In Brief

Red Claire: Keir Starmer’s top policy chief was ‘hard-left student activist’

‘Labour’s Dominic Cummings’ campaigned against the party and led marches in protest at intervention in Kosovo

Keir Starmer’s close aide Claire Ainsley is a former member of a Trotskyist party who opposed Nato intervention in Kosovo, it has emerged.

Ainsley is now “the opposition’s well-regarded director of policy”, but while serving as president of the student union at the University of York, she campaigned against Tony Blair’s Labour government as a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), The Times reports. 

In 1998, Ainsley told students that she had joined the SWP - “a self-styled revolutionary party divisive even by the standards of the far-left”, according to the newspaper - “because I don’t believe that our views are represented by those in power”. 

She also helped to organise marches opposing Nato’s intervention in Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population in Kosovo. At one protest, attendees were said to have chanted: “Blair and Clinton, hear us say, how many kids have you killed today?”

Ainsley compared the conflict to the Vietnam War and tried unsuccessfully to convince her student union to formally condemn the US-led intervention in Kosovo. “People see that what Nato is doing is wrong,” she told Nouse, the university’s student paper, at the time.

She would go on to write music reviews for the Morning Star, a communist newspaper, and also worked for the Transport and General Workers’ Union. 

More recently, she has written a book titled The New Working Class: How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes, published in 2018, and worked as head of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank before joining Starmer’s policy operation in April.

Ainsley’s influence in Starmer’s team is considerable, with the London Economic last month describing her as “Labour’s answer to Dominic Cummings”.

Her rise is all the more notable given that little more than two years ago, she was still openly criticising Labour. 

In an article published in The Times shortly after the release of her book, Ainsley wrote that the party had “steadily seen its working-class vote fall”.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour did not comprehend that “what it means to be working class today has significantly changed”, she added.

Ainsley and Labour declined to comment when asked by the paper this week about her hard-left past.

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