Thursday 15 December 2022

Enthusiasm for Keir Starmer?

Amid the uncertainty and tumult of British politics, some things are drearily predictable. Take Andrew Fisher's recent Graun article, for example. In this piece, he observes there is no fervour for the Labour Party any more. Anything that might be inspiring has come out in Keir Starmer's boil wash, leaving what's left thinner, a little bit more fragile, and paler in colour. This is in contrast to parts of the country where Labour have campaigned for rent freezes (Scotland and London), and publicly backed workers taking strike action (Manchester). With problems mounting in every direction, there's no sign the party leadership are rising to the occasion with the radical answers to urgent questions. Andrew observes, "Can anyone imagine hundreds of thousands of young people chanting “Oh Keir Starmer”, as they did about Corbyn?"

How do you suppose the ranks of Starmer cheerleaders responded to the article? The New Statesman's Ben Walker typified the line: "Pick one: > Having your name chanted at Glastonbury > Beating the Tories on the economy." The "rebuttal" was so consistent you could be forgiven for thinking a secret WhatsApp group somewhere was transmitting the line to the few dozen social media personalities who hawk themselves as Starmer stans. But we don't need a conspiracy. Their refusal to engage with the argument while fixating on a line Andrew added to emphasise the point shows they have no answer to the points he raises. Equally telling is that despite having supremacy in the party, they still feel the need to bite back in this overly defensive and sarcastic way. It's almost as if they don't feel secure in their control at all.

If anyone could be bothered to string together a counter argument, it might be along the lines of "so what?". The days of 39-point poll leads are well behind us, but Labour's lead is firm, even if Starmer's personal ratings are not. But, as the saying goes, one should not interrupt an enemy while they're making a mistake. On strikes, on the environment, on housing, the Tories are on the wrong side of public opinion on practically everything. Rishi Sunak is under siege from the press and the prospects of backbench rebellions, and even loyal papers and his own MPs are breaking ranks on the nurses' strike. Labour therefore doesn't need to do flashy. All Starmer and the shadow cabinet need do is be patient, not give away hostages to fortune, and everything will come right.

This is complacent. It's difficult to see how Labour can possibly lose in 2024/5, but there are dangers. Polling time and again shows that the one demographic stubbornly clinging to the Tories are the elderly (because reasons), and they have a greater likelihood of turning out to vote. Plastic patriotism and right wing posturing won't be enough to erode the Tory advantage among this group. But added to this we have the great Tory gerrymander and attempted voter suppression with the introduction of compulsory photo ID. It's not enough to turn out younger people any more, Labour has to convince them it's worthwhile putting themselves out to meet the stringent new requirements. And that demands inspiration, hope, and something unambiguously positive to vote for. Wonk-friendly constitutional reform won't cut it.

Perhaps I've got this all wrong. We're still 18 months to two years away from the next election. Time aplenty for Starmer to wow us with his policies and vision. But as with all things, the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. One can emote better days ahead without promising a single thing, an affect Tony Blair carried off with aplomb. There is none of this about the Labour leader or the emerging shape of his programme. Soulless managerialism is the vibe, and Labour appears determined to forecast nothing except more grey skies ahead.

Image Credit


Ken said...

I’ve just watched a right wing journalist on YouTube. Peter Oborne complains that the Forde report and the Al Jazeera doc have come and gone without a peep from the msm. He observes that Corbyn was attacked as someone about to shoot the Kulaks, while in reality, Starmer deserves the Stalin metaphor with his internal control of the party.
We know that thousands of supporters of the Corbyn programme have left the party, but is there any evidence that new members have flocked, or, even dripped into the party, and if they did, what is the culture which might encourage them to stay and actively support party activities, bearing in mind that the Ch4 journalist, Michael Crick, describes the party verging on the corrupt?

Shai Masot said...

I think Starmer will attack what's left of our social security system, attack the NHS, shit on Labour memebers, and hammer the unions. That's because I'm possibly not understanding social democracy correctly from a Marxist viewpoint.

