The Telegraph 2024-07-04 16:12:32

LIVE UK general election live: Britain goes to the polls in historic vote

The polls have opened in a historic general election as Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer face the judgment of the electorate.

Victory for Mr Sunak would mean an unprecedented fifth term of Conservative rule. A triumph for Sir Keir would see Labour return to power for the first time in 14 years.

Since the Prime Minister called the election on May 22, the six-week campaign has seen major dividing lines emerge on tax, net zero policy and private education.

The election has been shaken up by Nigel Farage returning to frontline politics to lead Reform. Mr Farage and Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, hope to take as many seats as possible from the Tories.

An average of polls conducted before voting opened suggested that Labour had a lead of almost 20 points over the Tories, prompting Mr Sunak to warn against handing Labour a “blank cheque” amid predictions of a “super-majority” in the Commons.

Follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments

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Starmer to win Labour’s largest ever majority, final Telegraph poll shows

Sir Keir Starmer is set to win the largest Labour majority in history, The Telegraph’s final opinion poll of the campaign has found.

Labour is on course to win 39 per cent of the vote – almost twice as much as the Conservatives – in a landslide victory.

It would represent a dire night for Rishi Sunak and would likely see the Conservatives reduced to around 100 MPs.

In contrast Sir Keir would enter No 10 with a huge majority, almost certainly bigger than the 179 seat one achieved by Sir Tony Blair in 1997.

The survey, carried out by Savanta, comes after other polls also predicted that the Tories are on course to achieve their worst-ever result.

Mr Sunak’s campaign has been dogged by a series of setbacks and the rapid rise of Reform which has poached traditional Right-wing voters.

Savanta’s poll shows that Nigel Farage’s party is on course to win 17 per cent of the vote, which is just three points shy of the Conservatives on 20 per cent.

The first past the post system means Reform is unlikely to win more than two or three seats, though Mr Farage is expected to triumph in Clacton.

In contrast the Liberal Democrats are set to return dozens of MPs to parliament and seize Tory seats across the south despite only securing 10 per cent.

Chris Hopkins, the director of Savanta, said that the company’s poll suggests Sir Keir is on course to achieve a record-breaking supermajority.

“If our findings are replicated at the election, he will find himself leading the largest Labour majority in modern history, overturning in one fell swoop what seemed like an insurmountable Conservative victory in 2019,” he said.

It comes after three eve-of-election MRP polls, all published on Wednesday afternoon, showed that Labour is set to win more than 400 seats.

Each of the surveys, carried out by More in Common, Focaldata and YouGov, projected that Sir Keir will enter power with a majority north of 200.

But the Tories are set to be decimated and reduced to a rump of little more than 100 MPs.

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How Boris Johnson went from the Tories’ secret weapon to electoral liability

Tactical masterstroke or a sign of desperation? Rishi Sunak’s decision to call on Boris Johnson to deliver a last-minute rallying call on Tuesday night has divided opinion in the Conservative Party, but the Prime Minister no doubt felt it could not do any harm, and might just do some good.

Johnson is the greatest campaigner the Conservatives have had since Margaret Thatcher. His fizzing rhetoric about a “sledgehammer majority” for Labour only served to emphasise how flat the election campaign has been without him.

“Don’t let the Putinistas deliver the Corbynistas!” he bellowed, as he warned against the perils of voting for Reform UK, one of the endless rhetorical flourishes that makes him such a crowd-pleaser.

Sunak may have been less grateful for Johnson’s input when the former prime minister chose to make no direct reference to his successor when he introduced him on Tuesday.

But it is because of Johnson’s box-office appeal that talk of him returning as leader has never gone away. As he departed from Downing Street in 2022, he likened himself to Cincinnatus, the Roman leader who returned to his plough before coming back to lead again by popular demand. Those who know him best are certain that he believes he will be back.

The enthusiastic cheers that met his surprise appearance at Tuesday night’s rally, however, masked the fact that Johnson’s popularity remains perilously low for anyone seriously considering leading a political party or, for that matter, resurrecting one.

Whether or not Sunak knew about the latest personal ratings when he texted Johnson last week asking him if he would enter the fray at the eleventh hour may be immaterial.

With the dice in his hand ready for the proverbial last throw, Sunak needed someone to blow on them for luck and turned to Johnson as someone who has been a serial winner in the past.

Johnson does, at least, enjoy slightly better ratings than Sunak among the electorate as a whole, though both men are deep in negative territory: minus 25 percentage points for Johnson versus minus 30 for Sunak, according to regular polling by Savanta.

It is among those intending to vote Reform, however, that Johnson has the biggest lead over Mr Sunak. Johnson has a rating of minus 4 per cent with prospective Reform voters, compared with minus 64 for Sunak. It is these voters, many of whom must have positive feelings for Johnson for his score to come so close to a net zero score, that the Prime Minister will have been hoping to have reached.

