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Starmer tells Labour summit he had to ‘rip antisemitism out,’ to loud applause

UK’s opposition leader has sought to reshape and rehabilitate the party after bruising years of Corbyn leadership under cloud of bigotry accusations

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer delivers his keynote address to delegates third day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, north west England, on September 27, 2022. (Oli SCARFF / AFP)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer delivers his keynote address to delegates third day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, north west England, on September 27, 2022. (Oli SCARFF / AFP)

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer told the party’s annual conference Tuesday that he’d had “to rip antisemitism out [of the party] by its roots” after assuming leadership, to loud applause from the gathered audience, The Guardian reported.

The newspaper said this may have been a reference to former leader Jeremy Corbyn no longer being able to run under Labour, and noted the remarkable shift in the party that led to such a statement being met with enthusiasm and no objections.

Labour under Corbyn’s leadership was accused of allowing antisemitism to fester within its ranks, and Corbyn himself was accused of various displays of antisemitism.

A UK government investigation into antisemitism in the party in 2020 found that equality laws were broken and the party under Corbyn was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.”

Labour suspended Corbyn following his response to the damning report. He had said he didn’t accept all of its findings and asserted that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

Since succeeding Corbyn as Labour leader in April 2020, Starmer has sought to reshape the party’s public image by expelling or demoting several of its leading activists and supporters who have either been directly accused of antisemitism or who insisted that Corbyn’s tenure did not lead to a substantive antisemitism controversy.

Former Britain’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the media on the coronavirus, outside the Finsbury Park Jobcentre, in north London, March 15, 2020. (Hollie Adams/PA via AP)

Last year Labour banned four far-left factions as part of an effort to address frustration about the party’s handling of antisemitism.

The four factions, known for supporting Corbyn, have been accused of downplaying claims of antisemitism as politically motivated and of condoning inappropriate comments by party members.

In his speech in Liverpool Tuesday, Starmer accused the governing Conservatives of losing control of the economy, and promised to take the UK out of an “endless cycle of crisis” if his party regains power after more than a decade.

Starmer is seeking to persuade voters — and, crucially, businesses — that his left-of-center party can be trusted with the economy. The new Conservative government of Prime Minister Liz Truss made his campaign easier with one of its first acts.

The value of the British pound sank and the cost of UK government borrowing climbed after the government on Friday announced the biggest package of tax cuts in decades without providing a detailed breakdown of how much it would cost.

Financial markets reacted with alarm, sending sterling to a record low against the US dollar of 1.0373. It later recovered to about $1.08 but still has lost about one-fifth of its value against the dollar in the past year.

Supporters cheer as Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, makes his speech at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

“What we’ve seen in the past few days has no precedent,” Starmer said. “The government has lost control of the British economy — and for what? They have crashed the pound, and for what? … For tax cuts for the richest 1 percent in our society.”

Labour, one of Britain’s two main parties, has lost four straight elections, most recently a 2019 drubbing that was its worst performance since the 1930s. Britain has had four Conservative prime ministers since Labour was last in power in 2010: David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and now Truss.

Starmer is determined to end that run. The 60-year-old former public prosecutor aims to persuade voters that Labour is the “party of the center ground,” not the high-taxing party of urban left-wingers its detractors like to depict.

New British Prime Minister Liz Truss makes an address outside Downing Street in London, Tuesday, September 6, 2022 after returning from Balmoral in Scotland where she was formally appointed by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

A risky set of Conservative economic policies with the stated goal of boosting economic growth by slashing regulation and cutting taxes for businesses and high-earners has helped Starmer portray Labour as the prudent choice. Opponents say the measures will send inflation, already close to 10%, even higher and worsen a cost-of-living crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Starmer also presented a plan to stimulate the British economy by investing in alternative energy. Vowing to make the UK a “green growth superpower,” he said Labour would set up a publicly owned clean energy company to expand sun, wind and wave power and make Britain’s electricity supply carbon-neutral by 2030.

Starmer’s speech was greeted enthusiastically by conference delegates who are in a buoyant mood as opinion polls put Labour ahead of the Tories by as much as 17%.

While the UK’s next general election is not due until 2024, Labour’s current popularity has helped Starmer unite his often-fractious party, at least for now.

But there is still disquiet among some who want Labour to stick to the policies of nationalization and spending hikes promised by the socialist Corbyn.

Others want the party to reverse Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, but Starmer said Labour would “make Brexit work.” He also promised that a Labour government would continue Britain’s membership in NATO and support for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

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