The Struggle against retreat from socialist policies: the candidates – Keir Starmer

There can be little doubt about who the Blairite wing of the party have pinned their hopes on. Keir Starmer has become their poster boy, and the most serious contender against the Labour left. With the organiser of Owen Smith’s campaign during the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ – Alexandre Samuel Barros-Curtis – and Labour First (a Progress front) full time organiser Matt Pound, Starmer clearly intends ‘not to oversteer’ by taking the party right back to the undead corpse of Blairism.

We should not forget that Starmer was also one of the right-wing members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet who resigned during the 2016 coup attempt. His excuse was, in essence, ‘everyone else has done it, so will I’. An excuse worthy of an adolescent. It is an insult to party members that a man who tried to over-ride their democratic decision, by taking part in a coup, has put himself forward in the leadership election. Added to this, his claim to leadership qualities includes following the directions given to him by the Blairite wing of the party so closely that he effectively stated ‘following orders’ as his reason for resigning from the shadow cabinet in that same coup.

As the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations process draws to a close, some political conclusions can be drawn about the type of support Starmer has in the party. Broadly speaking, Long-Bailey and Starmer have gained a comparable number of nominations from CLPs in Labour safe seats, with a handful more nominations for Starmer in Tory or Liberal safe seats. A significant bulk of the nominations for Starmer come, however, from Labour marginals.

CLP nominations

For some time now, the liberal press (the likes of the Guardian and the Independent which might be read by some Labour members), and the right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) have banged the same drum, day in, day out; the leader of the Labour party has to be ‘electable’. By this they mean a white, middle-aged, educated man in a suit, pro-business politics packed into a briefcase, an easy smile for the capitalist press and trusted by the London Stock Exchange.

This propaganda siege is having an effect on those who braved hail and gales to campaign for the party in 2017 and 2019, only to find it undermined by the perception (developed by the outrageous lies of the capitalist media) that Jeremy Corbyn was ‘unelectable’, an ‘IRA/Hezbollah/Ayatollah sympathiser’, an anti-semite, a ‘communist spy’ etc etc etc. The last four years have left some wanting nothing more than a quiet life away from the arguments of the left and the right in the party, and an election victory. They have forgotten the enormous struggles against both the British state and the bosses which raised the class consciousness of the workers and laid the political basis for previous Labour governments – the miner’s strike and the poll tax campaigns, the second world war, the strike wave of the early 1920s and so on.

For them Starmer is the best of both worlds – he talks left on public ownership and ticks the boxes for the right on ‘electability’. This is an illusion. They will soon find themselves inside a Labour party wracked by a factional campaign by the Labour right wing, led by Starmer, attempting to gut the party’s left wing at all cost. Starmer is already responsible for sabotaging the Party’s position on Brexit, thus sinking the election campaign. Throwing another election in order to tear out the left, root and branch, would be a price worth paying for the anti-working class faction inside the party. The storm and strife in CLPs over the coming years is set to become far worse, whether it is Starmer or Long-Bailey elected, as the right-wing will never respect any left-wing leader, and views the membership as no more than cheap labour for their election campaigns.

There are those members who supported the Corbyn project who also have illusions in Starmer, on the basis of his role in pushing a very pro-EU stance in the party. A key architect of the 2nd referendum project, Starmer has been able to cloak himself as a ‘diet’ left candidate based on his participation in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

Moreover, Starmer clearly understands whose votes he needs to chase in order to win the leadership election. In his campaign launch video, Starmer invokes the spirit of past struggles of the working class in Britain – Wapping, the miners, the Poll Tax – all from the last period the working class in Britain fought large scale, militant struggles against the government and against the bosses. This is all well and good. Comrades can be forgiven for being enticed by the effect of this video – the impression that Starmer was an edgy radical in his youth who has matured into a ‘statesman’ is exactly the pitch the focus groups liked the most.

