Monday will officially mark a 'Year of Keir' as Starmer celebrates the first anniversary of his election as Labour leader. It's been 12 months of frequent clashes with the party's once powerful left faction including the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn and the decision to abstain on the 'spy cops' bill. Moderates meanwhile grumble about Starmer's decision to attack the government on competence rather than values – a decision that backfired once vaccines arrived in December. Surely then an Easter trip to a church offered Starmer a chance to have his party singing for once from the same hymn sheet?
Alas not. It seems the Leader's Office managed to choose the wrong church, judging by the reaction on social media. Starmer's decision to visit Jesus House in London has met with criticism over the views of its senior pastor Agu Irukwu, an opponent of gay marriage who previously co-signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph opposing laws to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation: 'The regulations force Christians in churches, businesses, charities and informal associations to accept and even promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality.'
The move has caused a backlash with Guardian columnist Owen Jones claiming: 'Unless the Labour leadership wants to make it clear it doesn’t care about LGBTQ people, it needs to apologise' and Labour councillor Kerri Prince tweeting: 'When I worked for an MP, I would google every organisation who wished to meet with him. I cannot fathom that nobody in Keir's office bothered to check the background of Jesus House. Totally unacceptable.'
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 2, 2021
I recently visited @JesusHouseUK to hear about their crucial work in the community.Churches across the country have played such a vital role in the fight against the virus.I hope everyone has a good, restful and safe Easter weekend. pic.twitter.com/CyJfaxRoph
Various online sites like Pink News and The Independent have previously made great hay out of Tory Prime Ministers associating with the church with Peter Tatchell claiming in 2017 that: 'Theresa May's decision to visit pastor Agu Irukwu and Jesus House is an insult to the whole LGBT community but especially to black LBGT people.'
It seems curious that none of Starmer's team were able to forsee the difficulties that such a visit would cause. Maybe year two will see a more forensic leadership?