Thursday 2 January 2020

Keir-azy For You: Why Starmer Leads

Were you surprised to find Keir Starmer at the top of YouGov's Labour leadership poll? Can't say I was, to be honest. Running at 31% vs Rebecca Long-Bailey's 20% (and 61% to 39% if there is a run off between the two), the omens are not auspicious for the left. Not least because it seems some of us are happy to throw their lot in with Keir, or "Starmzy" has he's started to be known in some quarters. How and why has he taken an early lead over the candidate who was the heir apparent straight after the election?

First off, a quick note about the polling itself. Since its publication we've had the same old, same old tendency of conspiracy theorists and Twitter stans declare the poll ... a conspiracy. YouGov is owned by Tories, not every candidate has declared their intentions yet, how does YouGov know their sample is representative and, well, do you know anyone who's been surveyed by YouGov? The argument goes the Tories want Starmer, so they have their polling company cook up a result that has him come out on top. While uninterested in how polling works, if the comrades can manage a bit of reflection they might want to think about how, this time, YouGov got the election right. And how, during the 2015 and 2016 Labour leadership contests, they got both of those right on the basis of the same pool of Labour members. None of this invalidates the argument that polls are used to shape political debate (they are), nor that they can't be shifted (they can), but it is nevertheless slightly concerning a section of the party prefer clinging to illusions than comprehending the challenge the left has in front of it.

Back to Starmer's lead, there are two intertwined parts to this: left failure and the composition of the membership. Transforming the Labour Party in four years after a century of right wing domination was always a huge ask, and while it has done so in many ways what hasn't been addressed is the party's deep seated anti-intellectual culture. True enough, there is an explosion of left wing thought and a rebirth of socialist ideas thanks to the Corbyn moment, but this has been diffuse and spearheaded by individual initiative and comrades coming together mainly outside of party structures. For most of 2019, it remained the case that Labour Party meetings were the best place to go if you wanted to avoid politics. Who needs meetings about policy or labour movement history when much fun can be had discussing process and procedure? But party education isn't, or rather shouldn't be about jolly debates and showing off your depth of knowledge, it's about rounding out members and transforming them from passive voting and leafleting fodder into people who can organise, lead, and help politicise others. Notwithstanding the sharpening happenstance of the 2019 election, which turned tens of thousands of members into battle hardened activists and effectively cadreising them, the party officially remained steadfast in doing nothing about the political development of its members.

The result? Under the impact of traumatic defeat, significant numbers of people who supported Jeremy Corbyn previously and were mobilised by the appalling behaviour of the Labour right have politically collapsed behind not-the-left candidate. This, however, only goes part of the way. The second strength is how Starmer taps into the residuum of remain feeling in the party. After 2017, Labour's leadership didn't really make the case for retaining its election positioning and basically gave continuity remain free rein to organise around the second referendum, when they should have been challenged. This was picked up on by elements of the Labour right (and the centrist/liberal establishment) as a means of driving a wedge between pro-Corbyn members and voters, and Labour itself. This culminated in the disastrous EU elections this May and, to prevent the party's position disintegrating entirely Labour had no choice but to adopt the second referendum, with all the electoral consequences that followed. None of this was inevitable and the leadership could have used its considerable standing to assert its view on Brexit, but alas. Keir Starmer as the most prominent shadcab advocate for a second referendum is the personification of this strand of opinion he did so much to cultivate, a consequence of Corbynism's failure to consolidate. And for this reason he's well placed as a sort of unity candidate who manages to straddle the left and the right.

In this respect, as an opening salvo RLB's progressive patriotism argument may prove to be a misfire. Going remainy won't cut the mustard whereas a pitch that emphasised holding the Tories to account for using Brexit for attacking our people could have generated more of a positive buzz. However, in this first pre-contest skirmish Starmer's base is unruffled, giving him a free hand to move next wherever he pleases which, if he is smart, will be confronting the soft leave/blame remain school of thought championed by Ian Lavery and Lisa Nandy. And if he isn't, he'll set about dismantling his own support just as Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall did a life time ago. Unfortunately, there is zero chance of that happening. Which leaves the position of the left more precarious than it should be.


jim mclean said...

