LONDON: Keir Starmer, the former shadow Brexit Secretary, on Saturday emerged as the winner of a three-way race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the UK's Opposition Labour party.
The 57-year-old was elected after he defeated Rebecca Long-Bailey and Indian-origin MP Lisa Nandy, who were a distant second and third respectively in a postal ballot of party members, trade unionists and registered supporters.
In his video victory message, Sir Keir Starmer said his task was to "lead this great party into a new era, with confidence and hope".
Starmer's election has been widely welcomed, including by the diaspora representative group Labour Friends of India (LFIN), which called on the new Opposition leader to work on rebuilding trust and stronger India-UK ties.
Under Corbyn's leadership, diaspora groups in the UK had repeatedly spoken out against a perceived anti-India sentiment with the Opposition ranks, especially after the Labour party passed a resolution at its annual conference last year in favour of international intervention in Kashmir.
The move is believed to have turned many British Indians away from the party during the December 2019 general election, which resulted in a massive Labour defeat.
"In these unprecedented and challenging times, it is more important than ever before that the Labour party plays its part by effectively holding the government to account. The Labour party must also make the changes necessary to win hearts, minds and trust of the British people, including that of the 1.5 million strong British Indian community," said Rajesh Agarwal, LFIN co-chair and London's Deputy Mayor for business as he welcomed Starmer's election.
"The Labour party is the natural party for British Indians but last few years have seen the relations strained. I hope the change in leadership is the beginning of a healing process and the party will be able to regain the trust of the British Indian community," he said, adding that the process would require time, effort and political will.
"The result today will bring unity to the Labour party, show the country we are a serious party of government in waiting and prepare to win the next general election," said Virendra Sharma, a veteran Indian-origin Labour MP who had expressed his disquiet at the perceived anti-India Kashmir resolution at the time.
Starmer, who had been the frontrunner in the race since it opened for voting at the end of February, said he had been elected "at a time like no other" and promised to work "constructively" with the government to confront the pandemic and not engage in "Opposition for Opposition's sake".
"We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we'll challenge that and call that out," said the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in London, who had fought on a unity platform.
Starmer won in the first round of voting under the preferential system, polling 275,780 votes and representing 56.2 per cent of the total vote share. Rebecca Long-Bailey came second with 135,218 votes or 27.6 per cent with Nandy in third with 79,597 votes or 16.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner has been elected deputy leader. She defeated four other candidates but the contest was much closer, going to a third round of voting as she beat fellow MPs Ian Murray, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler and Rosena Allin-Khan.
As many as 114,000 new members who had joined since the December 2019 general election, when Labour suffered a bruising defeat with its lowest number of seats since 1935, voted alongside members of affiliated trades unions and groups for the postal ballot.
Around 14,700 "registered supporters", who paid 25 pounds to take part on a one-off basis, were also part of the preferential voting system in which the candidates are ranked in order of preference.
Jeremy Corbyn had announced he would step down as Labour leader in the wake of the disastrous election result last year which handed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a landslide win.