By Jack Wareham
Keir Starmer was elected as leader of the Labour Party in April 2020, on the basis of his 'commitment' to socialism and his electable face. He captured the hopes of an increasingly power-hungry and tired left-wing, who, after four successive general election defeats, could finally visualise a path to radical change and the implementation of policies for the benefit of the many, not the few.
Yet only three years later, Labour has careened to the right and is now a stones-throw from the politics of New Labour, seeking to eliminate any trace of Corbynism from its ranks and successively blocking candidates who hold even the most distant views that so many of us possess.
Internal elections were designed to show the health of party democracy, where constituency Labour parties (CLPs) would select their candidate of choice to contest their respective seat at the general election. Yet under Starmer’s Labour, the power to democratically choose has been stripped away, with the National Executive Committee imposing shortlists on CLPs devoid of anyone to the left of Tony Blair.
Our former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North since 1983, has been unceremoniously blocked from standing for Labour by a 22-12 vote on the NEC to “avoid any detrimental impact on the Labour Party's standing with the electorate". His decades of service to the party have been ignored, and his wildly popular platform in 2017 cast aside.
Far from helping the party to appear ‘electable’, as so is often decried by the Labour Right, his exclusion has prompted genuine questions to the health of party democracy. As has the NEC ruling, which will surely be used to deselect Socialist Campaign Group MPs in the future.
How can Labour claim to be socially democratic when the members of Islington North are denied the very basic decision over their candidate?
Surely the Labour Party should stand for free choice and commit to its broad-church appeal? After all, the party is home to former Tories (Christian Wakeford, I’m talking about you), centrists, the soft-left, and the left-wing, all of whom contribute to appealing the electorate.
Yet Starmer’s ignorance of this fact is a slap in the face to the thirteen million people who voted for Labour in 2017, and ten million two years later, who bought into the policies of the left. He’s saying ‘you’re wrong, leave it to the grown-ups’.
Corbyn stated that “we should end NEC impositions of candidates” to local parties. A fair point, no? After all, without choice what can Labour attest to be? A top-down bureaucratic machine who only has space for the middle-class centre?
But that comment wasn’t from Corbyn. It was from Starmer himself, posted on Twitter during the 2020 leadership election. His hypocrisy truly knows no bounds…
Take former Labour MP Emma Dent-Coad in Kensington. Elected in 2017, the left-winger became the first non-Tory to win the seat and is current Labour leader on the council. Yet when standing for the candidacy this year, her presence at Stop the War events had been of concern, despite the group not being proscribed, and resulted in her blocking.
Similarly, left-wing candidates in Milton Keynes North and Camberwell and Peckham saw their campaigns ended by the party machine. Their crimes? Liking a tweet from former SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing she had tested positive for Covid-19, and the latter for once liking a tweet by Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. All despite Scottish Labour being in coalition with the SNP on the Dumfries and Galloway council, and Labour MPs routinely working with Lucas in the Commons.
Yet, Starmer’s purge knows no ideological boundaries. In Broxtowe, local Labour councillor and two-time candidate Greg Marshall saw the apparatus of the party descend on his campaign, excluding him from the longlist. Despite being backed by eight trade unions, the majority of local members, and endorsements from across the political spectrum, namely soft-left MP Alex Norris, and former Labour-right MP Vernon Coaker, Marshall was side-lined.
Starmer has proved there is no room for discourse in his Labour Party, drawing from a playbook familiar to reviled leaders like Stalin.
From barring tried and true candidates in their local area with histories of success, to preventing campaigns based off pedantic Twitter history, the left has no safe home within Labour. We must be vigilant, fight for the current SCG MPs, and promote the left-wing values our party, and country, so desperately need.
Photo credit: Office of U.S. House Speaker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Nancy_Pelosi_met_with_Keir_Starmer_in_London_%282%29.jpg)