Keir Starmer was beaten up as teenager trying to defend gay friend, book reveals

<span>Keir Starmer: ‘People forget about the ways Britain has become less cruel and less full of hate.’</span><span>Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA</span>
Keir Starmer: ‘People forget about the ways Britain has become less cruel and less full of hate.’Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Keir Starmer was beaten up in a nightclub in Cornwall as a teenager after trying to defend one of his friends who was attacked for being gay, a new book reveals.

In an incident that the book’s author, Tom Baldwin, suggests demonstrates Starmer’s values, the Labour leader describes how he was disgusted that his friend had been kicked out of the family home in the 1980s for being gay by his father who told him “you’re no son of mine”.

In the summer after he sat his A-levels in 1980, Starmer and two friends from school, Mark and Graham, worked at a holiday centre for a disability charity in Cornwall, where they went on a night out.

“Graham didn’t do much to conceal that he was gay,” recalls Starmer, “and some of the local kids decided the way to prove they weren’t gay too was by punching and kicking him. Mark and I got involved, so all three of us ended up getting beaten up.”

In the book, Keir Starmer: The Biography, Starmer adds: “When I’m told how ‘things were better in the old days’, people forget about the ways Britain has become less cruel and less full of hate. We can all take some pride in that.”

Starmer describes going to the same-sex wedding of his niece Jess in 2022 and reflecting on the progress Britain had made. But six weeks later he had a nasty reminder of “how far we have to go”, the book reveals.

Related: Keir Starmer: The Biography by Tom Baldwin review – steady as he goes

Jess and her wife, Samantha, were leaving a pub in the town where they live and work. “It’s a friendly place, small enough for them to know most people, it’s their manor,” Starmer said. “They were hand in hand like the newlyweds they are when three men came up to them. These cowards punched Jess many times, fracturing her cheekbone, for no reason except she’s a lesbian.”

Baldwin recounts how “in cold fury” Starmer “tossed his phone across the table” to show him two photos of his niece’s face, the first looking radiant and happy on her wedding day, the other almost unrecognisably swollen and purple after the attack.

“Starmer’s anger over what happened to his niece, and – despite his best efforts with the police – the failure to prosecute those responsible, is an emotion you rarely see from him in public,” Baldwin writes. “For my part, I think the argument made casually by a lot of people these days that he stands for nothing is well wide of the mark.”