However, it is not enough for anyone to claim participation in movements of this scale. In the wake of defeats – especially the big defeats – it is critical to know what political conclusions did they draw? Were they able to make an honest assessment of the mistakes or missed opportunities, in order for the labour movement as a whole to pick itself up and prepare to advance again, having learned the lessons of defeat?

Or did they go in the other direction? Did witnessing these defeats inflicted upon the working class, and the subsequent demoralisation, push them to the conclusion that the working class is doomed to defeat? Did they draw the conclusion that trade unions, strikes and class politics were all old history and what was needed was ‘new’ ideas? In short, did Starmer try to learn the lessons of defeat in order to advance our struggle, or did he despair at the workers in defeat, and put his head down to focus on his little career?

Historically, this is what Blairism in the Labour Party represents – a section of the working class and petit-bourgeoisie which have drawn reactionary conclusions on the back of the defeats of the 1980s.

The answer to our questions lie in the gaps Starmer has left on his CV. What his campaign video doesn’t give us is Starmer’s time as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). This is wise on his part, as the skeletons in this particular cupboard are stacked eight feet high.

The position of DPP is not a minor one in the machinery of the British state. The DPP can make the final decision on whether or not to bring the weight of the capitalist state – the police, the courts and prisons, Engels’ ‘bodies of armed men’ – down on an individual, or not. There can be no doubt that the state will weed out all those ideologically unsuitable for the role. The fact Starmer was considered suitable for this tells us an enormous amount about how he evolved politically in the wake of defeat, surrounded by the material wealth of his line of work.

More critical than this, though are the decisions Starmer made in role. As DPP Starmer pushed charges of false rape allegations against individual women, some of them victims of domestic violence already and very vulnerable people, and often were the police have botched the investigation, with some campaign groups alleging the police blame the victim in order to cover up their own incompetence. While Starmer pushed these cases through the courts, the CPS dropped the cases of at least 75 further victims of John Worboys after he was convicted. The CPS claimed Starmer had no involvement in the decision, which is their way of saying Starmer ran a mile from taking any responsibility for what happened in an organisation he was supposed to be leading.

It gets worse. There are some comrades in the party today who are just young enough to not remember the deaths of Ian Tomlinson and Jean Charles de Menezes. Both these innocent men were killed at the hands of brutal police violence. In both cases the Metropolitan Police turned itself inside-out lying about what happened to both men, and in both cases the Metropolitan Police stooped to slandering innocent men in order to cover up their deaths.

Ian Tomlinson was a newspaper seller in central London. He was caught up in the middle of the G20 protest in London of 2009 as he was trying to get home. PC Simon Harwood – a police thug with a history of violence – had put on a balaclava and removed the identification number from his uniform especially for this demonstration, and could be seen in footage from the day assaulting anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. Harwood attacked Tomlinson with his baton, before pushing him to the ground, causing the injury which killed Tomlinson. The CPS – led by Starmer – squirmed and wriggled their way out of pressing any charges against Harwood, on the basis of successful prosecution being unlikely. Tomlinson’s family accused the Met and the CPS of a whitewash, and it easy to see why they would make this accusation. This is precisely how the state machinery is supposed to function, and Starmer was at the heart of that machinery. The mystification and cloaking of the state institutions is just enough to clean the blood off the shirts of the police, while leaving enough doubt in the minds of the majority to allow it to happen. Only a tenacious campaign by Tomlinson’s family brought any kind of justice, with the Met accepting responsibility for Tomlinson’s death in a formal apology in August 2013.

Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician from Brazil, was killed by police who shot him in the head in Stockwell underground station. Almost immediately after the shooting the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, tried to start the cover up of de Menezes death, writing to the Home Office and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), to state that no investigation would be permitted in case police counter-terrorism tactics were made public. Add to this the alterations made to surveillance logs, the withholding of internal Met documents and commanding officers lobbying MPs on the inquiry and we see a full-blown effort to cover up police violence. In truth, Blair and the Metropolitan Police were – at best – trying to cover up police incompetence so monumental that they ended up murdering an innocent man. As DPP, in 2008 Starmer defended the decision not to press charges against individual officers, again using the line spun by the CPS when they are covering for the police – ‘successful prosecution unlikely’.

