Starmer, Corbyn and the Direction of the Left in the UK
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader until the beginning of this year, has been suspended from the party following comments made regarding a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
This piece isn’t about his suspension in particular, but about the direction of left within the Labour party, and the UK more generally. However this is a relevant and significant issue. The argument is ostensibly between those who believe Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism, and those who claim any problem has been exaggerated for political gain. As is often the case, this view refuses to allow nuance to get in the way of a good story— both statements can be true, and in this case are.
“One anti-Semite is one too many.”
This is obvious, yet cannot be repeated enough. It’s also part of Corbyn’s comment that saw him suspended, because he continued: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
To me, Corbyn clearly isn’t a racist man — he’s campaigned against racism most of his life. But he isn’t without fault. I haven’t read the EHRC report but it was always clear he didn’t handle the problem well, and had a habit of condemning racism more broadly, when Jewish communities needed to hear him speak out against anti-Semitism specifically. The report’s findings should be viewed with the seriousness they deserve.
But he was suspended for his comments, not the report, and the justification for this is questionable — especially when you examine his replacement as leader.
Keir Starmer is not the man to unite Labour, and was never intended to be. He was chosen as the man to drag Labour, and UK politics, back (further) to the right where the establishment think it belongs.
This is a man who began his tenure by supporting Boris Johnson’s government in its handling of the coronavirus crisis, when it was evidently one of the worst responses in the world. He seems to take responsibility for very little (not even Corbyn’s suspension) and has already carved out a reputation for abstaining on important matters. He even ordered his MPs to abstain on bills such as the ‘Spy Cops’ and ‘overseas operation’ bills, which, it has been argued, effectively legalises torture. Yet the only firm stance he took was against those who voted with their morals.
His politics are the only kind of ‘left wing’ politics that billionaires, huge corporations and anyone else with power will tolerate. He’ll demonstrate compassion for movements like Black Lives Matter with photo ops of him taking a socially distant knee, but in the next breath he dismisses associated political aims as nonsense.
I should stress that I’m not a ‘Corbynite’, or even a member of the Labour party. But as the only major party in the UK claiming to be on the left, the future of Labour is important to me, and Starmer’s impact has had huge significance.
His politics are about votes, winning power, and continuing with the status quo. Other than neoliberalism, which never gets questioned, it’s hard to work out where he stands on almost any subject. When asked if he was named after Keir Hardie he said it was something he couldn’t take credit for, prompting one commentator to mock him for trying to triangulate his own name. He’s known to many on Twitter as Keir ‘Hardly’, which is apt, and considering the original Keir was never as radical as he promised to be, it’s an effective illustration of the crushing disappointment felt by the left.
But you can be certain his stance on neoliberalism is firm. So when Corbyn’s supporters have been picked off, one by one, and we see those on the left of the party being side lined or demoted, it’s hard to view the former leader’s suspension as anything other than politically motivated.
Anti-Semitism is toxic wherever it exists and must be stamped out. Looking at the Labour party from the outside there’s clearly a lot of work to be done. But when compared to the horrendous levels of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and prejudice of all types that exists within other parties, it’s clear the Labour party’s prominence in these discussions has not been proportionate.
The UK’s most popular tabloids flaunt their owner’s xenophobia and bigotry every day, while our Home secretary can advocate the use of Navy vessels on migrant dinghies with barely a fuss, let alone a threat to her job. The list of deplorably racist comments made by the actual Prime minster has never once threatened to produce consequences for him, let alone his party.
Starmer himself had nothing to say about Patel’s comments, and offered only a weak, delayed response when one of his own MPs was racially targeted by the MET. I find it impossible to believe his motivations regarding Corbyn’s suspension are anything other than political, and this has profound implications for UK politics.
Corbyn was allowed to stand as a candidate to lead the Labour party only because they thought he didn’t stand a chance. But his (admittedly weak) brand of social democracy has led to something of a reawakening of left wing politics in the UK, inviting many to dream of what is truly possible. And so, it inevitably follows, the left are under attack like never before.
Corbyn was the best chance of the UK producing a socialist Prime minister, yet he never really led his own party. Those loyal to him are now cast aside to avoid any chance of a repeat, with those remaining too weak to make a real stand. The Labour party cannot, or rather will not, offer change.
The alternatives are the Green party, with their solitary MP, or the Lib Dems, the neoliberals who gleefully helped install the most destructive series of governments the UK has ever known — and show no regret. Should the left pin their hopes on George Galloway? I see no light at the end of that tunnel.
Keir Hardie offered the UK hope of a socialist future. Keir Starmer is the nail in the coffin of that dream. Yet not all hope is lost.
The Scottish Government is far from a radical one, but the SNP are to the left of anything Westminster has to offer. Scotland also has a Green party that boasts 6 SMPs and the offer of an alternative. In Wales, Plaid Cymru advocate decentralised socialism, and the exponentially growing Yes Cymru movement is overwhelmingly progressive.
When people in the Celtic nations look for change, they increasingly look to independence from Westminster as a catalyst. It’s a camp I’m firmly in, and support the aims of Undod Cymru in building a radical, independent Wales.
It’s no coincidence that the death of socialism in the UK is coinciding with the death of the UK itself. And for me, it marks the beginning of real hope for socialism on these islands.