Thursday 16 January 2020

Comrades for Keir

We started this year with a YouGov poll suggesting Keir Starmer leads the race to be Labour's next leader. Then yesterday, Survation's own weighted poll of LabourList readers but Rebecca Long-Bailey narrowly ahead. In either case, this suggests substantial numbers of Corbyn-supporting members are favouring Keir, so those on the RLB-supporting left have to ask why. Not because it's an interesting exercise in and of itself, but so we can persuade these comrades - because they are comrades - that RLB is the better bet. Here are some thoughts then as to why some find his pitch compelling.

1. Paul Mason notes Starmer carries a professional air about him thanks to his background as Director of Public Prosecutions. He therefore knows the state and its bureaucracy, and has the lawyerly skills of mastering a brief and thinking on his feet. He is, in short, a serious figure. And no doubt he is. Whatever one thinks of the role he played in steering Labour in the direction of a second EU referendum, he did a good job at the despatch box scrutinising the government and having a better understanding of the Brexit deals bought before the Commons by Theresa May and Boris Johnson than his Tory opposite number. While Jeremy Corbyn's performance at PMQs varied greatly over his time, there is the belief Keir would consistently better the Prime Minister which, in turn, would provide the sort of theatre designed to play well on the evening news bulletins.

2. This however would be done from the left. As he was quick to establish, economically speaking, his offering is Corbynism with Keir and not junking the 2017 and 2019 manifestos - a different approach to Lisa Nandy, Emily Thornberry, and Jess Phillips who have either singled out individual instances or some of the policy menu for criticism. And to burnish his stance with a tinge of authenticity, we had that campaign video which saw Keir sticking up for working people and fighting the good fight. Just don't talk about the time he stood with the Tories and the LibDems in putting the screws on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people. Nevertheless, he is left enough for enough and some are prepared to see him account for this before even considering changing their vote.

3. If that can be overlooked, so can his participation in the 2016 coup. After all, he has served loyally in the shadow cabinet and has since hovered above the factions - reports of his favouring Labour First supporters in Holborn and St Pancras CLP elections notwithstanding. Naturally, hiring Matt Pound from the self-same faction doesn't give off non-factional vibes but, as plenty have pointed out, he has experience of campaigning against Momentum during Labour's last round of reselections. Though to credit LF with more than a dozen votes against the triggers is to overstate their reach and influence. Nevertheless, most of Keir's left support are again happy to either ignore the hire or put it down to campaigning practicalities.

4. The assumption of non-factional positioning obviously appeals to leftists worn down by four years of internal warfare, and they want to believe Starmer can heal the ceaseless conflict. Whether he has the appetite for shaping the party in his image and the struggle it brings remains to be seen. Nevertheless, in trying to read the runes and despite Labour First's backing they are not senior to his campaign. LF's backing stems from their anyone-but-Corbyn positioning and, therefore, anyone but RLB. They might fantasise about taking back the party and obviously see a Starmer leadership as a springboard for doing so, but Starmer also knows his best chance at victory in 2024 is peace within the party between now and then. If you stand as the unifying figure, turning against the most substantial section of the party is hardly clever clever politics. And with a PLP also weary of infighting, apart from the scorched earth ultras who've hitched their wagon to the sinking Jess Phillips campaign, the hope a Starmer leadership might see tensions simmer down are not entirely groundless.

5. Ultimately, taking all these into consideration, there is enough ambiguity for some of the left to project their own hopes onto him and see them confirmed by Keir's actions and interventions. So far, and it is early days, there is little suggesting to comrades that the party isn't safe with him, that the policy platform Corbyn stood on will be sacrificed, and that he stands a worse chance of winning an election.

This poses a number of challenges to RLB supporters. We know Becky's not about to junk Corbynism, considering she was central to it and is responsible for its green industrial strategy. But she's up against the competent image, the perception a rapid recovery and election win is more likely under Starmer, and that his leadership would be an antidote to the poison coursing through Labourist politics. This is where the campaign has to be most persuasive because these are the grounds on which the leadership will be won or lost.

Image Credit


Alan Story said...


A disappointing and hardly radical speech from Rebecca Long-Bailey in her call for a so-called “democratic revolution.” Yes, “for lasting, serious change to happen, people in this country must themselves take charge of politics through a democratic revolution.”