It is they, after all, whose votes the Conservatives are scrapping for, which would give them a fighting chance of retaining dozens more seats, rather than losing to Labour by splitting the Right-wing vote.

The polling does not, though, suggest that the public has forgiven Johnson for Partygate, and his absence until now from the election campaign seems to have harmed his popularity, rather than making people yearn for his presence.

Chris Hopkins, director of Savanta, said: “Significant drops in the net favourability throughout the campaign of not just Rishi Sunak, but Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as well, shows simply that the public is fed up with the Conservative Party rather than one individual or leader. 

“All three must take their share of responsibility for the result that looks inevitable on Friday morning and the idea that any late intervention from Boris Johnson could save Conservative seats ignores the fact that he too is guilty for the position his party finds itself in.” 

Either way, Johnson will likely claim credit if the Tories do better than expected – despite his absence until Tuesday.

In May 2020, when Johnson was steering the country through Covid, and long before the Partygate scandal broke, he enjoyed net approval ratings of 79 per cent among 2019 Conservative voters and plus 15 per cent among voters as a whole (a figure that is worked out by deducting negative responses from positive responses).

A year later, after a slight dip, he was still in positive territory with all voters, and remained above 60 per cent with Tories.

That all changed in January 2022, when he apologised to Parliament for attending a lockdown-busting garden party in Downing Street and then slumped to negative territory among even Tory voters.

His apology did seem to earn him some credit, as his ratings bounced back towards the plus 40 territory among Tories by April 2022, but the Chris Pincher affair, in which Johnson was accused of ignoring warnings about the behaviour of the former whip, dragged him back down and he was back in negative territory even among Tories when he resigned in July the same year.

His personal ratings, up and down since then, stood at plus 27 among 2019 Tory voters and minus 14 among all voters on June 2. Since then they have plunged to plus 13 per cent among Tories and minus 25 as a whole.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the betting scandal that has been largely confined to the Tory party has been responsible for the slump. Voters have compared Gamblegate to Partygate during hustings events, and for all senior Tories it seems that there is guilt by association.

Johnson’s detractors, of whom there are many, know where his biggest weakness lies. Partygate has left an indelible scar on his reputation, and if he tries to come back, his enemies will be sure to reopen the wound.

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Just how bad will it be for the Tories? John Curtice’s final prediction

A forest of final estimates is anticipated in this final 24 hours of the campaign. But unless they indicate that there has been a dramatic last-minute turnaround, it looks as though Sir Keir Starmer will become Prime Minister on Friday. What remains uncertain is just how badly things might turn out for the Conservatives.

The first uncertainty are the don’t knows. The polls are still reporting that on average those who voted Conservative in 2019 are twice as likely as those who voted Labour to say that they do not know how they will vote on Thursday. This is, in truth, one of the many symptoms of the wave of unpopularity from which the party has struggled to escape ever since Liz Truss left Downing St in October 2022. Many undecideds are as unhappy with the Conservatives as those who say they are going to vote differently this time around – they just are not sure what to do as a result.

Still, if any group of voters is going to drift back to the Conservatives in the final hours the undecideds are probably the most likely to do so. But even if all of them eventually vote for the party they backed in 2019, there are not enough of them to do more than put a three or four point dent in Labour’s lead.

The second uncertainty is how the electoral system will reward whatever share of the vote the Conservatives eventually acquire. A key message of the numerous MRP megapolls that have sprouted up during this election campaign has been that support for the party is falling more heavily in constituencies that the party is trying to defend.

In part this is arithmetically inevitable – the polls suggest the party’s vote could fall by 25 points across the country as a whole, but there are over 100 constituencies where the party did not win as much as 25 per cent last time. 

At the same time, however, Reform are most likely to damage the Conservatives’ prospects in Tory-held seats. Reform’s predecessor party, the Brexit Party, did not stand in Conservative-held seats last time, and so whatever they win this time in these seats – primarily at the expense of the Conservatives – will be an increase on zero.

However the polls do not agree on just how strong this pattern will prove to be. Mr Sunak has to hope that it proves not so strong after all.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde, and Senior Fellow, National Centre for Social Research and ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’. He is also co-host of the Trendy podcast.

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How to vote in the general election

  • Follow The Telegraph’s latest general election live blog

Britain will head to the polls today for the general election, the first national vote since Boris Johnson triumphed for the Conservatives in 2019. 

Here, The Telegraph sets out everything you need to know about how and where to vote today, finding your nearest polling station and what you need to bring with you.

  • How do I vote? 
  • Am I registered to vote?
  • How to vote in person
  • How to vote by post
  • How to vote by proxy
  • How to apply for an emergency proxy vote
  • Where do I vote?
  • Where is my polling station? 
  • What time do polling stations open and close?
  • What do I need to bring with me to vote?
  • What ID can I use to vote?
  • Do I need my polling card to vote?
  • Can I vote online?