Mike the cameraman is moving up in the betting

Lindsay Horne said...

I'm just wondering what you would think of a person who joined the party 8 years ago, and who voted twice for Corbyn to be leader but who is unsure of who to vote for to be leader. To be honest I care more about getting Tories out than keeping as left as possible. So do all my labor friends. Who are not that vocal on Twitter. I am yet to decide who I will vote for to lead our party, because we have a good while to choose. It just really pisses me off how my entire Twitter has become a load of people telling me what I should think, and that I'm not Labour because I am yet to decide who to vote for.

crish said...

I think we need to look at voting records, also, i really believe that with how far to the right the conservatives have lurched, (they are massively courting with facism), if we accept the left going further to the right then the opportunity for a modern introduction of social democracy as we see in nordic countries will be lost forever

SimonB said...

What Lindsay says rings true.

Given that the party will find it hard to drop the policies of the last two elections whoever leads, if Starmer looks like a good candidate with the public I might be happy to support him.

Boffy said...

" Labour's leadership didn't really make the case for retaining its election positioning and basically gave continuity remain free rein to organise around the second referendum, when they should have been challenged. This was picked up on by elements of the Labour right (and the centrist/liberal establishment) as a means of driving a wedge between pro-Corbyn members and voters, and Labour itself. This culminated in the disastrous EU elections this May and, to prevent the party's position disintegrating entirely"

This is a fantasy, and the same kind of delusion of "The Left" that explains why Starmer is ahead of RLB. Labour's election position, i.e. its pro-Brexit stance was indefensible either on principle or strategically. The problem was not that they didn't defend it but that they tried to defend the indefensible, and the result was inevitable. They failed, the position was obtuse as it had to be to hold together a contradictory position, and it simply made them look duplicitous whilst pissing off large numbers of Labour members and voters.

Liberals and Blair-rights did not need to drive a wdge between the leadership and members because Corbyn's reactionary position itself had already done that. Moreover, he failed to create any kind of social movement behind any kind of progressive anti-Brexit position, because he and those behind him were too busy trying to promote their own Brexit position and to avoid any hint of contact with the majority of party members who were opposing Brexit including his refusal even to back the spontaneous movement against Johnson's coup.

To say it was the wedge between the leadership and members, because of members backing a pro-Remain position that was the cause of the disastrous performance in the local and EU elections is a monumental effort of self-deception, worthy of the similar efforts by McCluskey, The Morning Star, or Spiked. The reason for the disastrous performance earlier in the year was quite clearly down to the disastrous pro-Brexit line being promoted by the leadership.

As Paul Mason describes, it meant that in the following months time and effort had to be wasted trying to win back all those voters that had deserted rather than winning over additional voters, and addressing the concerns of older Labour voters. The slight movement towards a second referendum, opposed and undermined all the way by Corbyn and those behind him went some of the way to that, but it could never be enough given the time wasted and the distrust created.

Those that promoted the reactionary pro-Brexit position and the "respect the referendum" nonsense are the ones that are wholly responsible for this disaster, and they should man up and own it, as some of us said they would ultimately have to do from the beginning. Telling fantasies about it being the party being too remainy is something I'd expect from the Stalinists of the morning Star and the red-Brown frontists of Spiked, not from a serious analysis of what happened.

Phil said...

I think there are three inter-related factors. One is that Keir has had some visibility over the last couple of years - he's had a job to do & seems to have done it pretty well - so he's got a "safe pair of hands" appeal. Then there's political positioning - and Keir's political profile, with the sole exception of Brexit, is low to non-existent. Without doing more digging than most people will want to do, it would be easy to look at Keir's record of working with Corbyn and assume he must be more or less on the Left. Lastly, there's RLB's own big issue, which is her personal profile. I saw her speak around the time the election was called; it was a big event with Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott and Rayner, with RLB at the bottom of the bill, partly on the strength of being the local MP. I wasn't expecting much when she came on stage - she's quite young, quite small in stature, and didn't own the stage the way Rayner or McDonnell can - but she was a seriously impressive speaker: thoughtful, passionate, inspiring; probably the second best speaker I saw that night. But I'd never have known that if I hadn't been there.

