With the COVID-19 pandemic understandably dominating the news morning, noon and night, the Labour leadership election concluded with an uncharacteristic lack of fanfare.
The three-way contest between Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer drew to a close on Saturday morning, and saw the latter- long touted as a future Labour leader- crowned victorious.
Over the course of the campaign, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras emerged as the overwhelming favourite amongst bookmakers and commentators alike, with many viewing him as the candidate most capable of healing the divisions in a party deeply scarred by infighting and disagreement.
Whether the former director of public prosecutions is truly up to such a mammoth task remains to be seen. There are a plethora of other issues- Coronavirus and Brexit to name just two- that will also prove hugely testing to a leader relatively new to the political scene, having first become an MP in 2015.
Starmer’s handling of immigration, for example, will be pivotal in how he fares. Coronavirus has brought the issue to the fore in a number of ways, none more so than the sheer irony of the Conservatives applying the description ‘key worker’ to overseas nationals who only weeks ago were deemed ‘unskilled’.
Over the course of the campaign, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras emerged as the overwhelming favourite amongst bookmakers and commentators alike, believed to be the candidate most capable of healing the divisions in a party deeply scarred by infighting and disagreement.
Success will relate to how well Starmer exploits such hypocrisy, and more broadly, how effective he is at challenging the Conservatives’ handling of one of the UK’s most contentious political issues.
In order to build a picture of how immigration will be handled by Labour, it is necessary to scrutinise some of Starmer’s previous comments on the issue.
Free Movement Should Return
Speaking in the run-up to the UK’s official departure from the EU on the 31st of January, Starmer stated that he would reintroduce EU freedom of movement were he to become Prime Minister.
In the words of Sir Keir:
‘We welcome migrants, we don’t scapegoat them. Low wages, poor housing, poor public services, are not the fault of people who come here: they’re political failure. So we have to make the case for the benefits of migration; for the benefits of free movement.’
It is certainly heartening to hear the Leader of the Opposition speaking passionately about protecting migrants in the UK, rather than demonising them. Hopefully this is a sign that, were Labour to be victorious in the next election, the Hostile Environment would be ended once and for all.
Immigration Should Be Reduced
Somewhat paradoxically, Mr Starmer stated in October 2016 that immigration was too high and needed to be reduced.
These comments came shortly after the Londoner was appointed Shadow Brexit Minister, and were plausibly linked to a desire to reassure Leave voters that Labour understood many of their concerns over immigration.
However, in light of Starmer’s subsequent expression of support for reintroducing free movement, his stance appears somewhat paradoxical.
It may be that his comments in support of free movement were borne out of a desire to win over left-wing Labour voters, whereas his words concerning reducing immigration stemmed from a desire to quell the fears of Leavers as discussed.
The disparity between these stances may suggest that his leadership will be defined by pragmatism rather than ideology.
End Indefinite Detention
One of Starmer’s key pledges in the leadership campaign was to end the indefinite detention of migrants and call for the closure of Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) such as Yarl’s Wood.
In essence, this is hugely positive, as it demonstrates further awareness of hugely troubling circumstances that migrants in the UK face.
However, as with all political pledges, the devil is in the detail. Sir Keir’s tenure as leader will determine whether defending migrants’ rights is central on the agenda, or whether it was said in order to secure the support of pro-Corbyn Labour members who otherwise would’ve backed left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey.
In essence, this is positive as it demonstrates further awareness of hugely troubling circumstances facing migrants in the UK.
Taking all three comments into account, it appears that migrants would be better cared for under a Starmer-led government than the existing Conservative one. But the lack of compatibility between the first two statements raises a red flag.
[Header Image: The Jewish Chronicle]