How do I vote?

Any British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen who is resident at a UK address and 18 or older can vote today.

In any case, to be able to vote you need to be registered to do so already. The deadline passed on June 18 at 11.59pm and anyone who did not register in time will not be able to vote or register for a postal or proxy vote.

For those who are registered, there are three ways of voting: in person at a polling station, by post or by proxy.

Anyone wishing to vote by post or proxy needs to have completed an additional registration, the deadlines for both of which have now passed, although it may still be possible to apply for an emergency proxy vote in certain circumstances.

  • Read the latest election polls
  • Follow The Telegraph’s live coverage of today’s general election

Am I registered to vote?

You can check if you are on the electoral register by contacting your local electoral registration office.

The name and address of everyone who successfully registered to vote, unless they have done so anonymously, is added to the electoral register. During registration, there is also an option to opt out of the open register, which is a version of the electoral register that is available to anyone who wants to buy a copy.

How to vote in person

You can vote in person today at your designated local polling station, providing you bring a valid photo ID.

A poll card is sent out before the election to everyone who has registered to vote with details where your designated polling station is and reminding you when it is open, although this will be from 7am to 10pm at every site today.

On arrival at the polling station, you will need to confirm your name and address with staff and show your photo ID before they can provide you with the ballot paper you need to cast your vote.

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Who should I vote for?

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How to vote by post

You also have the option to select your candidate by post, which can be done if you will not be able to attend a polling station in person today or if it is more convenient for you.

To do so, you must have registered to vote and also completed the postal vote application before the deadline, which passed at 5pm on June 19.

Those who have applied for a postal vote will automatically be sent a postal ballot. All the necessary information on how to correctly select a candidate and send in your vote is provided on the form.

It is advised that postal voters fill out their forms and send them for free via the Post Office or a postbox as soon as they can.

There is no formal deadline for when the ballot needs to be sent off. But if you did so too close to the deadline, it may not be delivered in time to be counted.

Despite reports of delays, Royal Mail said they “remain confident” that postal votes received on time will be delivered before the end of the day. You can read more about what to do if your postal ballot is delayed here.

Alternatively, you can take your completed form to your local polling station and deliver it by hand before the polls close at 10pm today.

How to vote by proxy

You can get someone else to vote on your behalf if you cannot attend a polling station in person, are registered as an overseas voter, have a medical issue or disability, or cannot vote in person because of work or military service.

The deadline for registering to vote by proxy passed at 5pm on June 26. You must also have already registered to vote.

You will need to tell your chosen proxy who to vote for, so they should be someone you trust to vote on your behalf. They must also be registered to vote and can do so at the polling station specified on your poll card.

How to apply for an emergency proxy vote

If you missed the deadline, you may be able to put in an application for an emergency proxy vote up until 5pm today in certain cases, including: 

  • Lost photo ID
  • Medical emergency or disability
  • Due to your employment
  • New or replacement photo ID order not arriving on time

To apply, you need to fill out one of three forms, depending on your circumstance, and send it to your local Electoral Registration Office. There are separate forms for reasons relating to employment, medical emergency or disability and to photo ID.

If you are applying for an emergency proxy vote because of a medical emergency, disability or your employment, you will need to get your application form signed by an “appropriate person” such as a doctor or employer before submitting it.

Where do I vote?

You vote in person at a polling station, which is usually a public building such as a school or local hall.

It is only possible to vote at your designated polling station. Usually, this is the nearest one to the address you are registered at.

If you require physical access, a disabled parking space or a large print version of the ballot, your local Electoral Registration Office can tell you about what is provided at your polling station.

Where is my polling station?

Local Electoral Registration Offices can provide information about where the nearest polling station is – but voters are also sent a poll card that says when the vote is and which station to attend.

What time do polling stations open and close?

Polling stations will be open today from 7am to 10pm.

What do I need to bring with me to vote?

A valid photo ID is all you are required to bring with you to the polling station to be able to vote today. 

What ID can I use to vote?

The name on the ID must match the name provided on the electoral register, otherwise, a voter can bring a document with them to the polling station that proves they have changed their name.

Since May 2023, voters in England, Wales and Scotland have needed to provide a form of photographic ID at the ballot box. Voters in Northern Ireland also need to do so.

For the general election, voters will need to show a form of identification such as a driving licence, passport or blue badge to be able to cast their vote.

Voters were also able to apply for a free voter authority certificate (VAC) either online or by post if they did not have an accepted photographic ID available.

The deadline to apply for a VAC passed on June 26 at 5pm and was done through the Electoral Commission’s website

Do I need my polling card to vote?

No, you do not need to bring your poll card with you to be able to vote today. Your poll card should have been sent to you just before election day and if you have not received one but think you should have, you can contact your local Electoral Registration Office.

