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Politics

With Keir Starmer the current frontrunner for new Labour leader, here’s an in-depth look into his record on queer rights

Emma Powys Maurice January 3, 2020
Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer is expected to launch a bid to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty)

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has emerged as the frontrunner for the new Labour leader, with a new poll predicting he’d get 61 per cent of the vote if he were in a a final run-off against Rebecca Long-Bailey.

31 per cent of the 1,059 Labour party members polled said Starmer would be their first choice for leader, compared to 21 per cent backing Long-Bailey and 11 per cent for Jess Phillips.

Although the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn won’t formally begin until next week, Starmer’s looking increasingly likely to win as he came top among members from all areas of Britain, ages and social groups.

As the current MP for Holborn and St Pancras, Keir Starmer is known as a level-headed centrist – but what does that mean for LGBT+ rights?

Keir Starmer leaves Millbank studios on August 27, 2019 in London (Leon Neal/Getty)

Views and values.

Starmer is a former defence lawyer who specialised in human rights issues. The son of a nurse and a toolmaker, he studied law at Leeds and Oxford before becoming a top barrister, spending half his time doing pro bono work for people who needed assistance.

He recently told the Today Programme that the one thing that’s defined his career is “a passion for fighting injustice” – which is good news for equality advocates.

Before entering politics Starmer worked for the Human Dignity Trust, an organisation which challenges Commonwealth laws that penalise people for being LGBT+. As a guest of honour at the 2019 PinkNews Awards, he described this job as one of his proudest achievements in life.

He also warned that leaving the EU puts human rights protections crucial to LGBT+ people at risk, saying: “It’s shameful that Theresa May’s government singled out the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as the only EU provision we are not prepared to convert into UK law on departure, just when we need it most.”

Starmer has authored and edited several books about human rights law, and in 2014 was awarded a knighthood for “services to law and criminal justice” – but reportedly prefers not to be called Sir.

Setting out his pitch for the Labour leadership last month, he told The Guardian: “I want trust to be restored in the Labour party as a progressive force for good: and that means we have to win. But there’s no victory without values.”

He said these values include opposing “the moral injustice of poverty, inequality, homelessness” while advocating for internationalism and human rights.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the PinkNews Awards (Paul Grace)

LGBT+ voting record of Keir Starmer.

Keir Starmer entered the House of Commons on 8 May 2015, so he hasn’t had the chance to vote on many big LGBT+ reforms such as civil partnerships in 2004 and same-sex marriage in 2013.

However, he has voted consistently in favour of LGBT+ equality at every opportunity since he became an MP. For example, in July he voted in favour of extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, and civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.

In March Starmer was among the 538 MPs who backed a proposal to make LGBT-inclusive education a mandatory part of the curriculum, which he called “an important victory”.

As a barrister he was involved in the legal battle to secure the right for LGBT+ people to serve in the military, and as an MP in 2016 he supported the removal of this ban from the statue books.

And he’s consistently fought for laws promoting equality and human rights, voting against repealing the Human Rights Act in 2016, to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2018, and to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland in 2019.

Labour Party Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer
Starmer is expected to formally announce his leadership bid in the coming days (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty)

So far, so good for Sir Keir.

He has many strong candidates still to beat, and the race hasn’t even begun yet – but some experts are banking on him to win.

Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London told The Guardian: “This is not shaping up to be a 2015-style Labour leadership contest. Unless potential candidates drop out before the start of voting, it may take a few rounds to decide the winner this time around.

“But it doesn’t look at the moment as if the winner will come from the left of the party. Right now anyway, Keir Starmer looks to be heading for a fairly emphatic victory.”

More: Keir Starmer, Labour, Labour leadership battle, PinkNews Awards

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