Starmer Says Labour-Led UK Can Help Progressives on Populism

(Bloomberg) -- Keir Starmer said a Labour-led UK wouldn’t be isolated on the global stage despite the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and North America, as the man polls project will be Britain’s next prime minister warned that only progressive parties “have the answers” to the challenges facing the world.

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In an interview with Bloomberg, Starmer acknowledged that the UK is shifting in the opposite direction to much of the rest of the world. Legislative elections in France have been dominated by the rise Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party, and Donald Trump is now the apparent favorite to return to the White House after US President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance this week.

“We’ve seen the rise of populism and nationalism across Europe, across America and other countries,” he said during the interview on Saturday at a football stadium in Aldershot, southern England. “It’s very important we make the case that only progressive, democratic parties in government have the answers to the challenges that are out there.”

Britain is on the cusp of what is expected to be a major political realignment in the July 4 vote, with Starmer’s center-left Labour Party on track for a huge majority and to oust Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservatives after 14 years.

But in a campaign speech in central London later on Saturday, Starmer urged supporters not to take anything for granted. “The change we want to bring about to this country is not like flicking a switch,” he said. “Nothing is decided, not a single vote has been won or lost.”

With less than a week until Britons cast their vote, Starmer is trying to stave off any complacency while ensuring there are no missteps at a critical time in the campaign. Sunak’s Tories are ramping up their attack against Labour, and Nigel Farage’s populist Reform UK is gaining prominence in the polls and media.

The international context is also more complicated. In the US, Democrats expressed concern after Biden’s TV debate with Trump, with several lawmakers and donors publicly and privately calling on the president to exit the race.

Labour officials have said privately the debate was alarming, with one saying a Democratic president — the party’s preference — now seems less likely, one said. Biden’s apparently declining physical and mental condition has been a regular topic in discussions with progressive allies in America and Europe.

Responding to a question about concerns over Biden’s debate performance, Starmer said he wished the US president well. “He’s done a huge amount in office, and it’s very important that progressives win and it’s our sister party.”

Sitting in the red seats in the football stands rather than the blue — a nod to the colors of the Labour and Conservative parties — Starmer said he will intensify talks with other progressive parties if Labour is elected.

“There’s lots of moving parts in 2024,” he said. “That’s an important part of the reset here in the UK, but it is also important in relation to America and Europe.” He continued: “We’ll cross each bridge as we get to it but that’s an important part of the politics of 2024.”

More from Bloomberg’s interview:

  • Starmer wouldn’t commit to publishing legal advice on UK arms sales to Israel, something Labour has called the Conservative government to do.

  • Labour’s position on allowing Ukraine to use British-supplied weapons inside Russia will likely be discussed at the NATO summit in Washington next month, Starmer said.

  • The opposition leader ruled out a bespoke customs agreement with the European Union, similar to the one Turkey has.

--With assistance from Alex Wickham, Ailbhe Rea and Alex Morales.

(Updates with Starmer speech in fifth paragraph.)

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