Finally we must add the ‘spycops’ affair. Writing for The Canary, Emily Apple details how the CPS – with Starmer as DPP – covered up key evidence in prosecutions brought against environmental protestors. Police officer Mark Kennedy – one of a number of police spies – had infiltrated an environmentalist group, and key evidence from this had been withheld by the CPS. In other words, a deliberate and direct cover up by the CPS of police abuses leading to more than 80 wrongful convictions, and conservative estimates of another 600 not yet overturned.

Two of the biggest cases of police violence in recent history, a CPS cover up of the ‘spycops’ affair and at the centre of each whitewash we find Starmer. The cover up was as blatant as it was ham-fisted. Starmer would have to have been out of his mind to not understand what was happening – at best, he ignored the whitewash taking place around him in order to hold on to his place by the gravy train. At worst, he participated in the cover-up. Electing this man as leader of the Labour party would be a slap in the face of every one of these victims of the British state.

Thankfully, the dreary leadership hustings are drawing to a close. That any one person from this group of candidates will be the leader of the party before long speaks volumes about the PLP. From their performances in the hustings, not one of them would be looked to as a ‘natural leader’ in the workplace, as someone who could stand their ground against management, or hold a picket line together in a strike. Faced by the full barrage of press and business hostility, it seems doubtful any one of them would hold out long before capitulating to the pressure of the Murdoch press. It seems that Nandy and Starmer plan to do that at the very first opportunity.

The election will soon be opened up to the wider membership – crucially many of those who cannot attend CLPs by dint of time pressures, working or family life, or disability; in other words Corbyn’s base in the party. In the CLP nominations meetings, Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon often performed strongest amongst the candidates on first preferences, only to lose on 2nd or even 3rd preferences – with Starmer or Nandy gaining a nomination by virtue of being the least unpopular candidate. As with trigger ballot meetings last year, the right wing generally rolled out that layer of inactive members who vote for the right, but do as little as possible to win an election (yet demand the party be ‘electable’), in order to vote for the local MP’s preferred candidate and further distorting the results. The effect of the large number of new members in the party is also unclear. Anecdotal reports from ward and CLP meetings indicate a fairly even split of new members joining either from the left to defend the gains made under Corbyn, or from the right to ‘make the party electable again’. All of this said, in our previous postwe argued as follows:

“In order to defend the gains we have made, we must win the time and space to regroup and reorganise as a left-wing in the party. Candidates like Keir Starmer – irrespective of whatever they say during this campaign – will signal an all-out witch-hunt against the left from day one if elected. Long-Bailey’s only real base is the left of the party and the Momentum apparatus. If we get Tribune Long-Bailey, then all is well. If we get Guardian Long-Bailey, she will be forced to manoeuvre, dissemble and delay rather than confront the membership head on. This will give us the space we need to bring our ranks into order, to identify organisers and leaders from amongst our own, and to prepare for a new push to democratise the party in the coming period. Tactically speaking, the correct approach to this leadership election is to support Rebecca Long-Bailey without giving an inch on the criticisms we make of her actions or statements. By putting Long-Bailey into the leaders office, we do so with the intention of, at the minimum, pinning down the right-wing of the party long enough to push through mandatory reselection, along with other measures needed to bring the Parliamentary Labour Party under democratic control. We will then be in a far stronger position strategically to advance the cause of socialism in Britain, Europe and the world.”

Little has changed since then. It seems possible that Starmer will win the leadership election. So be it. Our class has faced the hangman’s noose, deportation, war, the depths of poverty and more besides. If we only fight for party democracy and socialist policies after the battle has been won, we will have neither. Whether we win or lose in this leadership election, it will only be one episode in the struggle for the socialist transformation of Britain and the world, and we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Stuart Leigh – 16 February 2020


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