Who is the UK’s new prime minister?

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks ahead of the U.K.’s general election on July 4, 2024. 

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LONDON — After 14 years of tumultuous Conservative rule, Britain’s Labour Party is expected to shake up the country’s politics with a return to power this year.

The left-of-center opposition party retains a commanding lead of around 20 points over current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, according to the latest YouGov poll. The voting intention survey, which was conducted on June 12-13, showed Labour on 37%, the Conservatives on 18% and the newly re-emerged Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage’s Reform on 19%.

But who is Keir Starmer — Labour’s leader and the clear favorite to become prime minister after Britain’s July 4 election? And what does he stand for?

Human rights lawyer-turned-politician

Starmer was born in London, England in 1962 to a father who worked as a toolmaker and mother who worked as a nurse.

The 61-year-old has often referenced his modest beginnings as a point of connection with British voters, and says his mother’s lifelong battle with a severe illness has given him a deep gratitude for the National Health Service (NHS).

Starmer became the first in his family to go to university, studying law at the University of Leeds. After postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford, Starmer began working as a barrister (trial attorney) in 1987, taking on high-profile cases including against Shell, McDonald’s and former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s mine closures.

Starmer also served as a human rights adviser during former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement.

In 2008, a year after marrying his wife, Victoria, Starmer became director of public prosecutions, putting him at the head of the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service.

Starmer received a knighthood in 2014 for his services to criminal justice, and was elected to Parliament the following year. There, he served as opposition immigration minister and opposition Brexit minister.

In 2020, he was appointed Labour leader and instigated a major overhaul of the party following the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn, who led the party to record loss in the 2019 election.

Pro-business, pro-reforms, pro-EU

In his 2024 election campaign, Starmer has touted a “decade of national renewal” for the country following what Labour has described as years of spending cuts and falling living standards under the Tories.

In the party’s election manifesto, published last week, Starmer outlined spending measures to create a new publicly owned energy company, reduce NHS waiting times, build new homes and renationalize rail services.

Labour leader Keir Starmer takes a selfie with students after a campaign event at Three Counties Medical School on May 29, 2024.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

But he also positioned himself as staunchly pro-business, continuing his years-long charm offensive on traditionally right-leaning voters with plans for “wealth creation” and a National Wealth Fund.

“Economic growth and social justice must go hand in hand,” Starmer said at the launch event of the manifesto.

Labour has outlined five long-term missions if it comes to power: drive economic growth, invest in green energy, overhaul the NHS, create safer streets, and deliver “opportunity” through a new skills agenda. To aid these goals, Starmer is planning a radical shake-up of government ministries, Labour officials told the FT.

Starmer, who voted Remain in the U.K.’s 2016 EU referendum, has also pledged to improve the “botched” UK-EU trade deal, including in areas such as trade, research and security. However, he has insisted there is no case for Britain to rejoin the bloc.

Public image problem?

Despite his change agenda, Starmer is seen by many as an establishment figure, lacking the charisma of other politicians. A YouGov poll from earlier this year ranked him behind Reform’s Farage in terms of public popularity — and his rating fell further among younger voters.

Critics have also questioned Starmer’s core values — for example, remaining in Corbyn’s top team even as the party leader faced accusations of antisemitism within Labour. Starmer later suspended Corbyn from the party. Others have accused him of betraying the left by courting business leaders and dropping pledges such as abolishing university fees.

After a bumpy few years for British politics, though — with three different Conservative prime ministers in 2022 alone — Starmer’s supporters are championing him as a neutral figure of stability after a period of significant political upheaval.

— CNBC’s Katrina Bishop contributed to this report.

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