Keir Starmer has been criticised for describing one of the main political aims of Black Lives Matter as “nonsense”.
It is a central demand from Black Lives Matter campaigners, many of whom point to the high number of police killings of Black people and disproportionate uses of violence and stop and search – and now feel defunding is a “tangible goal” rather than a radical idea. The current wave of international action was sparked by the brutal killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
But Starmer said: “Nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police.
“I was director of public prosecutions for five years. I’ve worked with police forces across England and Wales bringing thousands of people to court, so my support for the police is very strong.
“It’s a shame it’s getting tangled up with these organisational issues, with the organisation Black Lives Matter, but I wouldn’t have any truck with what the organisation is saying about defunding the police – that’s just nonsense.”
Starmer also appeared to play down the significance of Black Lives Matter, describing it as a “moment”.
He said: “There’s a broader issue here. The Black Lives Matter movement – or moment, if you like – internationally is about reflecting something completely different. It’s reflecting on what happened dreadfully in America just a few weeks ago and showing or acknowledging that as a moment across the world.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Jermain Jackman, who stood for the party’s NEC in February and has campaigned for the party since 2017, were among those who appeared to criticise the leader’s choice of words.
#BlackLivesMatter isn’t just a moment, it’s a movement.— Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (@BellRibeiroAddy) June 29, 2020
It was a pleasure to speak at @BLMWandsworth recently.
It's clear that if we want to see real change, it's going to take sustained pressure from below. pic.twitter.com/nUlUB4dn2o
Keir Starmer #BlackLivesMatter isn't a 'moment' about US. How do you not recognise a movement against centuries of incalculable dehumanisation of Black people resulting from institutional racism in US & UK? Your words are same as #BorisJohnson on this. Not impressed.#BBCBreakfast https://t.co/ftL4JkRvsW— Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (@SholaMos1) June 29, 2020
Dire, condescending, awful. https://t.co/dWeivFABqn— The 1987 Caucus Movement✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽 (@1987Caucus) June 29, 2020
Keir Starmer not covering himself in glory here. (It’s also important to know that “defund the police” is about reallocating some £ to other public services: community outreach, mental health, education). You can disagree with that but it isn’t nonsense. pic.twitter.com/6nXJwKzCeZ— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) June 29, 2020
The Twitter account of Black Lives Matter UK responded by branding Starmer, who used to head the Crown Prosecution Service, a “cop in an expensive suit”.
As a public prosecutor, Sir Kier Starmer was a cop in an expensive suit. While black people are now incarcerated at the same rate as African Americans, the prison population in Britain has almost doubled since the 1980s. This has affected all working class people in Britain.— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) June 29, 2020
Rishi Sunak's statement was better. https://t.co/qAkrtOcIOM— Reni Eddo-Lodge (@renireni) June 29, 2020
What was so disturbing about Starmer’s condemnation of Black Lives Matters is how passionately and enthusiastically he spoke against us. Sir Haircut who is usually dull, grey and monotonous suddenly became colourful when musing on his love of the police and prosecutions.— Jase (@jasebyjason) June 29, 2020
Among those to back Starmer, however, was Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, whose support he may not actually want.
The Labour leader also said in the interview he was “sweating blood” to rebuild public trust in his party, despite a recent poll suggesting that public opinion favoured his leadership over that of the current prime minister.
Asked if he thought he would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson on Sky News, he said: “I focus on the fact that last December the Labour Party lost very badly in a general election, and that’s our starting point.
“I’ve got a mountain to climb to get our party from where it is to where it needs to be to win the next general election, and I’m sweating blood on that.
“I’m not going to be deflected from the enormity of the task that I face. I’ve got to rebuild trust in the Labour Party, trust in a force for good and a force for change.
“I’m determined to do that, but I’ve got a long, long way to go.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.