Thank goodness we now have the emergence of a more effective Opposition. The bluff and bluster politics which has dominated the present government and its leadership over the few years, not least the rhetoric used in the Referendum and Brexit and which continues to be deployed in the present pandemic crisis is at last coming under appropriate scrutiny.
It was good to see Boris Johnson, recovered from coronavirus, back and taking his place in the House of Commons. Watching yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament it was also good to see the UK Government being held to account. This is not a time for recrimination but it is a time for scrutiny. I believe Keir Starmer exercised grace, respect and razor sharp skills in his conduct and questioning of the Prime Minister and from a genuine concern for the common good. I appreciated his ability to forensically examine the Prime Minister with calm but deadly efficiency. As one commentator put it, “He offers diligence and expertise, not bellowing and finger-pointing. In a crisis this seriousness will be an asset.”
I hope the Labour Party can get its house in order and appreciate, as I hope the public will in due course, an Opposition leader who can cut through the bluff, bluster and frantic jabbering that has been allowed to beguile too many people for too long. There is no longer a hiding place for Government ministers as Starmer himself and the formidable Opposition front bench he has appointed appear to be a force for good and one to be reckoned with. Starmer reminds me a little of John Smith, a former leader, who I believe would have been a great Prime Minister, who sadly died before the opportunity to serve the Government as its leader.
Starmer is, as was Smith, a gifted forensic barrister. In 2005 he won the Bar Council’s award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work to eradicate the death penalty in the Caribbean, in Africa, and Taiwan and was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007. He was a human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, monitoring compliance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the Human Rights Act. In 2008, he became Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions holding these roles until 2013. In this role, he brought the successful prosecution against two men accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
He was knighted in 2014 for ‘services to law and criminal justice’ for the work he undertook as head of the Crown Prosecution Service and said on receiving his Knighthood that “the one thing that defines my career is a passion for fighting injustice.”
He had earlier co-founded Doughty Street Chambers in 1990 and advised David Morris and Helen Steel during their marathon legal battle with McDonald’s which eventually became known as the McLibel case. He has also represented organisations like Amnesty.
Starmer’s intellect and ability is unquestionable and his motivation for entering politics reveals somebody who operates out of some very good values. People will perceive and attack him for being another wealthy, white, privileged man who can’t relate to the majority of people in the country. In his defence, Starmer’s background is not so detached from ordinary people. Unlike the vast majority of the Tory Cabinet, Starmer’s father worked in a factory as a toolmaker and his mother was a nurse. His mother was in and out of hospital with a rare illness which eventually forced her to stop working. Keir was named after the first Labour MP, Keir Hardie and was the first in his family to go to university.
In 2005 he won the Bar Council’s award for his outstanding contribution to pro bono work to eradicate the death penalty in the Caribbean, in Africa, and Taiwan and was named as QC of the Year in the field of human rights and public law in 2007. He was a human rights adviser to the Policing Board in Northern Ireland, monitoring compliance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the Human Rights Act. In 2008, he became Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Services holding these roles until 2013. In this role, he brought the successful prosecution against two men accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
I have an innate fascination with how people behave and what motivates them. I like to discover the influences and experiences that have shaped their lives and led them to do what they do. It’s why I love reading biographies and am currently enjoying reading Steve Richard’s excellent book, ‘The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May’.
We all know this is an incredibly challenging time and the Prime Ministers claims about heralding ‘our achievements and success’ were exposed yesterday by Starmer at PMQ’s. Thankfully we have a political leader who can effectively challenge the bluff and bluster, which borders on propaganda, the undertones of which are disturbing.
It is not good for democracy to have an ineffectual opposition. Constructive criticism in the course of good governance should be welcomed.
Starmer was introduced to the Labour Party at Leeds university back in the 1980’s and was described by a fellow member of the party then as “a non-aligned, conscience-driven leftie” – something akin to political Methodism.” I wondered what the term ‘political Methodism’ meant and discovered the following on the Methodist Church’s website:
” The Methodist Church has long associations with political life. John Wesley was much concerned with the poor and marginalised in 18th Century Britain, many of whom were excluded from participation in the established Church as well suffering from economic deprivation. Many of the early trade unionists, including the Tolpuddle Martyrs, were members of Methodist churches. The Methodist Parliamentary Fellowship has met for many years and holds an annual Parliamentary Methodist Covenant service in the chapel at the Palace of Westminster.
The Methodist Church has stated that ‘the commitment of individual Christians to work for social and political change should be recognised as a fully legitimate form of Christian discipleship’. In a society where self interest, acquisitiveness and individual happiness are often seen as the over-riding interests, the Church, and Christians within it, are called to witness meanings, values and purposes beyond ourselves, whilst recognising our own self-interest and hypocrisy.
People sometimes argue that involvement in political life involves getting our hands dirty, so is something Christians should avoid. But we believe in a God who is present in everything, including political institutions; a God who is heard throughout the Bible calling for justice for the widows, orphans and aliens who were oppressed by the powers of the day; and a God who seeks to transform relationship with and between people. If politics is about how we choose to live together and to treat one another, there is surely a place for discerning the activity of God in politics”.
Sounds good to me, not only good, but necessary given the state of the world today.