Can I vote online?

No, it is not possible to vote in the general election online.

Experts say that security and anonymity concerns make it difficult to implement an online voting system.

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How the 2024 manifestos compare: Labour, Reform, Lib Dems and the Conservatives on key issues

  • Follow The Telegraph’s latest general election live blog

As Britain head to the polls today to elect its next government, each party is hoping that the promises set out in their manifestos last month have connected with voters.

Heading into the general election with a 20-point lead, Sir Keir Starmer urged voters to back Labour to “rebuild our country”, having unveiled his Change document in Manchester on June 13.

But he was forced to reject allegations of being “captain cautious”, with the manifesto not containing any major surprise policies.

On June 11, Rishi Sunak said, as he launched the Tory manifesto at Silverstone, that he had “bold” ideas, warning the electorate against handing Sir Keir a “blank cheque”.

But the Prime Minister’s document was met with private doubts from some Tory candidates that it would be enough to win.

  • Read the latest election polls

Nigel Farage set out Reform UK’s vision for repairing a “skint” UK as he launched its “contract with the people” on June 17. However, his spread of tax cuts, spending increases and spending reductions faced accusations of “magical thinking”.

Elsewhere, Sir Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto in north London on June 10, hoping to win voters over with the motto: “For a fair deal.”

  • Labour’s full manifesto 
  • Reform UK’s full manifesto 
  • Conservative’s full manifesto
  • Lib Dem’s full manifesto

Here, The Telegraph looks at how the manifestos and their promises stack up on polling day:

Tax policy

Labour has unveiled £8.6 million of tax rises by 2028-29, with raids on private schools, overseas property investors and non-doms.

It also set out its plans for a windfall tax on oil and gas giants, which it says will raise £1.2 billion per year.

The manifesto reiterated the promise not to raise National Insurance, income tax or VAT.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives offered a variety of tax cuts, including a further 2 per cent cut to NI and abolishing it altogether for four million self-employed workers, as well as abolishing stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes worth up to £425,000.

Reform proposed raising the minimum income tax threshold from £12,571 to £20,000, scrapping stamp duty for properties worth less than £750,000 and “abolishing” inheritance tax for estates under £2 million.

Their raft of tax cuts also includes lowering fuel duty and reducing VAT, which they would not charge on energy bills.

The Liberal Democrats promised to more than double capital gains tax for top earners, triple the digital services tax on social media firms and tech giants, and implement a one-off windfall tax on the “super-profits” of oil and gas producers.

Immigration policy 

Labour has promised to reduce net migration, with measures such as banning employers who breach employment law from recruiting overseas workers.

The party also pledged to reform the current points-based approach, and to upskill British workers in sectors where immigration is currently used to address skills shortages.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have unveiled plans to introduce a “binding, legal” annual cap on visas, giving Parliament an annual vote on the numbers recommended by Government migration advisers.

The manifesto also includes a commitment to raise salary requirements for skilled workers in line with inflation every year so that they do not “undercut UK workers”.

Leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and an immigration tax on foreign employees headline Reform’s central aim of ending illegal immigration and freezing “non-essential” legal migration.

The Liberal Democrats would negotiate “low-cost, fast-tracked work visas” to tackle labour shortages in “key economic sectors”, exempt NHS staff from the immigration skills charge and reverse the ban on care workers bringing partners and children.

Tackling small boats

On tackling illegal migration, Labour has committed to putting an end to the Rwanda scheme, which it called a “desperate gimmick”.

Instead, it plans to set up a new Border Security Command with “hundreds of new investigators, intelligence officers and cross-border police officers”.

It will also seek a new security agreement with the European Union in order to access intelligence and lead joint investigations with EU counterparts.

The Conservatives are sticking with the Rwanda scheme as they promised to run a “relentless, continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants” .

The manifesto also opens the door to possibly leaving the European Court on Human Rights by vowing to put UK border security ahead of membership of a foreign court.

The party has also set up plans to sign further returns deals, like the one agreed with Albania.

Reform said they would deem illegal migration a national security threat and that migrants would be picked up out of boats and taken back to France.

The party also wants to replace the Home Office with a new Department for Immigration.

The Liberal Democrats fiercely oppose the Government’s Rwanda plan and would scrap it along with the Illegal Migration Act, instead providing “safe and legal routes to sanctuary for refugees” and increasing cooperation with Europol.


Labour has said it will cut NHS waiting lists so that patients will wait no longer than 18 weeks from referral for non-urgent health conditions.

This would involve delivering an extra 40,000 more appointments each week and training “thousands more GPs”, although it does not state how many. They also want to overhaul the “8am scramble” appointment booking system.