But scrapping the House of Lords is hardly a radical demand and RLB makes not a mention at all of the urgent need for a proportional representation voting system.

“For the people to take charge”, we must:


(I am not a member of the Labour Party and do not support any particular candidate.)

Shai Masot said...

Vote Starmer. Get purged.

Adam J. Kimberley said...

I'm still on the fence between RLB and KS. But I'm quickly falling onto the KS side. Not only for the reasons you outline above, but also because of how turned off I've been at the kind discourse and rhetoric I've experienced from so many RLB supporters. The vast majority of which has been has been completely inward looking, factional, and (in my opinion) blinkered. I know this shouldn't really effect my opinion of RLB as a potential leader, but it does make me concerned that we'll be in for anothet 5 years of in-fighting and a leadership office more concerend with carrying the Corbyn mantle than actually winning votes and convincing Jo Schmo that Labour aren't complete fantasists. I've been impressed by KS so far and there has been a lot of productive, practical talk from many of his supporters on what we should do next and what went wrong last year. Currently, he likely has my vote.

Anonymous said...

Like Adam, I've been put off RLB by the fact that most of the arguments in her favour seem to come from a place of factionalism and loyalty to the Corbyn project rather than a cold-eyed assessment of her personal qualities.

I understand the sense of loyalty and sentiment but I never really noticed RLB as anything other than a loyal Corbynite and her campaign thus far has done nothing to make me excited about her leadership.

Anonymous said...

All of the surviving candidates have submitted to the demands of the Board of Deputies. That indicates weakness of character that would be fatal for the Leader of a radical Party that has to take on most of the Establishment especially the mainstream media. It would be even more dangerous in a PM who has to face up to the likes of Trump and Putin. I can't support any of them.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it was Starmer who gave the cleverest answer to the BoD demands - he simply said that he "supported" them.

That actually leaves a fair amount of wriggle room regarding implementation - and he is a lawyer, never forget :)

Boffy said...

I can't support any of the remaining candidates. Clive Lewis offered the only reasonable hope. Now the main job is to work to try to limit the extent of demoralisation amongst members, and to engage in an all-out struggle for greater democracy and rank and file control not just in the party, but in the cooperatives and trades unions too.

That will now be required whoever wins the leadership. Given a choice I'd go for Starmer rather than RLB, because of her connections to the Stalinoid elements in the party, which represent a clear and present danger. But the right will try to kidnap Starmer, the PLP holding him hostage as they tried to do with Corbyn.

I think a split is now inevitable, and we should prepare for it.

Zac said...

Keir Starmer is most likely to be viewed by floating voters and former labour voters as "electable". Partly, unfortunately, because he is a man, and partly because he cuts an impressive figure and is clearly very competent and professional.

RLB, on the other hand, would probably be rejected for being young, female and closely associated with Corbyn.

Appearances and perceptions, no matter they are misleading, uninformed or unfair, are very important. In a way it doesn't matter what the die-hard labour voter thinks, as they will vote labour anyway. What matters is how the leader will appeal to those who didn't vote Labour in 2019. On that basis, and despite the fact that I think a female leader is long overdue, it seems the sensible choice would be KS.

Anonymous said...

Viewing the Labour leadership contest exclusively through the lens of Labour's relationship with the BoD? Definitely not a sign of a weird unhealthy obsession... No sirreee.

Blissex said...

«four years of internal warfare, and they want to believe Starmer can heal the ceaseless conflict»

That won't stop until the Labour programme is a 90% tory one for voters "in work, in good health, with a mortgage", that is for bigger housing costs, cuts in social insurance, and NHS crapification. The people creating the ceaseless conflict probably know very well who is sponsoring their careers.

«All of the surviving candidates have submitted to the demands of the Board of Deputies.»
«Starmer who gave the cleverest answer to the BoD demands - he simply said that he "supported" them.»

From several signs my guess is that Starmer is the "atlantic" candidate, the one supported by the security/foreign policy deep state in the USA and the UK, and also seems to have the most approval from Likud, which is also essential in english (and american) politics.
Perhaps cynically not caring so much for what gets done to palestinians and Shias, and being ready to support whatever the hyperpower does elsewhere, are the necessary prices to pay to make some socialdemocracy acceptable to the powers that be in our corner of the world.

SpiritSkill said...

Keir Starmer is likely to win because RLB is the only left wing candidate and so Starmer will pick up votes as others are eliminated.

