Pin It
Keir Starmer

The Keir Starmer effect: why young people are leaving the Labour Party

Members are quitting after the leader of the opposition refused to advocate for tenants, described the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘moment’, and fired Rebecca Long-Bailey

TextBrit DawsonIllustrationCallum Abbott

In September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party with “the largest mandate ever won by a party leader”. His landslide victory was, in part, down to the surge in membership which followed his leadership nomination – a surge that saw Labour gain over 350,000 new members between 2015 and 2018.

In 2020, membership soared again, with more than 100,000 people joining ahead of April’s leadership election, which saw Keir Starmer replace Corbyn. Speculation arose at the time that the influx came from ‘moderates’, who hoped to stray the party away from the left – AKA stop Starmer’s opponent, Rebecca Long-Bailey, from taking the title.

Now, it seems membership is at risk of falling drastically again, as young people appear to be leaving the party in droves, following recent comments and actions by its leader. 

Last week, Starmer fired Long-Bailey from her position as shadow education secretary after she shared an interview with Maxine Peake, in which the actor suggested that violent tactics used by police in the US – namely kneeling on George Floyd’s neck – were taught by the Israeli secret services. Starmer labelled the comment an “anti-semitic conspiracy theory”, while Long-Bailey declared that she did not intent to “endorse every part” of the article.

Jewish groups praised the dismissal, hailing Starmer as “backing his words with actions on anti-semitism”, but the Labour left widely criticised the move, accusing the leader of trying to rid the party of its left wingers.

This week, Starmer stoked anger among Labour members and supporters after describing the Black Lives Matter movement as a “moment”, and dismissing activists’ calls to defund the police. “That’s nonsense,” he told BBC Breakfast. “Nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police. I was director of public prosecutions for five years. My support for the police is very, very strong, and evidenced in the joint actions I’ve done with the police.” His comments came after he took a knee ‘against racism’ last month, and have been supported by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

In a statement, BLM UK responded: “When we say, ‘Defund the police’, we mean, ‘Invest in programmes that actually keep us safe, like youth services, mental health and social care, education, jobs, and housing. Key services to support the most vulnerable before they come into contact with the criminal justice system’.”

In recent months, the leader of the opposition has also been chastised for “failing renters” after he suggested tenants whose income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic should have their rent payments deferred as opposed to cancelled. Starmer also made a mockery of himself by challenging Boris Johnson to a press-up challenge during PMQs.

Despite Owen Jones urging members not to quit – the Guardian columnist said those who leave are “doing nothing but delighting the right and disenfranchising yourself” – many young people have been vocally cancelling their memberships. Here, some of them explain why.


“As someone with a chronic illness, I’ve always been acutely aware of how austerity is changing the NHS, and this was really terrifying to me as a child. Everyone should have access to healthcare, housing, and education, and supporting Labour has always seemed like the most direct route to getting that, especially when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

I no longer support Labour because under the current leadership, it doesn’t seem like Labour is interested in justice anymore. You can see that from Keir’s refusal to advocate for tenants, his support for the government on coronavirus, and through his lack of engagement with low-paid nurses and essential workers. It’s also obvious from Keir’s refusal to engage with the material demands of Black Lives Matter, and his playing to TERFs.

I left the party because of the Labour Leaks – I found the report extremely chilling, and the fact that the leadership has not launched an investigation into its findings is shameful. We live in a time of global revolution, and Labour has simply revealed itself to be on the side of the oppressor. It made me so angry when Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner took a knee in an empty conference room – who exactly are you taking a knee against? These are both people who wield a huge amount of power, and have the capacity to confront racism and anti-Blackness in their own party if they actually chose to. I’d rather redirect my funds to people who are actually working to address our society’s systemic oppressions.”

“Under the current leadership, it doesn’t seem like Labour is interested in justice anymore” – Leila


“I joined the Labour Party shortly after Jeremy Corbyn became leader because I finally saw a mainstream politician who I genuinely believed had the people’s best interests at heart, and was truly pushing for a more equal and just society for all. I can no longer justify being a paid member after the actions of Keir Starmer over the past week. Over the course of seven days, he fired Rebecca Long-Bailey out of hand, challenged the prime minister to a press-ups challenge like a frat boy, and took the knee in solidarity with the knee, not the neck.

Keir also tried to reduce Black Lives Matter to a ‘moment’ and not a movement, which was at best incomprehensible ignorance, and at worst outright racism. His dismissal of the demands of BLM as ‘nonsense’ was insulting to the movement and the Black community, and all those who have pushed for structural reform to achieve equality. The idea that to win back the ‘traditional Labour heartlands’ you need to employ dogwhiste racism is a complete misreading of the situation, and entirely unacceptable.