Sir Keir’s party has also set out a Dentistry Rescue Plan to provide 700,000 more urgent dental appointments a year, 100,000 of which will be for children. It will also introduce a supervised tooth-brushing scheme for three to five year olds.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have said that they will deliver 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors by the end of the next Parliament as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan – a pledge that Labour has matched.

The Tories will also provide 2.5 million more dental appointments, and have committed to increasing NHS spending above inflation each year.

The party has also vowed to drive up productivity in the NHS, move care closer to people’s homes by utilising pharmacies, and create more community diagnostic centres.

Reform vowed to cut NHS waiting lists to zero in the space of two years with an income tax exemption for front-line workers and a 20 per cent tax relief for private healthcare and insurance, with more private providers used by the NHS.

The Liberal Democrats promised to give everyone the right to see their GP within seven days, or 24 hours if it’s urgent, boosting the number of full-time equivalent GPs by 8,000 in order to achieve this.

Sir Ed Davey also wants to introduce free personal care, increase the minimum wage for carers by £2 per hour and create a “dad month” to encourage paternity leave.

Education and childcare policy

Labour has promised to recruit 6,500 more teachers and put mental health specialists in every school, funded by imposing VAT on private school fees. It will also introduce free breakfast clubs in every primary school.

In terms of childcare, the party has said it would open an additional 3,000 primary school-based nurseries, and has promised to review the parental leave system within the first year of government.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have promised that new teachers in priority areas would receive bonuses of up to £30,000 tax-free over five years, to boost recruitment. Rishi Sunak also pledged to create a further 100,000 apprenticeships by 2029, paid for by scrapping “poor quality” degrees.

The Tories vowed to deliver the largest expansion of childcare in history, giving parents with children from nine months old access to 30 hours of free childcare a week from September 2025.

Reform would also target “rip off” degrees, scrapping interest on student loans and requiring universities to provide two-year courses to reduce student debt and allow graduates to enter the workforce earlier.

The party also want to ban teaching gender ideology and critical race theory in schools and review the curriculum to make it more “patriotic”.

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats would match Labour’s pledge to put a qualified mental health professional in every school. It would also increase school and college funding per pupil above the rate of inflation each year and hand out £10,000 to every UK adult to spend on “education and training throughout their lives”.

Defence policy

The Conservatives have sought to put defence at the heart of today’s election, with promises to increase military spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030, a timeline Labour does not match.

The Tories also pledged £3 billion a year to support Ukraine, and to bring back National Service for school leavers.

Meanwhile, Labour said it will “set out a path” to 2.5 per cent defence spending and in its manifesto states its commitment to the nuclear deterrent as “absolute”.

Reform have also promised to increase defence spending, to 2.5 per cent by 2027 before rising to 3 per cent by 2030. 

Mr Farage wants to form a fully-fledged Department for Veterans’ Affairs and offer free education to troops and veterans alike, as well as increase basic pay across the forces.

The Liberal Democrats said they would reverse government cuts to troop numbers and maintain UK support for Nato but would also seek multilateral global disarmament and block arms exports to countries with poor human rights records.

Net zero 

Labour has set the date to reach clean power by 2030, working with the private sector to double offshore wind, triple solar power and quadruple offshore wind by that date.

Its plans will be partly achieved through the creation of a new publicly-owned energy company, Great British Energy.

Labour will not issue new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, but pledges not to revoke existing ones.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have branded their net zero plans “affordable and pragmatic”, saying they will ensure annual licensing rounds for oil and gas in the North Sea.

They have pledged to treble offshore wind and have said they would seek “democratic consent” for onshore wind and “support solar in the right places”.

Mr Sunak’s party has also pledged to ensure household green levies on household bills are cut.

In contrast, Reform insists the UK’s flagship green goals make taxpayers worse off and would abandon all existing carbon emissions targets, with plans to accelerate oil and gas licences in the North Sea, build high-efficiency gas turbines and restart coal mines instead.

The Liberal Democrats would take a different approach, promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, five years earlier than the current UK target.

The party says they will achieve this with a raft of green policies including generating 90 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2030, providing free retrofits for low-income homes, requiring new cars to produce zero emissions from 2030 and shifting the tax burden onto frequent flyers.

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Keir Starmer profile: The grammar school ‘superboy’ who could be the next Labour PM

  • Follow The Telegraph’s latest general election live blog

There is a story that Sir Keir Starmer’s friends like to tell about his response to Labour’s humiliating Hartlepool by-election defeat in 2021. 

Having lost the safe seat to the Conservatives, Sir Keir openly discussed quitting as the Labour leader, saying: “I’m not fulfilling some lifelong dream here.” He told his confidants that he would be content to work in a bookshop instead.

It is undoubtedly true that Sir Keir’s leadership ambitions came late in life. It is also the case that Labour never expected him to be the party’s next prime minister, and from the public’s point of view there is still considerable confusion over what he stands for.

