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Starmer's path to leadership demands ruthless shakeup of historical alliances

Keir Starmer, Leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party gestures during a question and answer session at a business conference in London, February 2024
Keir Starmer, Leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party gestures during a question and answer session at a business conference in London, February 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Youssef Kobo, author
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Starmer has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pave the way for the future of the progressive agenda in the West. He must not squander it, Youssef Kobo writes.

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Keir Starmer became the UK’s first left-leaning leader in 14 years — and at the exact moment that Britain is abandoning its biggest experiment in nationalist populism, its closest allies are taking the plunge.

Whether it be French nationalists proudly comparing themselves to Nazis or Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s declaration that there is no place for Islamic culture in Europe, today’s nationalist-populist politicians are feeding on the fears of vulnerable people and demonising those who dare to stand out.

And yet, in the same breath, they are eroding the security of their own nations and trashing valuable relations with the rest of the world.

From Trump’s admiration of Vladimir Putin to the German AfD party’s attempt to block aid from reaching Palestine, far-right populism is gnawing away at the foundations of a stable international order.

These tactics will fail.

'Progressive realism' has to be pragmatic

Sooner or later, voters will see that the far right offers little respite from their discontent. The embarrassing, absurd, and chaotic collapse of Britain’s Conservative Party after 14 years of drifting further and further towards the right is a stark warning to European voters.

Above all else, the UK’s disarray shows us that nationalist populism lacks real solutions to our political, social, economic and ecological challenges.

Just as British voters have finally clawed their way back to the centre-left, so too will their fellow electorate in other countries. As the extreme nationalists who captured their votes dismantle the progressive values that rebuilt our societies in the post-WWII era, they will come to realise their horrific mistakes.

For now, Starmer will inherit age-old friendships with nations across the EU and North America. For their own good, he must challenge their current far-right ideals and work to heal the societal divisions they insist on creating.

As we await Europe’s far-right surge to follow the same path as Britain’s Tories, it will be crucial for centrist and progressive political leaders to remain engaged with minority communities.
UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria waves to the crowds of supporters and media from the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in London, 5 July 2024
UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria waves to the crowds of supporters and media from the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in London, 5 July 2024AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Instead, he is already making concessions. He said he would engage with far-right leaders in the EU and has reportedly watered down his support of Palestine over fears it could rock Britain’s relationship with the US.

This exemplifies the follies of Labour’s approach. The British Muslim community’s trust in a Labour Government has been severely eroded by the party’s weak stance on the war in Gaza.

Its approach to Britain’s first black female MP, Dianne Abbot, has damaged confidence among Black communities. Labour has not learned lessons from the mistakes of the Conservative Party, which has alienated vast swathes of the public by constantly demonising minorities while sundering its relationships overseas.

The Labour Party’s supposed commitment to “progressive realism” and diplomatic outreach in the Middle East and North Africa risks falling into the same trap as the outgoing Conservative government — pursuing photo opportunities and instant economic gains at the expense of deep, long-lasting partnerships built on respectful, cultural and religious diplomacy.

That is why it is all the more odd that when the UK received a visit last week from Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League — the largest Islamic NGO in the world — Labour was nowhere to be seen.

This was a prime opportunity for Keir Starmer to extend the hand of friendship to the man who led the first-ever Islamic delegation to Auschwitz and begin healing the fractured relations left by the Conservatives. Instead, Al-Issa was ironically welcomed by Policy Exchange, the most influential think tank in the most catastrophic Conservative government in history.

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No more politics of division, please

Community relations with Muslim minorities are about to become the litmus test of the integrity of European democracies.

The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim animosity and hate speech toward minorities in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium and beyond has become the far-right’s new campaign ticket.

As we await Europe’s far-right surge to follow the same path as Britain’s Tories, it will be crucial for centrist and progressive political leaders to remain engaged with minority communities.

Yet Labour’s victory proves precisely that the politics of division is ultimately doomed — that is why Starmer must similarly do all he can to build bridges with Muslims and other minorities.

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Indeed, Britain’s success will rest on its ability to enfranchise the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Those are not in North America or Europe — but in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Creating a new capacity for cultural and religious diplomacy to engage authentically with stakeholders in these regions, where faith remains a crucial part of public life, will be essential to securing new opportunities for the British economy.

Now more than ever, we desperately need progressive leaders who can remind us of what really made Europe great.

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It was not the politics of division but of universal hope and opportunity. As Europe’s main centre-left figurehead, Starmer must not squander this chance to demonstrate to his allies what a successful and confident liberal government can achieve.

Youssef Kobo is a Brussels-based author and democracy activist. He previously served as senior advisor to the Brussels-Capital Region Secretary of Digitalisation and Equal Opportunities.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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