U.K.’s Labour Names Keir Starmer Leader as Party Trails in Polls

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Britain’s opposition Labour Party, still reeling from its worst electoral defeat in 85 years, elected Keir Starmer as leader, putting a moderate lawyer with an eye for detail in charge as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus comes under fire.

Starmer, who served as Labour’s Brexit spokesman under ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn, beat Corbyn-loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, according to a statement on Saturday.

The 57-year-old takes over at a delicate time for the prime minister. While Johnson’s approval ratings have jumped in recent weeks, the government has been criticized for being too slow to test people for the virus and for failing to equip health-care workers properly. If the public mood turns against Johnson over his management of the crisis, Starmer could quickly become a credible next occupant of 10 Downing Street.

But he will also need to heal deep divisions within Labour, which has been plagued by splits between the hard-left Corbyn-supporting faction and the more centrist supporters of former prime minister Tony Blair. Starmer has tried to cast himself as a unity candidate, and has promised to retain much of Corbyn’s program, including commitments to re-nationalize railroads and increase income tax on the top 5% of earners.

Starmer was also one of the principal authors of Labour’s Brexit policy — one of the drivers of the party’s historic defeat in December. Instead of promising to reverse the decision, Labour offered to renegotiate a new deal with the European Union before putting it to a second referendum — but the party didn’t commit to backing one side or the other in that vote.

The son of a toolmaker and a nurse, Starmer was named after Keir Hardie, the first leader of Britain’s Labour party. Before being elected to parliament in 2015, he worked as a barrister and served as Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013. Like Johnson, he represents a London constituency.

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