I don't seriously consider that many of the seats that were lost this time will be won back at the first attempt. For instance, in North Staffordshire the task could take 10-15 years given the state of the party organisation.

I would like to see the next leader to serve for 8-10 years. The party's heartlands are voters under 40, particulalry women. I'd like the choice of leader to to reflect both points, and we skip a generation and give the job to a young woman who can grow into the role.

Statements from all candidates so far have been pretty uninspiring and if that remains the same it will play into the hands of Starmer.

BCFG said...

What Blissex said basically.

What we are clearly seeing is the Labour party being brought back into the bourgeois fold. Now whoever you vote for you vote Tory.

Starmer is the absolute epitome of this project, at least with Jess Phillips you get an absolute cold heareted and borderline demented idiot but she would at least provoke a backlash of some kind!

Rebcecca Long bailey wants a senate, in other words a new layer of careerist politicians, that is not a democratic revolution but simply an admission of capitulation to the bourgeois.

I want an unelected first and second chamber, the first randomly selected from the general population, the second comprised of specialists and academics, but are very much subservient to the first chamber.

That is my second proposal for democratic revolution, the first is bringing the utilities, banks and transport under national control and promoting cooperatives in those sectors of the economy where natural monopolies do not form so easily. For the transnational behemoths we need to work at the EU and UN level to bring these under the control of the world government.

This brings me onto my 3rd proposal, in what is now a world system, where profit can be measured at a world level and where for the first time in history capitalism can be really seen as a world global system the formation of a world government is a necessity.

Under the world government all nations must give up their armies to the UN, every army is UN controlled and working under the command of the UN, under strict rules of engagement.

Over the last 20 years the US and its servile allies have undermined and made a laughing stock of the UN and international institutions, turning them into tools of the evil empire. The UN needs strengthening and empowering.

The true democratic revolution is the end of nationalism, where in the economic stats of this nation the wages of everyone who produces the products we consume are not counted in the data, or where Britain can claim to be carbon neutral while it uses 10 times more energy than the average.

With the democratic revolution comes a different way to measure economic progress, and in this great world democratic revolution the question should be asked of the British people, apart from money laundering, looting and piracy, what exactly is it you have to offer?

Anonymous said...

"Viewing the Labour leadership contest exclusively through the lens of Labour's relationship with the BoD? Definitely not a sign of a weird unhealthy obsession..."

You're right it isn't. My obsession is with strength of character, as evidenced by the readiness to stand up to bullying and orchestrated lies, not with "the Jews" as you are presumably insinuating.

Anonymous said...

@BCFG. Your proposal for a randomly selected Parliament is increasingly popular in New Agey circles like XR, but I'm afraid that only demonstrates their naivete. You need to ask yourself what would happen within the first week after those randomly selected Assembly members convene for the first time. Lobbyists would gather and Parties would coalesce. They'd not be precisely the same as the existing parties, partly because a few hundred randomly selected citizens would include few if any millionaires and a lot more women. But they'd shake down to a similar spread of factions, and much probably more dominated by a few demagogues than the present MPs. And what about the selectees who didn't want to be Assembly members? Would they be compelled or what? The analogy is with jury service, but that's entirely different because a jury has only to decide whether a specific person has committed a specific crime. Very different from running an entire country.

BCFG said...

“Very different from running an entire country.”

Politicians don’t exactly run an entire country, this is an overstatement. If parliament got bombed tomorrow and every one of the fuckers died the country would still run, the bins would still be emptied and the shops would still be open. So let’s not over exaggerate their influence.

“Lobbyists would gather and Parties would coalesce.”

Of course, but the lobbyists would not be coming face to face with careerist politicians but people who are temporarily in a position to to evaluate policies, proposals etc. The fact that the ‘lobbyists’ would have to deal directly with the ‘people’ would be a step forward. But if we combine the unelected chamber with the fact that the big national monopolies/oligopolies had been brought under national control then the lobbyists would inevitable have less influence, if even they continued to exist.

“much probably more dominated by a few demagogues than the present MPs.”

Well the least we could say there then is that not much would change in the short term, longer term I think giving each individual some level of responsibility and empowerment would bring about profound changes, both in policy and consciousness. But if all we ended up with was what we had before we wouldn’t have lost anything of value, so it’s worth doing come what may.