Yet opinion polls consistently point to Sir Keir – who came so close to walking off the political stage entirely – as the next occupant of 10 Downing Street.

  • Read the latest election polls

That he has turned a 20-point deficit in those polls into a 20-point lead in his time as leader owes much to the Tories’ self-immolation, but it would be wrong to dismiss Sir Keir’s contribution to that turnaround.

By purging Labour of Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semites, Sir Keir has done much to detoxify the brand. Before voters go to the polls, however, they will want to be sure that they know what they are getting if they are tempted to vote Labour – and that means knowing more about the man who leads the party.

Even Sir Keir’s tame biographer Tom Baldwin, a former adviser to their mutual friend Ed Miliband, describes him as “peculiarly hard to pin down”, which is not an encouraging start for those tasked with curating the image of a would-be prime minister.

Sir Keir has summed up his political outlook by saying: “If I see something wrong or spot an injustice, I want to put it right,” a phrase that might have been uttered by any politician, of any party, at any point in time.

He has also proudly described how one of his achievements as director of public prosecutions (DPP) was “getting the boring stuff right”. 

In time, that phrase might be equally applicable as a description of how he ended up in charge of the country at the age of 61.

Unlike Sir Tony Blair, the last Labour leader to win a general election, Sir Keir can genuinely lay claim to working-class roots. But where Sir Tony was unapologetic about his middle-class status, Starmer appears uncomfortable with the man he has become.

Sir Keir has so often referred to his father’s occupation as a toolmaker that it has become the go-to punchline for political cartoonists. 

Much ink has been expended in arguing about whether Rodney Starmer was a mere factory hand or the boss of his own one-man business, but there is no doubting the fact that Sir Keir’s childhood was lived in straitened circumstances that moulded the man we see today.

Sir Keir was born on Sep 2, 1962, the second of four children. His older sister, Anna, was born the year before him and twins, Katy and Nick, followed in 1964. 

Soon after he was born, the family moved to the pebble-dashed home in Hurst Green, near Oxted, to which he so often refers, saying it gave the family stability.

Money was tight: Katy has said that the house flooded once and it was years before they could afford to redecorate, and when Sir Keir kicked a football through a back window his father boarded it up, unable to pay for a glazer.

His mother Josephine, a nurse, had Still’s disease, a rare type of inflammatory arthritis that meant she had to have her hips and knees replaced twice and became a wheelchair user in later life. 

The Labour Party’s 2024 manifesto

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Some of Sir Keir’s friends have suggested in the past that if he appears lacking in emotion, it is a result of growing up with a parent who had a serious illness, which leads a child to suppress their own needs and feelings.

Added to that was the fact that his brother Nick had learning difficulties, which meant Sir Keir’s parents had a lot on their hands. 

He was not afraid to use his fists as a child and would get into fights with people who bullied his brother, with whom he shared a bunk bed decorated with posters of Debbie Harry, the Blondie singer. 

He now says he has no patience for people who complain about being ill when they are not very ill, and that the challenges he faces as a politician “pale into insignificance” compared with what his mother had to face.

Childhood friends of Sir Keir say his father, a staunch Labour supporter, was powerfully built and physically intimidating and would interrogate visitors about their political views. 

Sir Keir has gone as far as to say that his father was “a difficult sod” who “drove people away” and had no time for other people’s opinions. Family meals would be eaten in silence while Mr Starmer read his newspaper, and he only allowed a television in the house when Josephine took an Open University course (Sir Keir was only allowed to watch one programme per week: Match of the Day).

Sir Keir now thinks his father “carried quite heavily” a belief that other people looked down on him because he was a manual worker, even though he believes he was bright enough to have gone to university if he had lived in a different era.

Family holidays were spent in the Lake District when the four children and their four dogs would all cram into the back seat of Mr Starmer’s Ford Cortina. 

Mr and Mrs Starmer fell in love with the Lakes when they went there on honeymoon (the only time in her life that Josephine flew on an aircraft, to Manchester) and visited 77 times. They also became lifelong friends with Alfred Wainwright, the Lakeland author, after coming across him in the hills.

The four Starmer siblings all attended a primary school in the village of Merle Common, around four miles from Tanhouse Road. Sir Keir passed the 11-plus and went to Reigate Grammar School, unlike his three siblings, who called him “superboy” because he was so good at everything, from academia to music to football. 

He became such an accomplished flautist that on Saturdays he went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he had a youth scholarship. Unsurprisingly, he also became a prefect and attained a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

His attendance at Reigate Grammar School would prove controversial in later life. It would have become a comprehensive school had it not been for a directive issued by Margaret Thatcher as education secretary, and instead went private, though boys who were already at the school, including Sir Keir, did not have to pay. 

