Monday 20 May 2024

Rewriting History

With the announcement by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor to pursue arrest warrants against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, and leading members Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed al-Masri, in this country the spotlight is thrown once again on the united front the British establishment formed with Israel as the butchery got underway. In particular, what Keir Starmer said when the indiscriminate slaughter began.

In a now notorious interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari on 11th October, asked about Gaza he condemned Hamas, stated his support for Israel's right to defend "herself", and do whatever it takes to get the hostages back. Responding, Ferrari asked if a "... siege is appropriate? Cutting off power? Cutting off water?" And then came the reply: "I think Israel does have that right." Stated baldly in black on white text, this looks what it is: an endorsement of war crimes. But pay attention to his countenance in the footage. Coming off what was a well received conference speech the day before, instead of emoting confidence Starmer was hesitant and slow, weighing every single word and seemingly terrified of saying the wrong thing. Indeed, if one wants to be generous this stilted, worried Starmer misspoke.

Okay, it happens. Mangling one's words and saying the wrong thing is an every day occurrence if your job involves a lot of talking. However, supposing Starmer did stumble, he was quite happy to let the impression that he supported Israel's war on Palestinian civilians continue. There is, for example, Emily Thornberry - the shadow attorney general - endorsing what Starmer said in her own mealy-mouthed way. And David Lammy, before his 'progressive realism' guff, defending the siege. Indeed, this was the line until Labour could no longer ignore the the corrosive effect it was having on its core support. And then the line changed. It went from supporting war crimes to not only not supporting them, but denying they were ever given the shadow cabinet's backing in the first place. History has been rewritten, and whenever it's raised - as it was recently by Grace Blakeley on Question Time - recalling Starmer's remarks are met with a flat denial.

We know Starmer lies. And his readiness to tell porkies comes from a place of political frailty. Ferrari's gentle probing of Labour's position on Gaza saw the Labour leader almost come apart as he uncertainly made policy on the hoof. One that had nothing to do with principle or even his own personal convictions. It was the one that would keep the press, the government, and the increasingly unhinged Israel lobby off his back. This zone of establishment non-punishment has been occupied by Labour ever since, though the position has evolved from supporting attacks on civilians to being wholeheartedly and very genuinely concerned about the danger of famine and attacks on women on children. Though not enough to support stopping weapons shipments to Tel Aviv. It's no different when it comes to greeting the news of the mooted ICC prosecution. The government says it's a "mistake", while Labour say they respect the court's neutrality. It has nothing of substance to say.

What this tawdry episode says about Starmer in power is his will be a government forever chasing its tail whenever there's some awkward press criticism, or a minister gets found out for dodgy donations, or they come under lobbying pressure from moneyed interests. Last week, the Labour leader's pledge card promised economic stability. But even with a huge majority within reach, it would be rash to expect political stability.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. As you say, even if Starmer misspoke, which is quite implausible, that wouldn't explain why it took so long to for him to come out and say Israel doesn't have the right to cut of water etc. Indeed, not only it take a long time - it took a large number of public *resignations* from the party, some of which explicitly cited the LBC interview! The first person to resign from a party position was Lubaba Khalid, the then Young Labour BAME Officer; she received a letter back from the Party, containing the sentence "Food, water and electricity matter." That's the best they could offer. Truly obscene.

Sean Dearg said...

Misspoke is the oldest and feeblest excuse. It's the politician's equivalent of "the dog ate my homework". The fact that he couldn't just answer a simple question and had to hesitate was itself an answer. Principles? I know we are told that politics is about compromise and the "art of the possible", but the subtext is possible in what context and compromise with whom. Lots of things are possible if you try hard enough, but it is much easier to pretend something is not possible than admit that you don't want to do it. Compromise is usually a case of either because you have to , or because you want to. Rarely will people compromise with those they don't agree with unless they have little choice.

What is the point of being in government if yoy don't actually want to do anything? Here it seems to be about power for its own sake, rather than to make a difference. The only change will be in the faces. Plus ca change, plus ce sont les memes salauds, as the saying goes.

Anonymous said...

It worked, didn't it?

Now, can it be made to come back and haunt him...?