Keir Starmer is on course to defeat Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy in the Labour leadership content new polls suggest. Starmer, who has likely spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on his well-backed campaign, has somehow been the frontrunner throughout.
His victory will mark the death of socialism within Labour and a realignment back to the political centre as the party reject evidence that centrism is in its death throes and that voters are rejecting the political establishment and the politics of the rich. Instead of looking toward Bernie Sanders for inspiration, Labour instead will be taking their cue from Mike Bloomberg. Sadiq Kahn has even said as much.
Starmer is backed an increasing number of neoliberal centrist and right-wing organisations and figures within the Labour Party including the Blairite Progress and Labour First. Indeed, many of his campaign team is from the Blairite camp and made up of former members of Owen Smith’s failed 2016 bid to oust Jeremy Corbyn. Those involved with Starmer include the campaign company behind Smith’s bid, Jenny Chapman (former vice-chair of Progress), Ben Nunn (former Director of Communications for Owen Smith), Chris Ward (former office manager for Change UK defector Chris Leslie) and most concerningly Matt Pound.
“Pound is a member of Labour First, a right-wing group within Labour that seeks to protect the “old Labour right” and keep Labour “safe” from the influence of what it terms the “organised hard left”, absurdly including Momentum and anyone slightly to the left of Margaret Thatcher in that stance. If you are a socialist, you are not welcome at Labour First. In 2016, the Birmingham Mail identified John Spellar, Tom Watson and Ian Austin as having links with Labour First, all of which were profoundly opposed to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and involved in plots to both unseat and undermine the leadership throughout his tenure.”Red Revolution Media, January
It is perhaps unsurprising how many links there are between the Starmer campaign and the failed 2016 Smith bid given Starmer’s own participation in the so-called “chicken coup”.
Starmer was one of several MPs who engaged in staggered and planned resignations from the front bench which led to Smith’s eventual leadership bid, stating in his resignation letter that it was “simply untenable to suggest that we can offer an effective opposition without a change of leader”.
Considering that a year later in 2017 Jeremy Corbyn came to within a few thousand votes of winning power, votes that undoubtedly would have come had the PLP gave their full support to the leadership, Starmer would seem to be of the Blaitie school of politics that places ambition over political judgment.
See also: Umunna, Chuka
Alongside refusing to back the welfare bill by abstaining and siding with Donald Trump in supporting the extradition of Julian Assange, Starmer’s greatest piece of political ineptitude has to have been Labour’s 2019 Brexit strategy.
It was Starmer who advocated for Labour to back a second referendum with Jeremy Corbyn being resistant to making the pledge, eventually giving in to the demands under the persuasion of John McDonnell. Despite the absolute failure of the policy, Starmer has continued to defend his strategy and take no responsibility for Boris Johnson’s victory at the general election, stating that “of course” the strategy had been the correct one.
Perhaps the biggest clue as to the impending direction of the party, however, is the fact that Starmer wants to readmit Tony Blair’s former communications chief Alastair Campbell after he was expelled for openly supporting the Liberal Democrats. One of New Labour’s architects, Campbell has been a loud voice against Corbyn and socialism and canvassed for the Liberal Democrats at the general election.
While Starmer talks left, he thinks right.
There will be no future for socialists in Labour, with Blairite figures such as Andrew Adonis calling for the expulsion of the left from positions of influence and New Statesman reporting that “Corbynites in the shadow cabinet face a choice: sack themselves or be sacked”.
While a knighted and remain supporting millionaire, backed by the kind of money that allows him to leaflet every single Labour member, may win the support of billionaires and the leafy Guardian reading suburbs, he is not going to fly in working-class towns and cities such as Burnley that have turned Tory after decades being Labour strongholds. Returning to the vapid neoliberalism of Tony Blair, all soundbites and sharp suits, will see the Labour Party once again disenfranchise millions of working-class voters and place them in the hands of Boris Johnson as he fills the vacuum of solidarity with the reactionaryism of the far-right.
Labour socialists must think very hard about whether their interests are best served fighting five more years of neoliberalism, their voice silenced by expulsions and marginalisation, or whether they would be better served outside the party and potentially forming a new one.