Keep Starmer and Carry On? How the Left Might Engage with Sir Keir

Almost every decision Keir Starmer has made since becoming Labour leader has earned the ire of leftist pundits and politicians. But what if the left itself were to change its approach to him and his policies? TJ Coles, author of The War On You, The Great Brexit Swindle and many other books, explains further.

‘The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage,’ said Emperor Hirohito, in his infamous 1945 surrender address to the nation. The same could be said by Britain’s left in relation to Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party.

In the more-than-half-a-year since Party members decisively elected him leader, Starmer has acted in ways contrary to left principles: abstaining as opposed to voting against the ‘spy cops’ bill; suspending the left’s symbolic leader, Jeremy Corbyn; sacking from the Shadow Cabinet Continuity Corbyn (Rebecca Long-Bailey); defying teachers’ unions over back-to-school policies; refusing to try to block a no-deal Brexit; and laying traps for the Tories over their COVID policies, which means playing politics with people’s lives.

This is happening because Starmer is an establishment figure, hence the knighthood. Former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Prosecutions with an anti-human record, Starmer is not critically reliant on union money because he is backed by wealthy donors and his advisers include private healthcare lobbyists.

But the left hasn’t helped its own cause. Represented by media including The Canary, Evolve Politics, Morning Star, Novara Media, Socialist Worker, Skwawkbox and Tribune, the left immediately found reasons not to support Keir Starmer. This gave Team Starmer zero incentive to work with the left. Worse, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. They wanted Starmer to fail so that they could promote Corbynism: so, Starmer failed. In psychology, this is called the Golem Effect. (Of course, Starmer hasn’t failed solely or even primarily because of the left, but its position hasn’t helped). The left also suffers from confirmation bias: that every wrong move made by Starmer, both morally and practically, is not only proof of its position, it further entrenches that position.

A sensible approach is objective analysis, but this would cause the left cognitive dissonance because it would mean facing hard truths that Jeremy Corbyn was actually right-wing on many issues. Being too right-wing is the same complaint that the left levels against Starmer.

Despite Starmer being more left than pre-Corbyn Labour, mainstream media continue to portray him as a Blairite figure because their goal is not to report facts, but to apply pressure to politicians in order to shape a narrative. Politicians pay far too much attention to press coverage, erroneously believing it to be a reflection of public opinion as opposed to the psychological warfare of media owners. This is the Pygmalion Effect, designed to make Starmer believe he is a Blairite and act like it. The left has fallen into this trap, believing that he has no left credentials.

The first thing that Corbyn needed to do was to purge the Party machinery of the Blairite parasites that had taken over. Readers can consult the leaked Labour report for brutal insights into how they think, operate, and sabotage the left. It was obvious that the Blairites would kill Corbynism, but Corbyn was too weak to purge them. Instead, he packed his first Shadow Cabinet with Blairites—Lord Falconer, Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn, Owen Smith, et al.—in an effort to compromise with them, until several staged a failed coup.

The left media now trashing Starmer made little of Corbyn’s refusal to whip his MPs against voting to bomb Syria in 2015. The anti-war campaigner Corbyn then dropped a proverbial bombshell: he would not negotiate with ISIS. Corbyn had gone from preaching peace through diplomacy to not negotiating with enemies. The logical consequence of non-negotiation is continued conflict.

Corbyn wouldn’t whip against bombing children in Syria, but he whipped to facilitate Brexit: the second-worst national disaster in recent UK history after COVID. He did so by helping the Tories to trigger Article 50, thereby allowing a Tory Brexit and getting us into the mess in which we now find ourselves. At the time, the Tories had a thin majority, enough to sink Brexit had Labour been whipped against it. Corbyn’s move put EU citizens resident in the UK through hell. It further divided the party and his refusal to take a clear position caused voters to migrate to the Liberal Democrats (yellow Tories). In this milieu, Corbyn also betrayed his internationalist principles by stating that Labour is ‘not wedded to freedom of movement.’

Perhaps worst of all, Corbyn allowed the Party machinery to persecute ethnic minorities. Black, Muslim, and Jewish members of Labour were suspended and expelled—Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Naz Shah—as individuals responsible for dragging the Party’s reputation through the mud with relentless, public attacks were not only tolerated, some were lauded. Corbyn nominating Tom Watson for a knighthood, for example, was perhaps his lowest point and proof that he really was not up to the job of leading.

Where was the left during Corbyn’s moral and strategic decline? They were backing him to the hilt. This is because they understood, quite rightly, that nobody is perfect, that there are higher priorities than getting a saintly leader: ending child hunger and homelessness are just two such priorities. But this pragmatism among leftists has gone out the window now that Starmer is in charge. Starmer has not yet reneged on his anti-austerity pledge, yet leftist media have done little but pile on the attacks. What explains this other than an unhealthy cult of Corbynism?

Like Corbyn, Starmer packed his initial shadow cabinet with right-wingers: Ed Miliband, Lisa Nandy (who should never be forgiven for voting for Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement) and John Ashworth (whom we learned in the disastrous 2019 general election was a spy for the Tories). Yet only Starmer was criticised by the left for the make-up of his shadow cabinet. The left largely overlooks the fact that Starmer also included the John McDonnell-approved Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Treasurer, Continuity Corbyn (Long-Bailey) as Shadow Education Secretary, former Corbyn ally Emily Thornberry as Shadow International Trade Secretary and one-time Corbynista Cat Smith as Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement.

Starmer is following much the same script as Corbyn, but unlike Corbyn is getting hammered by left-wing media.

Starmer did not sack Long-Bailey because she tweeted an Independent article containing a disputed claim about Israel: he sacked Long-Bailey because she was obstinate and refused to delete the tweet when her boss ordered her to do so. A divided party loses elections and defying the leader—even when the leader is wrong—creates division. This was a disciplinary issue, not an anti-left agenda. Corbyn, recall, expelled Chris Williamson MP over similar issues, but the hypocritical, Corbyn-worshipping left media generally blamed the anti-Semitism witch-hunt for the expulsion, not the man who actually expelled him. (Corbyn should have expelled the self-professed anti-imperialist Williamson for being a war criminal, i.e. voting to murder Libyan children with bombs in 2011.)

In an ideal world, there would be no leaders. There would be small, globally-networked communities governed by mutual consent. In a less good world, one with national leaders, the best option would be Caroline Lucas as Prime Minister. The next best would be Rebecca Long-Bailey.

But this is simply idealism. We have to meet the public at their level, not where we wish them to be. The public cares about image, not policies. Corbyn had damaged his and thus Long-Bailey’s brand via cowardice (i.e., not standing up to Zionists) and indecision (i.e., no clear position on Brexit). For the voting public, Long-Bailey was Corbyn 2.0. Starmer was the only realistic choice: a fresh break, but with left policies. Mainstream media want Starmer to be Blair, so that is how they present him. But the reality, laid out in this article, demonstrates that his policies are to the left of Blair, though not as left as many of us would like.

Instead of assuming without evidence or argument that Starmer is untenably right-wing, the left should praise Corbyn’s legacy and see its manifestation in the current Labour Party. But sadly, the left’s documentation of Starmer’s rightward drift is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. The left should ask itself: How does attacking the leader of a party still committed to socialistic principles—at least domestically and for the time being—help anybody? Does it incentivise that leader to stick to their pledges or does it repel them and give them license to support right-wing policies? Does it encourage the grassroots to push against the leader to nudge them left or does it make leftists feel hopeless, like it’s a lost cause, and thus become hopeless?

Image of Keir Starmer by Rwendland, used under a Creative Commons Licence [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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