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Election 2024: ‘Leaders are temporary’ – Starmer defends prior Corbyn support

Sir Keir Starmer has defended his record on supporting former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: PA
Sir Keir Starmer has defended his record on supporting former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: PA

Sir Keir Starmer has defended his record on supporting former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, insisting “leaders are temporary but political parties are permanent”.

During the Sun newspaper’s Never Mind the Ballots leaders special just ten days before the general election, the Labour leader faced questions again over his previous support for Corbyn – who has now been expelled from the party – including serving in his shadow cabinet as shadow Brexit secretary.

Sir Keir said rather than “tell the electorate ‘what do you think you’re doing?’” when Labour lost in 2019, he said to his party “we need to shake this up and change it”.

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He added: “I don’t look at the electorate and say you were wrong in 2019 – I look at my party and say we were wrong.”

Pressed on the question of trust, and whether he had lied when he said Corbyn would make a great Prime Minister, Starmer insisted his record on transforming the Northern Irish police service, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Labour itself indicated his “leadership”.

He added: “What I now want – humbly ask for – [is] the opportunity to take our country, which I do think has been broken under this government, is anything better now than it was when they started? To take that opportunity to rebuild our country and take us forward.”

Asked why he didn’t sit out Corbyn’s leadership on the backbenches, like some of his now shadow cabinet team, Starmer said: “I didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of our party in 2015. I didn’t vote for him to be a leader in 2016.

“I supported other candidates, but our membership returned him as the leader. But that was very difficult for me… I thought that we were not going to be heading in the right direction.

“I felt that on issues such as Brexit, which I thought were going to define us for decades to come, that leaders are temporary, but political parties are permanent.”

Starmer said having a voice at the top table during those years meant he could “challenge on antisemitism” and that Labour “never veered” from its position on NATO, which he later said he “fundamentally believe[s] in in terms of our national security”.

“I knew, everybody knew, there was always going to be a day after when we would have the opportunity for a new leader of our party and to make sure our party was there to face the future,” he stressed. “We needed to have people in and fighting for the future of our party.

“I think it was right to fight… in my case, it was right to fight from within the shadow cabinet.”

Starmer’s defence came during the live Sun broadcast, which saw Prime Minister Rishi Sunak challenged over the ongoing gambling row, NHS waiting lists and his Rwanda policy.

While Starmer faced his own grillings – from the audience – on women’s spaces and gender identity issues, and the asylum backlog and hotel bills.