Saturday 4 April 2020

The Left and Keir Starmer

Dear Corbyn Supporter,

With 275,560 votes (56.2%) vs Rebecca Long-Bailey's 135,218 votes (27.6%) and Lisa Nandy's 79,597 (16.2%) Keir Starmer is the new leader. Sometimes politics is totally, straightforwardly predictable. Also the left candidates for the deputy leadership didn't do fantastically, what with Richard Burgon getting 80,053 votes (17.3%) and Dawn Butler receiving 50,255 (10.9%) in the first round. Alas, the crank right had little to shout about - Ian Murray could only muster 61,179 votes (13.3%), despite my endorsement.

Fallow times for the left, then. Or are they?

I'm extremely sceptical of Keir Starmer's leadership. His pushing of the second referendum after 2017 either demonstrated conscious complicity with an obvious campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, appalling naivete, or - considering how central Brexit was to the Tory revival - an unseemly tone deafness. These are not qualities that recommended Keir as a serious leadership candidate, but alas. Here we are. We're going to have to live with someone whose first instinct is to praise the government when they're doing well, and keep quiet when they're not - an approach sure to set us up for future election victories.

What does the left do now? It's very likely tens of thousands of party members are considering their position. If you're one of them, you should stay. This isn't to say the Labour Party must be the be-all and end-all of your political focus. As a number of comrades have noted, the eruption of Corbynism and the drawing of virtually the entire left into the party has left the field open for other forces to fill the street and community campaigning niches. Most obvious is the rapid growth of Extinction Rebellion and its radical liberal politics of personal responsibility and accountability, with its daft stunts like clambering on top of trains and activists gluing themselves to the front of Labour's battle bus. The end of Corbynism means this sort of organising by the left will no longer get neglected. However, the shift of focus doesn't necessarily entail dumping party membership. Especially when there are plenty of battles coming up.

Regardless of my Starmer scepticism, he was elected on a Corbynist-lite programme. And as we're seeing the editorial board of the bosses' house organ, the FT calling for a new settlement along these lines, the political room for backsliding is blocked by a largely left wing membership and an emerging bourgeois common sense - though I strongly suspect the latter will count for more than the former. But this is no room for complacency. Not only can we expect attempts at rolling back manifesto commitments, but also the limited democratic advances made in the last five years. Prepare for a lot of dishonest hand-wringing over the imminent EHRC conclusions, and the best efforts of the right to try and purge prominent leftists. We're likely to see some trolling too, with the inviting back of horrendous scabs like Ian Austin and John Mann, and finding jobs for backbench phantoms of Labour's recent past. In these circumstances there is no need for a purge if the left can be expected to purge themselves. These initiatives and moves need resisting not just because it weakens the left in the party, but because they weaken the left and, yes, the viability of the Labour Party as a whole.

Therefore comrades who've had a bellyful (and seriously, who hasn't?) should approach the matter not as an issue of ideological purity but as pragmatic class politics. Keep the membership and follow your own political priorities outside the party, but support comrades in the party when it comes to crucial votes, meetings, and selections. That's it. And as quid pro quo, for comrades whose focus remains Labour stuff they should seek to use whatever leverage they have in the party to support and publicise activism and struggles taking place outside of it. This isn't particularly difficult, nor is it a big ask. Rather it's maintaining what is already happening in a lot of places, of preserving the relative cohesion of our movement.

Consider the position of the left at the moment. Apart from a few irrelevances, for the first time in my political life the left is largely united and pulling in a common direction. Even with the catastrophic defeat and the subsequent arguments about who should stand for the left, what is unique about this moment is how the left hasn't turned in on itself. There's been a dribble of support from the active left over to camp Keir, but it has been clear sighted about how the class interests of our people are best served by Rebecca Long-Bailey's candidacy. I hope this clarity and seriousness continues as we grow accustomed to the new politics of the post-Covid era.

For the left in Labour, resistance is the name of the game but, to borrow a phrase, not opposition for opposition's sake. Criticising the new leader when Keir makes his mistakes, continuing to advocate for policies and strategies that keep our coalition together, resist the spurious Coronavirus Union Sacrée and carry on forcefully attacking the Tories and, crucially, defending Starmer from the inevitable Labour right carping so they can get back to their long 90s comfort zone and, crucially for them, their former prominence and power. The left might have very little to no confidence in Starmer, but that doesn't mean we don't want him to succeed. We do, but success is measured by the demands of the moment. Our job is to ensure he and the rest of the party are up to it.

And this is where those comrades whose focus outside of the party is crucial. We must resist the tendency to fragmentation and squabbling, but continue to learn from and keep accountable to one another. We need to keep ourselves honest. As someone who was once completely sucked into the party machinery, I know how a total fixation on the party can insulate one from wider politics and distort your perspective. Likewise, total neglect/outright hostility runs the risk of ceding conventional politics entirely to our enemies. The left then must stand with one leg in and one leg outside the party, that is how we stay united. This is our responsibility, no one else's. The future will not be kind if we fail.



Anonymous said...

'Therefore comrades who've had a bellyful (and seriously, who hasn't?) should approach the matter not as an issue of ideological purity but as pragmatic class politics.'

