Starmer refuses to repeat ‘Corbyn better as PM than Johnson’ claim

Sir Keir smiles with Jeremy Corbyn at a party conference in 2017
Sir Keir Starmer was Jeremy Corbyn's shadow Brexit secretary in 2017 - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to repeat his claim that Jeremy Corbyn would have been a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

The Labour Party leader was asked on Friday about a remark he made during the BBC Question Time special on Thursday night.

Hosting the programme, Fiona Bruce asked him five times to explain why he had said in the run-up to the 2019 election that Mr Corbyn would be a “great prime minister”.

Sir Keir eventually said: “He would be a better prime minister… look what we got, Boris Johnson, a man who made massive promises, didn’t keep them, and then had to leave Parliament in disgrace.”

Speaking to broadcasters on Friday, Sir Keir did not repeat those words but said: “The choice at the last election before the electorate was not a good choice.

Sir Keir gestures with both hands, standing in the Question Time studio
Sir Keir appearing in the Question Time special on Thursday night - BBC

“You had Boris Johnson, who won and then three years later was thrown out of Parliament for breaking the rules, you had Jeremy Corbyn who is now expelled from the Labour Party.

“That’s why I have been so determined to change the Labour Party and to make sure that that changed Labour Party puts forward a credible manifesto for growth so that at this election, there will be a real choice between carrying on with the failure of the last 14 years or turning the page and rebuilding the country with a Labour government.”

‘I have changed Labour’

Asked again if he thought Mr Corbyn would have been a better premier, Sir Keir said: “I have changed the Labour Party because after that election result, we needed to ensure we were a party which proudly said ‘country first, party second’, with a manifesto for change, and that’s what we have put before the electorate.”

Peter Kyle, Labour’s shadow science secretary, earlier declined to say if he also believed Mr Corbyn would have been a better prime minister than Mr Johnson.

Asked the question four times by LBC’s Nick Ferrari, he repeated an identical answer each time.

‘Difficult days’

“Those were difficult days in our politics, and we each had to find our own way through it,” Mr Kyle said.

He added: “But the key thing is in 2019, we had that general election, and the voters told us definitively. If you’re in politics, you’ve got to listen to voters, and they told us definitively that our party had to change.

“Keir Starmer led our party through that change and he now has a party that’s fit for service because of the change.”

Since winning the party leadership in 2020, Sir Keir has distanced himself from his predecessor, who is standing against Labour as an independent.

He was criticised last week for describing the Conservative manifesto as a “sort of Jeremy Corbyn-style manifesto where anything you want can go in it, none of it is costed”.

He supported the manifestos drawn up for the 2017 and 2019 elections during Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

Momentum, the Left-wing campaign group, said Sir Keir was guilty of “attacking your own side” and Sir Simon Clarke, the Tory ex-minister, criticised him for his “sheer nerve”.

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