Keir Starmer, it is fair to say given his general background and sensitivity, may have been unfairly maligned for describing the Black Lives Matter protests as “a moment”. He meant a moment of history, a fulcrum around which attitudes and realities could change, even a turning point in history. He was misinterpreted by some as implying the global outrage at the death of George Floyd was just a passing moment, a trivial affair.
Unfair or not, Starmer showed a sure instinct in stopping a controversy that might have got out of hand. Reflecting on his inadvertent offence, he has referred himself for unconscious bias training. It is his way of demonstrating a willingness to listen, and to be sensitive to the feelings of others when the wrong words are used – in stark contrast to Boris Johnson’s attitude towards some of the offensive (to some) things he has written. It also stands in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, arguably, whose very public acts of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people were not matched by a similar demonstration of support for the right of the state of Israel to exist. Perhaps there is politics at work as Starmer senses he still needs his party’s support, and unity, as he tries to steer it back to power, and it was useful to undertake such a public act. Equally, it was the right thing to do, and preferable to getting embroiled in some pedantic linguistic wrangle. What’s more, he has told all Labour staff members to do the same. Given the party’s recent issues with antisemitism, it seems a wise course of treatment.
Starmer’s move, like the photograph of him and Angela Rayner taking the knee – a dignified still image rather than a videoed “media event” that would feel more like a stunt – has been vilified by some as mere “gesture politics”, just “virtue signalling”; a no-cost, insincere symbol that changes nothing of substance.
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