Curiously, Sir Keir omitted any mention of the school in his Who’s Who entry when he first became DPP. He now wants to put VAT on school fees yet he has contributed to Reigate’s scholarship fund and has spoken at fundraising events. The Daily Mail has given him an “A* for hypocrisy” as a result.

After a gap year which he divided between an outdoor pursuits centre for disabled children near Bodmin Moor and working in his father’s workshop, he won a place at the University of Leeds to study law, gaining a first-class degree.

During his time there he went on demonstrations and gave money to miners’ families during the strike in 1984, but he refuses to answer questions about whether he took drugs as a student, preferring to say he “had a very good time at university”. It included dating Angela O’Brien, a fellow law student with whom he had a 10-year relationship.

He also joined the university Labour Club, though he never ran for any posts within it and many prominent members of it have no memory of him attending at all. Like Lord Cameron, Sir Keir seems to have treated student politics as a passing interest rather than an all-consuming passion.

A one-year Bachelor of Civil Law course at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford followed, before a three-year spell working as the legal officer for Liberty, then called the National Council for Civil Liberties. At weekends, he gave free legal advice to women who worked in a massage parlour below his flat, that may or may not have been an actual massage parlour.

Freed from the intensity of his university studies, Sir Keir finally had time to devote to his hobby of politics and decided that the Labour Party was not radical enough for his liking. He joined the Socialist Society, founded by Ralph Miliband, Ed and David’s father, and Tony Benn, and helped set up a magazine called Socialist Alternatives, dedicated to an obscure branch of Trotskyism called Pabloism. It attacked Neil Kinnock’s “hopeless” economic programme and demanded a “radical alternative”.

At the time, Sir Keir had such liberal beliefs on law and order that one friend has recalled him saying he did not believe in imprisonment “for anything, ever”. 

He expressed similarly naive views when he was interviewed for pupillage at his first barrister’s chambers. Asked how he would defend a first-time shoplifter he said: “Isn’t all property theft?”

Nevertheless, he was taken on by Doughty Street Chambers, founded by the prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. Its premises were next door to the offices of the Spectator magazine, edited at the time by Boris Johnson.

Sir Keir made a name for himself by giving free legal advice to the defendants in the “McLibel” case, in which McDonald’s sued two environmental activists over a factsheet critical of the burger chain. He appeared in a documentary about the case talking about how being made a Queen’s Counsel was odd because he used to campaign for the abolition of the monarchy. 

By 1997 he had made enough money as a barrister to buy a house in Stoke Newington with his new girlfriend and fellow barrister, Phillippa Kaufmann. 

They were together for six years and she still lives in the house they bought together. Then came a relationship with another lawyer, Julie Morris, a former gymnast, before Sir Keir met the woman he would finally marry, solicitor Victoria Alexander.

Victoria, who worked as a volunteer at Sir Tony’s campaign headquarters in 1997, is a decade younger than her husband and was far more politically active as a student than he had been.

Her father was part of a Jewish family who arrived in England from Poland before the Second World War. 

The couple married on May 6, 2007, at the Fennes Estate in Essex, when Sir Keir was 44. By 2010 they had a son and a daughter, whom they occasionally take to a liberal synagogue in north London (though neither Sir Keir nor his wife professes to be religious).

Back at Doughty Street Chambers, Sir Keir was busily fighting the government over the ongoing Iraq War, taking on, and beating, the Home Office in a series of cases that prevented control orders being imposed on suspected terrorists whom the security services feared would travel to Iraq to fight against the US-led coalition.

By 2008 he had built such a legend within the legal world that he was offered the job of DPP, putting him in charge of 8,000 people in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and hundreds of thousands of prosecutions.

He has picked out one of his key achievements as replacing a paper-based system with a digital one, which meant fewer prosecutions were abandoned because of lost paperwork. It is this that he has cited as an example of how “getting the boring stuff right” can improve lives. 

One thing he did not do as DPP was prosecute Jimmy Savile. It was under his watch that the CPS decided not to prosecute the prolific paedophile on the grounds of insufficient evidence, a decision that was later criticised in a review of the case by a leading barrister. Sir Keir has always maintained the case did not come across his desk.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the missed opportunity over Savile was Operation Midland, which dragged innocent men into an investigation about a VIP paedophile ring that was the invention of a fantasist called Carl Beech.

After the Savile debacle, Sir Keir had authorised policy changes for dealing with sexual abuse cases that placed more emphasis on believing the purported victim.

The former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, who was falsely accused by Beech, blames Sir Keir personally for the “believe the victim” policy that cost him his job, his reputation and his home after he was wrongly accused. Some of Beech’s victims later said Sir Keir was unfit to stand as Labour leader.

By the 2010s, Sir Keir had decided that he had achieved as much as he could as a lawyer. He told his biographer Tom Baldwin that there were limits to legal justice and he wanted to be part of the apparatus of making the laws.

