Sir Keir Starmer says he is “prepared to be ruthless” to ensure Labour wins the next election, including when it comes to his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
Earlier this week, Sir Keir put forward a motion to Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), to block Mr Corbyn from running for the party at the next general election – which was passed by a majority of its members.
Mr Corbyn branded the move a “shameful attack on party democracy” and vowed to “not be intimidated into silence”.
But speaking as he launched Labour’s local election campaign in Swindon, Sir Keir said: “There is one person who is responsible for the fact that Jeremy Corbyn will not be a Labour candidate at the next election and that is Jeremy Corbyn.”
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Mr Corbyn – who ran Labour between 2015 and 2019 – was suspended over his response to a report in antisemitism within the membership, which said the party had broken the law in its handling of complaints.
He said the issue had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
Sir Keir said those who considered the problem to be exaggerated were also “part of the problem… and should be nowhere near the Labour Party”.
While Mr Corbyn was eventually allowed back into the Labour membership, the new leader refused to allow him to return to the parliamentary party, leaving him sat as an independent – with his future in the Commons now in doubt after the next national vote.
Asked by Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby if he felt bad about blocking his successor from being a Labour candidate, having once described him as “a friend”, Sir Keir said: “The first words I said as Labour leader is I would root out antisemitism in my party and I have been absolutely ruthless in that.
“There is always more work to do but I set out to change the Labour Party and to change it in relation to antisemitism. I said I’d root it out and I am delivering on that pledge.”
But would voters question whether he could be trusted because, as Beth Rigby put it, he stabbed his former leader in the front?
“We went into that 2019 election and the electorate gave their verdict on the Labour Party as it then was,” said Sir Keir.
“I took the view that you don’t look at the electorate and say ‘what on earth were you doing’ – you look at your own party and say ‘we need to change’.
“Whether it is rooting out anti-Semitism, being absolutely clear we are pro business, pro NATO, and facing the voters and being fit to serve the country.
“I make no apologies for that because what I want is a Labour government and only with a Labour Party that is facing the voters, that is answering the difficult challenges of the future, do we get the right to be heard and to earn those votes that we need to get a Labour government.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy backed the decision earlier, despite his friendship with with Mr Corbyn.
Speaking to the Beth Rigby Interviews programme, which airs on Sky News at 9pm tonight, Mr Lammy said: “It’s not about friendship.
“No one ever said that politics sometimes hasn’t got to be brutal.
“It was an important decision, I think, for both Keir Starmer to take when he took over the Labour Party to be absolutely clear that we would get rid of that antisemitism, and for the NEC to take.”
Asking the Labour leader whether he was willing to be ruthless to win, Sir Keir told Beth Rigby: “I am prepared to be ruthless to ensure that we have a Labour government.
“I have been ruthless in the change in the Labour Party, I do not apologise for that, because what matters most to me is that the change that millions of people desperately need across our country comes about, but that will only come about if I ensure that we have got a Labour Party that is fit to face the future, fit to face the voters and has the answers to the difficult challenges that face the country.”
Earlier today at the launch, Sir Keir branded Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “Mr 1%” as he attacked the Conservative government’s record on tax cuts and the asylum backlog.
“Communities want a government that matches their ambition and they aren’t going to get it from this prime minister,” he said.
“r 1% – 1% of asylum claims from those arriving on small boats actually processed. 1% of the fraud that was lost during COVID actually recovered.
“0% of the windfall tax that could have helped working people actually collected.”
The Labour leader also criticised the government’s tax policy, which he said awarded “tax cuts for the richest 1% while working people pay the price”.