking details. Following his 5 year term of office, he was ready to run for Parliament in 2015.

In 2016, there was an attempted “Labour Right” coup against Leader Jeremy Corbyn. During this failed effort, Starmer backed a pharmaceutical lobbyist who wanted to privatize the National Health Service.

In Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, Starmer was Shadow Brexit Secretary. The book includes a lengthy description of the whole Brexit episode, which most Brits now believe has been a huge disaster for the country.

Corbyn-led Labour lost very badly in the General Election of 2019, leading to ultra-rich businessmen coming together to rid the Party of Corbyn and uniting around Starmer as the next Party leader. In April 2020, Starmer won with 56% of the vote, becoming the next leader of Labour and possible next Prime Minister.

At the high point of Covid19, Starmer largely went along with the Tories’ program around the pandemic, offering little in the way of a better plan of action.

In a section of the book entitled “Throttling the Left”, Eagleton documents Starmer’s systematic crushing of the Left wing of the Party.

A major component of the campaign to purge the Left was to end Corbyn’s influence in the Party, using a smear campaign of false claims of anti-Semitism in which others who criticized Israel were also charged with anti-Semitism. The British news media took a major role in this attack. In October of 2020 Starmer used a government report on the alleged anti-Semitism to suspend Corbyn from the Party.

A struggle in the Party ensued in which Starmer backtracked his accusations, and then reversed the backtrack. In November 2020 Corbyn was readmitted to the Party but removed from his powerful role in what is called the Parliamentary Party. In early 2024 Corbyn was barred from
running for his Parliamentary Seat and he announced he would run as an Independent. He was expelled from the Labour Party, to which he had belonged for 40 years.

Others got similar treatment to Corbyn, including the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament, Diane Abbott. But Abbott received high levels of support which Starmer could not withstand and she was returned to the 2024 candidates’ list.

All of this was the culmination of action against the Left which began as soon as Starmer became Leader. Anytime a Labour official voted against what the Tories did in Parliament, they were reprimanded by Labour officialdom. In the Fall of 2021 the leadership sent letters to socialist MPs and activists threatening to put them under investigation for unspecified things. Labour MPs were warned not to walk union picket lines.

Between 2021 and 2022 the Labour Party prohibited membership in seven Leftwing organizations, expelling, as of September 2023, 363 members, though not all for Leftwing affiliations.

As of today, less than two weeks before the election, polls show the Tories will be badly trounced by Labour. Keir Starmer will then become Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Each Party’s campaign Manifesto can be viewed on the Party websites or in publications such as The Guardian. Jeremy Corbyn’s website is