Keir Starmer elected new UK Labour leader

Keir Starmer has won the leadership of the Labour Party. The human rights lawyer beat rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy after the first round of voting. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Keir Starmer elected new UK Labour leader

  • The 57-year-old former chief state prosecutor defeated Corbyn loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey and backbencher Lisa Nandy in a lengthy campaign
  • Starmer, who was Labour’s Brexit spokesman, called his election “the honor and privilege” of his life

LONDON: Pro-European centrist Keir Starmer was on Saturday unveiled as new Labour party leader, heralding a shift in Britain’s main opposition party after a crushing election defeat under veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn and years of ideological infighting.
The 57-year-old former chief state prosecutor defeated Corbyn loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey and backbencher Lisa Nandy in a lengthy campaign sparked by Corbyn’s resignation after December’s loss at the polls to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
Angela Rayner becomes the new deputy leader, Labour announced on Twitter, after it was forced to cancel a special conference because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Starmer, who was Labour’s Brexit spokesman, called his election “the honor and privilege” of his life and vowed to “engage constructively” with Johnson’s Conservative government.
Johnson immediately offered his congratulations and the pair spoke, with Starmer accepting an invitation to a government briefing on COVID-19 next week.
“Keir offered to work constructively with the government on how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak,” his spokesman said.
Starmer himself vowed to reunite Labour, after deep rifts between supporters of socialist Corbyn’s hard-left ideals and centrists, and wrangling over its Brexit strategy.
He immediately addressed the issue of anti-Semitism that Corbyn was accused of failing to tackle, which tarnished the party’s reputation and caused Jewish members to leave in droves.
“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities,” Starmer said.
“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry.
“And I will 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.”
Starmer, who won a resounding 56.2 percent of the vote of Labour members, acknowledged the party had “a mountain to climb,” after four straight general election defeats — two under Corbyn.
But he vowed: “We will climb it.”
He added: “I will lead this great party into a new era, with confidence and with hope.
“So that when the time comes, we can serve our country again in government.”
Labour grew out of the trade union movement but moved to the political center under former prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office between 1997 and 2007.
Corbyn spent a lifetime on the sidelines because of his left-wing views, and his election as leader in 2015, on the back of a huge surge in party membership, was a shock.
MPs and party members have been locked in an ideological battle ever since.
“There’s really a lot of bad blood and mistrust,” said Steven Fielding, a political expert at the University of Nottingham.
“The first challenge (for the new leader) will be to put a team together that at least looks like it has the ability to unify the party.”
Winning back voters who defected to the Conservatives is also top of Starmer’s “to do” list if Labour is to have any hope of victory at the next election, currently scheduled for 2024.
Brexit was a toxic issue for the party, torn between euroskeptic supporters in many northern English towns and pro-EU voters in the big cities such as London.
Starmer was opposed to Brexit and played a key role in moving Labour to support a second referendum on leaving the European Union.
However, voters were not convinced and Johnson took Britain out of the bloc on January 31.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought a more immediate challenge.
Johnson’s government has imposed draconian curbs on public movement to try to stop the spread — measures backed by Labour, although it successfully pressed for more parliamentary scrutiny of new police powers.
The Conservatives have also promised eye-watering sums to keep businesses and individuals afloat, wading into traditional Labour territory.
In response, Johnson’s popularity ratings have shot up.
A YouGov survey last week found that 55 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of him, up from 43 percent a week earlier.
Some 72 percent thought the government was doing well — including a majority of Labour voters.
Ministers have been on the back foot in recent days, however, over the lack of testing for coronavirus and protective equipment for health care staff.
Labour has been pressing the issues and Starmer said this would continue.
“My instinct will be to be constructive but to ask the difficult questions,” he told a Guardian podcast this week.


Italy’s first Islamic burial place planned for Rome

Updated 35 min 33 sec ago

Italy’s first Islamic burial place planned for Rome

  • ‘Garden of Peace’ project seeks crowdfunding from country’s 2.6m Muslims
  • An architect has prepared blueprints, featuring palm trees, fountains and obelisks amid a serene burial place

ROME: Italy’s first Islamic cemetery may soon be built on a green space in Tragliatella, a few kilometers north of Rome.

The burial place — to be built on a 400 hectare area near the border between Fiumicino, close to the international airport, and the city of Bracciano —  will be the first cemetery dedicated to Muslims in a country where Islam is the second-largest religion.

Bachcu Dhuumcatu, president of the Dhuumcatu Bengali community association in Rome, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the cemetery could hold up to 16,000 plots.

“We will call it the ‘Garden of Peace’,” he said.

“The cemetery will allow second and third-generation Muslims living in Italy to avoid going through what we are forced to, facing a situation that became even more difficult with the coronavirus pandemic.”

The site of the proposed cemetery is valued at €7 million ($7.8 million) and is yet to be purchased. However, an architect has already prepared blueprints for the project, featuring palm trees, fountains and obelisks amid a serene burial place.

A Qur’anic school, sports center and space for halal slaughter have also been proposed for the site.

Finding a suitable location for the Islamic cemetery has been far from easy, however.

“At the beginning we had intensive talks with the Rome City Council, but we could not find (an agreement) on a possible location,” Dhuumcatu said.

Rome’s Municipal Cimitero is one of only 58 cemeteries in Italy available for Islamic burials. However, it is too small to meet demand and all its spaces are full.

If the Tragliatella project gets the green light, the new Islamic cemetery will provide a solution for the central Italian region, home to large numbers of Muslims.

“We had looked for a space in Guidonia, another large town not far from Rome. But even there we could not find a suitable place for our cemetery,” Dhuumcatu said.

“We finally came to the Tragliatella option a few months ago. We were about to start talks with the Fiumicino authorities, but the coronavirus emergency began and the discussions had to stop,” he said.

Under Italian law, the land must be bought by the Islamic community and then donated to the Fiumicino municipality as part of an agreement that allows it to be transformed into a cemetery.

“If we succeed, we can finally be buried facing Makkah and with the coffin carried by eight people — all things that have not always been guaranteed to us so far,” Dhuumcatu said.

Only 58 of Italy’s 8,000 municipalities have dedicated spaces for Muslims inside their cemeteries.

However, even when space is available, it is limited and often fails to meet demand, which increased dramatically in the first half of 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The result was a shortage of Muslim burial spots.

Rome’s Bengali association, with about 35,000 members, has appealed for crowdfunding from all 2.6 million Muslims living in Italy since it wants the cemetery to be open to all nationalities.

“The first donations are coming in. We will make it,” Dhuumcatu said.

However, Italy’s right-wing League party has voiced its opposition to the Tragliatella project.

“Muslims try to use cemeteries to establish their customs in areas without consulting the local population. We are against this,” said Sen. William De Vecchis.

Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari and president of the National Association of Italian Communes, told Arab News: “I fully understand the cemetery’s appeal to Muslim citizens. I think the time has come to find solutions.”