“And what about the selectees who didn't want to be Assembly members? Would they be compelled or what?”

They would have to have a very good reason and sign a piece of paper that gave the reason. I am thinking of a few instances where people would be excluded, which are:

They are criminally minded
They are imbeciles
They are seriously ill

The last would need medical proof, the first would need a criminal record and the imbecile reason would have to be self admission. I would probably bring in a rule where anyone claiming to be an imbecile would have to have it marked on all their official documents, such as driving licence, employment records etc. In fact we could ban imbeciles from driving. The point is of course people would be compelled in whatever ways necessary. Please don’t tell me you are one of those people who doesn’t believe people are compelled to do things on a daily basis! People are literally compelled to do things every minute of almost every day!

“The analogy is with jury service”

Yes but really not at all!

Zac said...

Athenian Democracy was based on sortition, combined with a series of different bodies with different powers and terms of reference. They divided determining what policies were needed from writing the policies and from approving them. The purpose of this was to prevent corruption and ensure lobbying could not work. Because different "chambers" had different selection methods and also timescales (some lasted only for the project - i.e. task and finish - others had a year, others more) it was almost impossible to unduly influence the system. They believed that representative democracy would lead to the wealthy dominating the system so that it became an oligarchy or a plutoracy. We can see that is what does happen, as that is what we have in reality.

There is a strong case for reintroducing sortition, and for dividing the law passers from the law writers, and having task and finish groups for specific tasks - such as, in our case, how to resolve social care, what to do about the house of lords, electoral reform, media bias and manipulation etc. Citizens assemblies, or citizen juries can be very effective on clearly defined tasks, allowing people to make properly informed assessments and decisions.

So, no,it is not "naive" but hardheaded to seek to change our corrupted system which is designed in a way that encourages lobbying and makes it effective, and where ordinary people are misinformed and manipulated by those with power and influence to maintain the status quo. What is "naive" (or more accurately - stupid) is to keep doing the same thing expecting that somehow, one day, you will get a different result.

The system is rotten and needs radical change. Sortition is proven and, used wisely, would radically change our politics for the better.

Boffy said...

Athenian democracy was also based on slavery, so that an elite few all had the time, having been freed from work, to educate themselves, to take part in discussion circles and so on.

That will only be possible again under communism when productive capacity has been raised to such a level that everyone has time to be engaged in such activity.

In the meantime, creating a second chamber of any kind is a stupid idea, an elected second chamber even more stupid. The more democratic mandate the second chamber has, as in the US, the more it has a right to simply block any legislation passed by the first chamber, or as with the current Trump impeachment to simply create a deadlock.

The result is that with the legislature essentially neutered, unless the same party controls both houses with a sufficient majority, the demand arises to "just get things done", which means that any demagogue like Trump, or Johnson can emerge as the single representative of the people, and to create their own "People's Government", which is really code for Bonapartism and dictatorship.

Look back to Rome and the rise of Caesar and you see the same process occurring throughout history. Better to have a single chamber elected by real PR not the sham that was proposed in the referendum, and to have annual elections as the Chartists demanded, but which no doubt Brenda would have apoplexy over. All MP's on the average wage, and election of all top posts in the Civil Service, judiciary, Police, and Military, and for the books of all the top media companies to be opened so that we can see who is buying off who.

The left should focus on the creation of factory Councils as an adjunct of trades unions, so as to prepare for workers control and industrial democracy. We should establish workplace LP branches, which should be easy with 500,000 members. Labour should begin to mobilise around a single easy to understand demand of extending democracy, and most importantly democracy in the workplace.

Shareholders have no real right to control the capital of companies, as even bourgeois writers on law and corporate affairs established 30 years ago. They do not own the capital of companies, only shares, which should entitle them only to a dividend as a market rate of interest.

The company and its capital belongs to its, as a legal corporate entity. As Marx said 150 years ago, that company can only logically comprise the "associated producers" within it, i.e. its workers and day to day managers. Its only they who should elect Boards of Directors, and have a democratic vote on how the company should be run.

Doing that avoids all of the expensive rigmarole that Labour proposed with its nationalisation plans, which all history shows in any case hands control over not to the workers, but to state bureaucrats, and shareholder representatives who move seamlessly from large private corporations to nationalised industries, as happened with Ian McGregor, Michael Edwardes et al.

BCFG said...

"creation of factory Councils"

This isn't the 1970's!