Special report: Sir Keir Starmer reflects on first six months as an MP
- Credit: Archant
It’s been six months since Sir Keir Starmer won the safe Labour seat of Holborn and St Pancras by a huge majority.
It was a personal success on what he says was a “very strange night” given the disastrous election result for the Labour Party.
After the initial disappointment of realising Labour faced five more years in opposition, the former Director of Public Prosecutions said he has thoroughly enjoyed his first six months as an MP, although they’ve certainly not been quiet ones.
He said: “It’s been great, very busy.
“It takes a little while to get used to the rhythm and the pace, but it’s been fantastic.”
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The London-born MP says what he likes best about his constituency is the diverse mixture of people, but worries this is being gradually lost because of the cost of living in London and the housing crisis.
“More people are concerned about housing than anything else. Every second or third person who comes to see me in my surgeries is in a situation of terrible overcrowding.”
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He admits he finds it “frustrating” in cases where there is little he can do to help. “Particularly when this government is making it worse.
“The plans in the current Parliament to sell off existing housing stock are only going to make a bad situation worse. The one thing Camden needs is more available housing for all the people waiting.”
Aside from housing, he says HS2 is a serious concern for some of his constituents, and he doesn’t believe the case for the high speed rail link has been made convincingly enough to justify the disruption it will cause.
He said: “Even if it does go ahead, there ought to be serious thoughts as to the role of Old Oak Common as the London terminus. Ramming a 21st century fast railway line into Euston simply because the slower 20th century line ended there doesn’t make much sense, and it’s going to cause a huge amount of devastation.”
Aside from constituency business, it has hardly been a gentle start for the new intake of MPs in terms of international affairs, with the question of how best to tackle ISIS now requiring urgent answers.
Sir Keir, whose background is in human rights, said: “The best way to deal with ISIS is a long-term political solution involving all the major countries and that means a very strong plan for a post-ISIS Syria. That is a very difficult process which has to be done at the highest international level and involves working with countries such as Russia and Iran.”
Asked whether MPs should be given a free vote on military intervention in Syria, Sir Keir - who has yet to defy the party whip - said he wants to wait and see what package the Prime Minister brings to the Commons.
“Let’s see what David Cameron comes back with, and what it actually involves, because just saying whether it should be a free vote in the abstract doesn’t really make much sense.”
He said that he shared public concern over recent cuts to the police force and said this could have a potentially damaging effect in the war against terror.
“You have teams who know how things are and know when things aren’t quite as they should be. So there is a link between neighbourhood policing and terrorism.”
As to the inevitable Jeremy Corbyn questions, Sir Keir has always been diplomatic on the subject of his fellow north-London MP winning the Labour leadership by a country mile, although he backed Andy Burnham in the contest. He says he had no problem in accepting a role in the shadow home office team, with a particular brief on immigration.
He said: “Jeremy got a huge mandate, including from members in this constituency, and my view was that we should build the best shadow teams that we can.”
On the latest opinion polls, which don’t look good for Labour, he said: “It’s too soon to read much into them, and after the last election, I am not going to take opinion polls at face value.”
He won’t be drawn into commenting on the likelihood of a leadership challenge to Mr Corbyn before the next election, although his own name is often mentioned as a possible future contender.
“There is a long time to go, but it really matters that we are in a position to not only challenge but to win in 2020.
“I did say that Jeremy Corbyn is not the Messiah, he doesn’t have all answers and that if you touch him, you are not healed. What I meant by that was that although he has a strong mandate, if people think all they need to do is sit back and listen for pearls of wisdom from Jeremy, then they’re wrong.
“What he has done is he has broken open a space for discussion and for rebuilding, and it’s up to all of us to build on that. I think what’s missing is an ambitious and radical plan that’s future looking. We should be talking about the 2020s and the 2030s. I am much more interested in what is the project for Labour than in who are the personalities behind that project.”
He says that he doesn’t take a tribal view of politics, and resists defining himself as a member of any particular strand of the Labour Party, which he joined as a teenager: “I have never described myself as a Blairite, a Brownite, a Corbynite, an anything ite – I’ve got this far in life by making my own decisions and without having someone else’s name tattooed on my forehead, and I’m not going to change that now.”