Blissex said...

Usual relevant quote about the "trots":
Party general secretary, David Evans unwisely asked conference ‘why’ people joined Labour? ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ the audience bellowed

Those problematic "entrysts" are being dutifully eliminated by Keir Starmer ;-).

«Soulless managerialism is the vibe»

But it is not a question of style or attitude, the much bigger is the politics: New, New Labour's managerialism is just a wrapper for tory+whig politics, those designed to prioritize the interests of affluent "Middle England" voters, as people like Hunt, Mandelson, Umunna argued “Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose”.

New Labour's and New, New Labour's managerialism is not even a wrapper for fabianism, or state centralism and primacy, because the target core constituency are those "Middle England" voters, who don't really care about fabianism or state authority, they just want massive upward rentierist redistribution to themselves from the lower classes.

Jim Denham said...

I would agree with much of the post, though I'm not sure having your name chanted at Glastonbury is a key indicator of left wing credentials.

But the Labour left really does need to get over its often cultish adulation of Corbyn, who was politically flawed (on the EU, antisemitism - which he simply fails to understand - and the Salisbury poisonings) and, at least in part, provoked his own suspension from the PLP.

Starmer's biggest and most obvious betrayal is his refusal to give clear support to workers in dispute over pay - that's what the serious left needs to be concentrating upon.

Just on Ken's point about Peter Oborne and the Al Jazeera documentaries (which, like 'The Lobby', it turns out Oborne had a hand in producing): these programmes tell us little or nothing we didn't already know about how the Labour bureaucracy works and - crucially - they provide either very little, or no detail at all about what the various "victims" who appear and complain about the treatment they received, were actually accused of.

I have some respect for Oborne's willingness to expose and denounce the dishonesty of his old party - the Tories - and the Tory press but I have serious reservations about his dismissal of antisemitism as a serious problem within Labour, and his willingness to ally with Islamists - must notably demonstrated by his repeated dismissal of the Birmingham 'Trojan Horse' affair as simply a hoax (the truth is much more complex and disturbing than that). I really do wonder what motivates Oborne these days.

John said...

Jim Denham says "...these programmes tell us little or nothing we didn't already know about how the Labour bureaucracy works...". This may be true for those of us immersed in the minutia of the LP, but for most people (even, I would suggest, most LP members) some, if not most, of the details contained in the two programmes would come as a revelation.

Just because you know something don't assume others are also aware of it. The programmes concerned will have helped many people understand exactly how the right-wing operate, which todays expulsion of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi testifies to.

Jim Denham said...

(Reply to John):

Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files, much like its 2017 series The Lobby, contains neither the explosive revelations promised nor a convincing political case that “antisemitism smears” were the downfall of the Corbyn leadership. Over nearly four hours, we get only a handful of information that people active in the labour movement during the Corbyn period would not have known.

The right-wing in the Labour party are devious and seek to disrupt left-wing activists from organising. MPs worked alongside the Labour bureaucracy to shut down local parties, shared correspondence and were more interested in maintaining control than welcoming new members. All true, but not news.

The primary purpose of the footage is not to give insight, but to further Al Jazeera and the attitude to Israel of its owner, the Qatari state. Peter Oborne, who was a director of the series (as he was of 'The Lobby') seems to have a similas attitude,

The entire second episode and much of the other episodes are focused on accusations of antisemitism against Labour activists. Some of those accusations, I believe, carry weight. None that we know of related to Palestinian solidarity activity.

In the footage we never see what any of those interviewed have been accused of. Instead, interspersed clips of Israeli assaults on Gaza and Palestinian demonstrations are used to suggest that these are activists who stood with the Palestinians and Labour officials or right-wingers concocted accusations of antisemitism as a consequence.

Of course, we should be relentless in our criticism of Labour’s disciplinary procedures: the lack of natural justice, activists often for many months not told what they are accused of, prolonged periods of limbo, the lack of rights to appeal, a thoroughly opaque process. None of that undoes the fact that antisemitism on the left is a real political issue.