Corbyn, ex-public schoolboy with no sense of what it means to be working class achieves worst labour result in modern history.

Thank god we finally have someone who has got somewhere from nowhere and comes from the very people they are meant to represent. What did Corbyn give us? Brexit, Boris Johnson, and potentially tens of thousands unnecessarily dead as a result of his incompetent government.

But none of that matters to people like you and your supporters because it's all 'meta' - bugger the aspirations and lives of the little people, it's simply a game, but one in which your meddling has set back the majority of British people decades and will probably lead to the end of the UK.

The five year nightmare may be over but the damage is done. Chuckle and preen all you like but all your cleverness has achieved is misery for folk less fortunate than yourself. You're Tories through and through. Is there something lower than lower than vermin? That is where Bevan would place you.

Anonymous said...

Lets hope they respect the membership- Many hard working volunteers. Lets also hope that they never forget how fortunate and privileged they are. Many very able people working hard- some on the frontline now who earn little, risk a lot, and, get little credit. Many, given the opportunities afforded to some of our politicians could have done better for themselves, and would have been given greater credit for doing so. Please don't forget that. Opportunities and an equal chances not given to everyone- in the Labour Party either.

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree. To become an MP it is very often about 'who you know not what you know'. This is pertinent to your endorsement which will influence your selection. It may even influence who has been put on a longlist as a starting point. It is too easy for MPs to forget the help they have been given. Don't. And don't patronise the membership or the people that were not given the chance you had. I hope the new leadership in the party understands that.

Anonymous said...

As you said Phil no surprise that Keir won the election. No reason he should not also win a general election with the support of members on the ground. If they are respected.

Anonymous said...

A bit daft for the left to put such a longlist of candidates forward for the NEC. To state the obvious it of course split the vote. Their call. Stupid though.

Bruce Peninsula said...

Thanks Phil, that rings true in analysis and tone about what it's like on Labour's left just now. We haven't recovered from Dec 12 yet have we? Paul Mason is right about one thing regarding the leadership election - the left didn't mobilise. So Lauren Townsend lost to the appalling Joanna Baxter by 300 votes for the NEC. Me too, I hadn't even found out about Lauren by the time of our CLP nomination meeting where I hurriedly nominated Jo Bird. Relative to community activism, with refugees in my case, the LP feels like a bit of a hostile environment. You're right that the link between the 2 is important and has at last - because of what we did over the last 4 years - become established. Normal to have a Labour Party banner at a picket or asylum rights demo. We have to stay to fight for that to continue, or at least some of us. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. I'm not sure about your emphasis on defending Starmer from the right. Defend the policies and leadership pledges he made yes but probably from him.

Dialectician1 said...

"I'm extremely sceptical of Keir Starmer's leadership".

Me too.

When the world wakes up to the aftermath of this pandemic, the Labour Party will realise they've made the wrong decision at the wrong time. Capitalism will be under scrutiny unlike any time in its 300 year history. The shock waves from this crisis are almost unmeasurable. The Labour Party should be ready with an radical alternative but, of course, instead it will offer some hand-wringing, apologetic, unctuous liberalism.

What lies ahead will be a stark choice between barbarism or socialism The Far Right are waiting in the long grass and the left will dither.

Anonymous said...

At least things are now a bit tighter as regards second homes being paid for by the public. Second home allowance to pay for flats in London then later rent it out and live in a hotel in London all at the expense of the public purse. All in the name of public service for some MPs.

Anonymous said...

I think 'ordinary' people, (some of those who are putting their health now at risk on the frontline), many young people, people who cannot afford to get on the housing ladder need to be able to visualise a reality where having a home, a decent public health care system, access to good education and training without long term debt is possible.

And yes it is a sad reality that despite the rhetoric some of our Members of Parliament are more interested in serving their own interests than that of the people they purport to represent. Indeed some of them also complain about their lot... a different reality than most.

Anonymous said...

Too much deference to politicians alas. Lets see how Keir turns out in the next six months.

Daniel said...

This from your 2015 blog you linked to gave me a chuckle

"Yes, I do think Jeremy is less divisive and problematic than Andy and Liz, and that any "chaos" resulting from his winning is overstated."

Anonymous said...

I agree no more 'chaos'. No more running to the press and slagging the party or leadership. No more washing dirty linen in public. Just as for councillors their are consequences so why was it so very different for MPs? Its called collective responsibility. The PLP needs to really tighten up on this. Really this has been very poor. Appalling actually to watch.

Sam said...

Everything about Starmer is boring and deeply uninspiring.

Anonymous said...

Same processes and rules should apply across the board whether you are a councillor or an MP. That goes for reselection after each term also. Councillors need to be reselected by a panel and their local membership, branch (no big deal). So why all the fuss? Lets hope Keir and his team get this sorted. And yes party discipline has been shoddy.

Anonymous said...

I don't care if he is boring or not.

What is his capacity to win the next general election, and, what are his plans for the country if he does? What is his message, and, going forward what are the policies he will enact?

sandra benedetti said...

April is a cruel month.