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Sir Keir Starmer wins Labour leadership contest

Archive image of shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer (left) alongside then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during a press conference in central London. Sir Keir Starmer has been elected as the next leader of the Labour Party, beating rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy after the first round of voting. PA Media

By Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Sir Keir Starmer has won the leadership of the Labour Party by a landslide, taking 56% of the votes cast.

The human rights lawyer beat rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy after the first round of counting.

It marks a significant change of direction for the party, with a move away from the politics of Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband who led Labour over the last decade.

His victory came after the planned special conference to unveil the winner had to be shelved because of the coronavirus crisis.

Angela Rayner won the deputy leadership race by 52.6% of the vote.

Sir Keir, who was named after Labour’s first parliamentary leader Keir Hardie, said his election was the “honour and privilege of my life”.

In an acceptance speech posted on social media, he said his mission is to restore trust in Labour as “a force for good and a force for change”.

He also apologised for anti-Semitism in the party which has brought “grief” to Jewish communities.

Sir Keir – who was made Queen’s Counsel in 2002, served as head of the Crown Prosecution Service and accepted a knighthood in 2014 – has struggled to shake off perceptions of privilege.

But he has stressed his upbringing by his toolmaker father and nurse mother in Southwark, south London, when dismissing allegations he is too middle class to speak to the party’s historic heartlands.

His CV includes co-founding the renowned Doughty Street Chambers and advising the Policing Board to ensure the Police Service of Northern Ireland complied with human rights laws.

He entered Parliament as the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015 and was quickly elevated to the frontbench, serving as a shadow Home Office minister before being promoted to shadow Brexit secretary soon after the EU referendum in 2016.

Sir Keir was instrumental in getting Labour to back a second referendum. He has since said that the issue is settled, but has refused to rule out campaigning for Britain to return to the EU in the long term.

During the leadership race he pledged to raise income tax for the top 5% of earners, to campaign for EU freedom of movement to continue and to push for “common ownership” of public services such as mail, rail and energy.

He has also vowed to introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act if he becomes PM to ensure Britain could only go to war if the Commons agreed.

The contest was triggered in December when Jeremy Corbyn announced that he would quit as Labour leader after the party suffered its worst general election defeat since 1935.

He presided over years of faction fighting, accusations of institutional anti-Semitism and bitter divisions over Brexit.

Ballot papers were sent out in late February to party members, members of affiliated trades unions and groups, and 14,700 “registered supporters” who paid £25 to take part on a one-off basis. Voting closed on Thursday.

Sir Keir led the race from the start, winning the backing of 89 members of the parliamentary party in the first round of the contest, before securing the support of more than a dozen affiliated organisations in the second stage.

Veteran left-winger Mr Corbyn became party leader in 2015, a result which marked a fundamental change of direction for Labour.

He led the party through two general election defeats, the last of which saw seats which had been Labour for generations turned blue as the party’s hitherto impregnable “red wall” crumbled in the face of the Tory advance.

Sir Keir will have to find a way to rebuild Labour support in its traditional heartlands, but his first major challenge will be to establish a clear voice on the coronavirus crisis.

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