If she can get more exposure, and if Starmer's principles or lack of them can become more widely apparent, I think things could shift quite radically.

Unknown said...

RLB's better moves would be on to climate, or my bag, PR, which can draw on the democratic strands of both remain and leave without the toxicity, perhaps later in the campaign. Definitely stay away from blame remain. I don't think her progressive patriotism thing was a mad move in itself, the GE needed addressing and I think it was marginally more substantive than Starmer's fluff.

Ted said...

Boffy's comment is absolutely spot-on in my view.

Also, I don't understand "Going remainy won't cut the mustard" in relation to RLB. The "Progressive Patriotism" slogan isn't "remainy", is it?

Phil's conclusion that Starmer's optimal strategy is to take on the 'blame Remain' line adopted by Lavery & McCluskey is surely correct. It's a popular line on social media and with activists, but I suspect the broad mass of Labour Party members, who are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit, will be less keen. If Corbynism wants to confine itself to a rump, that's the way to go. Clive Lewis would be in a much better position to secure the Labour Remain vote for the left, but will have trouble attracting the Stalinist wing. :-/

Michael D said...

RLBs appeal for Progressive Patriotism (a classic contradiciton in terms imo) turned me right off her. You can't just redefine words like patriotism by adding 'progressive' to it and then claiming it actually means working class international solidarity. The word 'patriotism' is bound up with so many concepts diametrically opposed to the proud history of struggle against oppression in these islands, that not going to change with a half-assed Guardian article.

Instead it looks like a pathetic attempt to broaden her appeal to various shades of chauvinism within the labour movement and society at large. This "patriotic move" is not new within the international labour movement and it doesn't tend to end well for the cause of socialism

Perhaps RLB thought she had all the leftist votes sewn up. She's going to have to do some work now to win my vote back at least - and if that doesn't include vocal opposition to classical patriotism (e.g. some of the international thuggery carrried out by HM govt and allies) she's not going to get it.

Blissex said...

«and Keir's political profile, with the sole exception of Brexit, is low to non-existent. »

Isn't Starmer the director of prosecutions who "loyally" started the hounding of Assange?

Also his being "associated" with terrorists as their lawyer will be used to smear him as a security risk and an enemy of the people:
«Barrister who defended terror suspects appointed director of public prosecutions
A human rights barrister who won a House of Lords case which resulted in terrorist control orders being declared illegal has been appointed the country's top prosecutor.”

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

Blissex - Assange doesn't register with the fake leftists around here I am afraid.

Saw Lisa Nandy on the ultimate state propaganda vehicle, the risible BBC breakfast this morning and I can only describe her as abysmal, in every sense of the word.

Asked about the act of terrorism carried out by Trump in killing the Iranian general, someone 99% of people will have never heard of until a few days ago (from obscurity to worlds most evil man in the blink of an eye), she said that while the Iranian general was a very very very very bad man (she really did say that) restraint on all sides was required.

So she ticked all boxes here, she made it clear that we once again are the good guys and they, as always are the bad guys but even though they are utterly evil and depraved and we are wonderful and saintly, we should still show restraint in the face of this evil. Of course she didn’t call the Iranian general evil, she said he was a very very very very bad man. This ticked the final box, a politician who treats us as if we are two years old and holds us in nothing but contempt!

Politics is returning back to normal! Speedy and Lindsay Horne will be most satisfied, whoever you vote for you get Tory one way or another!

Darran said...

If one of the main reasons for the defeat was our Brexit policy, the fact that Labour voters felt unlistened to by the predominate Southern Remain voices. Coupled to the fact that much of the north has felt left behind or worse taken for granted.

How is electing Starmer, who actively pushed for a 2nd referumdum and seen as a member of the liberal elite, going to win them over.

I would always hear the right of the party say "The working class doesn't see that Corbyn speaks for them.", so how can Starmer.

It speaks for itself that Starmer is popular with lots of Liberals and southern remainers.