Keir Starmer promises to take unconscious bias training

Keir Starmer during his show in the LBC studio
PA Images

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer has promised to take unconscious bias training after coming in for criticism over his comments about the Black Lives Matter movement last week.

Last Tuesday, after being asked about calls to defund the police, the Labour leader said it would be “nonsense” in the UK, adding: “The Black Lives Matter movement, or moment if you like [is] internationally about reflecting something completely different, it’s reflecting on what happened dreadfully in America just a few weeks ago and acknowledging that as a moment across the world.

“I don’t have any truck with what the organisation is saying about defunding the police or anything else, that’s just nonsense.”

He was quickly criticised by Labour figures including Vauxhall, London, MP Florence Eshalomi, who said his “choice of words [was] wrong”. And Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy added on Twitter “#BlackLivesMatter isn’t just a moment, it’s a movement. It’s clear that if we want to see real change, it’s going to take sustained pressure from below.”

Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, explained later he meant to say the rallies were “a defining moment and turning point”.

This morning he was challenged by Sharon, a Labour party member from Waltham Forest, who called into Starmer’s LBC radio show to accuse him of “unconscious dismissive language and attitudes” that “feed into structural racism and unchallenged pervading elements of society”.

He responded: “The reason I said that Sharon is because I’ve spoken to lots of black community leaders over the last few weeks and they’ve told me over and over again, for heaven’s sake this has got to be a turning point.”

He added: “I have to admit that if I’d put the word ‘defining’ actually into the moment, it would have been a lot easier.”

He said he was going to introduce unconscious bias training for all Labour officials and said: “I’m going to lead from the top on this and do that training first.”

“There is always the risk of unconscious bias and just saying ‘oh well it only applies to other people and not me’ is not the right thing to do, so I am going to lead from the front on this and do the training.”

The course Starmer planned to undertake would last two-to-three-hours and would be done “as soon as I can book in for it”.

Sharon responded: “That was really what I was looking for, I am really pleased about that, I think it’s very important and he’s right, everyone should look into that.”

Some Black Lives Matters campaigners believe “defunding” the police enables budgets to be rechannelled into social programmes that could help avoid confrontations and help narrow the ethnicity divide.

In June, in response to Boris Johnson’s announcement of a commission to address inequality in the UK, the Labour party called for four recommendations to be made into law:

  • Introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting – from the McGregor-Smith Review – into race in the workplace.
  • The development of culturally competent occupational risk assessment tools, especially for key workers – from the Public Health England review into coronavirus disparities.
  • A national target to achieve a representative judiciary and magistracy by 2025 – from the Lammy Review into the criminal justice system.
  • The creation of a migrants’ commissioner – from the Wendy Williams Review into the Windrush scandal.
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