“I had a sense that to fix problems you had to pull levers only politicians could do,” he said. “I wanted to be part of making social justice.”

He consulted his near neighbour Ed Miliband, who lives half a mile from him, and when Frank Dobson stood down from the Holborn and St Pancras seat in 2015, Sir Keir was picked as the candidate to replace him.

He has lived in the constituency for more than 20 years, has a wallet with “Take Me Home To Kentish Town” written on the back, and is, of course, a fanatical supporter of Arsenal FC.

He still plays football with friends he has had for decades, does so wearing a Donegal County Gaelic football shirt that he picked up when he was in Northern Ireland advising its police force, and, until recently at least, remained in charge of booking the pitch, team selection and contacting the players with details of when to arrive.

When he was elected to Parliament at the age of 52, it would have been a proud moment for his mother, who had been struggling with her health, but she did not live to see it. In 2008 she had fallen and broken her leg, which had to be amputated. She also lost the power of speech.

Mr Starmer used his engineering skills to make her a wheelchair adapted to her exact needs, and built an outhouse at the end of their garden where she could sit and be near the donkeys that the couple rescued and kept in a field that their MP son had bought for them. 

Mr Starmer planned out how he would get his disabled wife to Parliament to see his eldest son being sworn in as an MP in 2015, but she died a few days before he was elected, and Mr Starmer decided not to go on his own. 

Heartbroken, he moved into the outhouse he had built for his wife, putting her wedding ring beside the bed. He visited her grave most days, having his sandwich lunch there, even on Christmas Day.

When Mr Starmer himself later ended up in hospital, there was a fire in the outhouse, destroying all of the photos and memories of their life together, and killing his dog. His children never told him, and he died in hospital without knowing. Sir Keir later found a scrapbook his father had kept, full of cuttings about his career, and friends said that after his wife died, they would find Mr Starmer sitting watching the BBC Parliament channel in the hope of catching sight of his son. 

In Parliament, Sir Keir chose to serve on Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench as shadow Brexit secretary, a decision that has dogged him ever since. 

He says he profoundly disagreed with Mr Corbyn, yet he stayed on his team. He says he accepts Brexit, but he campaigned for a second referendum, with Remain as an option. Rishi Sunak accuses him of blowing with the wind, unable to decide what he stands for other than seizing power.

Knighted for his services as DPP, he insists on being called simply Keir Starmer in Parliament. Critics find this peculiar: his is a story of social mobility, of a man born without privilege who raised himself to high office through his own endeavours and with the help of an education system that includes good schools and world-class universities, yet he is somehow reluctant to celebrate this success. Instead, he constantly plays up his working-class roots, leaves his grammar school out of his biography and plays down his knighthood. 

Where Sir Tony had the self-confidence to own his middle-class status, turning it to his advantage by telling Tory voters he was not so different from them, Sir Keir, another north London lawyer, appears uncomfortable with his success, and this is surely one of the reasons that voters find him difficult to warm to.

Colleagues say he first started talking about becoming leader when Mr Corbyn refused to blame Moscow for the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

In 2020 he got the job, making his victory speech from his living room because of the Covid pandemic. In it, he described anti-Semitism as “a stain on our party” and promised to “tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us”.

Many Labour MPs thought he didn’t have it in him. Yet he matched words with action, sacking his beaten leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing online an interview in which the actor Maxine Peake claimed the police who killed George Floyd in the US had learnt their techniques from the Israeli secret services.

The decision infuriated the Left, but there was more to come, as Diane Abbott, and even his predecessor Mr Corbyn, lost the whip over comments he judged to be unacceptable.

Where do Labour stand in the polls?

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By January 2022, around three hundred members had been expelled by the party, often after complaints of anti-Semitism, and thousands of Mr Corbyn’s supporters had quit.

Sir Keir had purged his party of its most toxic elements, and in doing so removed the biggest barrier to Labour being electable. 

Otherwise, he made an unimpressive start as Labour leader. A poor communicator, he was regularly duffed up at the despatch box by Boris Johnson, who loved to goad him with the nickname Captain Hindsight (later promoted to General Indecision).

By May 2021, after Labour lost the Hartlepool by-election, questions were being asked about whether Sir Keir might be the first Labour leader since George Lansbury in 1935 to step down without fighting an election. As noted above, he certainly considered it, telling friends he saw it as a personal rejection and that people would see it as the party going backwards.

Sir Keir’s job, at that stage, was simply to win back enough seats from the Conservatives to give the next leader a genuine crack at power. After all, no party in history had overturned the sort of majority won by Boris Johnson in 2019 in one single leap.

Then came partygate, Liz Truss, and a collapse in support for the Tory Party that no one could have foreseen.

It has left Sir Keir as the odds-on favourite to be the next prime minister in today’s election. It appears he might get there simply by “getting the boring stuff right”.

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