I understand that it can seem like the easy way out to leave, rather than stay and fight, but currently it seems wrong for me to continue contributing money to the party while under the current leadership, and I don’t want to align myself with it. The Tories are a truly evil and staggeringly successful electoral machine, but if there were an election tomorrow, could I still vote in good faith with Starmer? I don’t think I could.”


“I’ve supported Labour for as long as I can remember, but I became an official member when I turned 18. My instincts to care about poor people, refugees, Black people, people of colour, and the LGBTQ+ community would not align with the values of a party which seeks to demonise them and use them as scapegoats, like the right wing does.

While I still hold a deep respect for Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and more, when you don’t identify with a party’s values anymore, it doesn’t make sense to stay. I’ve always admired Jeremy’s commitment to demanding that we respect Palestinian life, and it’s so sad that the very real and valid battle with anti-semitism is being weaponised against people who speak up for Palestinian people.

Right now, the BLM movement is starting to make the conversation of abolition an idea that’s plausible instead of a distant dream, so how can I feel comfortable with a leader who was previously a director of public prosecutions? To add to this, he also sides with Trump in the Julian Assange case – suggesting that whistleblowers deserve punishment for reporting on war crimes is incredibly dangerous territory and shows his disregard for the lives that Julian stood up for.

I’m still thinking about whether I’ll continue to vote for Labour. I don’t 100 per cent agree with the Green Party either, so I’m just going to sit back and watch for any potential changes before I make a decision.”

“The BLM movement is starting to make police abolition a plausible idea, so how can I feel comfortable with a leader who was previously a director of public prosecutions?” – Sinthia


“Like a lot of young people, I joined Labour in 2015 to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. I was never an uncritical fan of Corbyn, but it was amazing to me to see someone presenting the idea that things could be different. For the last few years, I believed that the Labour Party was the best chance we had of building a better society that isn’t just run for landlords and tax-avoiding multinationals, the best chance for avoiding climate catastrophe, and the best chance for ending the hostile environment. Since Keir Starmer took over as leader, I no longer believe this.

After his election, it soon became obvious that – contrary to what he said about party unity and “building on the 2017 manifesto” – he was orchestrating a quite severe shift towards the right. I actually quit the party a month or two ago – the final straw for me was when Labour suggested that renters should be given a rent holiday rather than a rent suspension, which would mean they’d be racking up more debt to their landlords. I’m an active member of the London Renters Union, and since Labour made this statement, loads more people have reported that their landlords have suggested this when they’ve requested temporary rent reductions. So, Labour has helped enable this, which is going to cause even worse problems for renters further along the line.”


“My distrust for the Labour Party began when the anti-semitism report was leaked. As a Jewish person, I was completely shocked to find that certain party members purposely tried to make Labour lose the 2017 election, and purposely mishandled anti-semitism claims in order to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. I was also disgusted at the racist treatment of Diane Abbott and other BAME MPs. Starmer enacted no action against the Labour officials named in the report.

The final straw came when Rebecca Long-Bailey was fired. While the claims made my Maxine Peake are inaccurate, the response was entirely disproportionate. Starmer’s response went against the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, conflating zionism and anti-semitism. This co-opting of anti-semitism to justify ousting left wing members of parliament from the cabinet is disgraceful. The actions of Israel and the IDF are not to be conflated with the actions of Jewish people – this bastardisation of the label of anti-semitism is actively harmful to Jews. I’ve experienced anti-semitism first hand and I feel my experiences and being co-opted to silence critics of Israel.

I’m also uncomfortable with Keir Starmer’s condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement, and his refusal to take a hard line in support of the trans community. I want no place in a party that panders heavily to the right this way. Labour should be standing with marginalised people and not standing aside so as not to upset the bigots. The Labour Party I left is not the same party as the one I joined.”

“I’ve experienced anti-semitism first hand and I feel my experiences and being co-opted to silence critics of Israel” – Sophie

GREG, 26

“I was pretty skeptical about the funding Starmer received from certain donors that were known to be supporters of Blairite politics and funders of anti-Corbyn groups, but this only came to light after the leadership election, which seemed like a tactic to avoid scrutiny. Then the Labour leaks showed conversations between Labour members scheming against Corbyn in 2017, providing evidence that decisions were purposely made to fuel the anti-semitism accusations and that money was funnelled to anti-Corbyn candidates within Labour. Starmer said an investigation will take place into this, but I still haven’t heard anything more.

Also, our government has handled the pandemic so catastrophically, yet Starmer hasn’t held them to account enough. I don’t know if I’ll continue to vote for Labour. Moving back to the centre when so much of the country has supported socialist ideas in polling is not a good idea. Maybe Starmer is trying to distance himself from Corbyn to gain initial support, but will turn out to have progressive politics – who knows. I’m not against voting tactically to unseat the Tories, but I’d feel uncomfortable voting for the current Labour government.”