In his desperation to secure the Labour Leadership, Sir Keir Starmer has chained himself to the hard-left
BY JAMES BICKERTON
It’s a testament to how radical the Labour membership has become that even the more moderate leadership candidates feel they must prostrate themselves before insanity to stand a chance of victory. Fighting for higher taxes or a more interfering state is no longer enough. You must submit to Jeremy Corbyn, clearing the path before him with your tongue, with only the acrid taste of dirt as a reminder of where your conscience used to be stored.
This, at any rate, appears to be the calculation of Sir Keir Starmer. On Wednesday the Labour leadership frontrunner outlined “ten pledges” he will seek to implement if he becomes party leader. It was a manifesto to be sure, but also something more fundamental. Written evidence of his surrender to the Corbynites. Starmer is effectively offering them a deal. If elected he will stick with much of Corbyn’s policy programme, letting good governance be damned, whilst providing it with an electable facade. Free of the stench produced by decades rubbing shoulders with terrorists and anti-Semites, the hard-left will have a chance to see their policies implemented. A big dollop of Corbynism, concealed behind the smiling face and telephonic jawline of neo-Blairism.
There are two areas in which Starmer’s compromise with Corbynism is particularly troubling. The first is foreign policy. Under the innocuous title “promote peace and human rights” Starmer pledges to introduce a “prevention of Military Intervention Act” to “put human rights at the heart of foreign policy”. The exact details are vague, but the isolationist principles are clear. Over the past decade much of the left has turned a blind eye, and in come cases even an apologist one, as Bashar al-Assad pilled up the corpses of his compatriots and Iranian proxies ran riot across the Middle East. Starmer is reassuring the Corbynites, with a wink and a nudge, that this will be allowed to continue.
Also troubling is Starmer’s domestic agenda, where he is promising the biggest power grab by the state in many decades. Under the title ‘common ownership’ he commits to bringing the railways, energy companies, mail network and water firms under government control. Outsourcing, the use of private firms to deliver services for the public sector, will be banned in the NHS, justice system and local government. Private companies would be forbidden from holding public contracts, even if they offer the same service at a lower price. This won’t, nor is it really about, benefitting the taxpayer. It’s state worship for its own sake, regardless of outcomes, one of the original sins of the hard-left.
Whether Starmer really believes in this programme is questionable. Certainly, as evidenced by the current panic in their ranks, the Corbynites don’t regard him as one of their own. In June 2016, shortly after the Brexit vote, Starmer resigned as Shadow Immigration Minister arguing Labour couldn’t offer “effective opposition without a change of leader”. He proceeded to back Owen Smith in the leadership contest that followed. But this remains of secondary importance. Better an imitation Corbynite than a real one, perhaps, but in certain policy areas the result could be much the same.
What Labour really needs is a leader who is prepared to fight, not bend the knee to, the hard-left. Perhaps this is Starmer’s plan, and having secured votes from the Corbyn sympathetic membership he will change tack, but it seems improbable. He does pledge “robust action to eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism”, though notably this is listed under the “effective opposition to the Tories” section rather than as a good in itself. Should Starmer win some of the more egregiously anti-Semitic members will doubtless be expelled, and the complains system tightened up, but whether the underlying culture will change is more questionable. Arguably Labour won’t truly be free from the stench of racism until Jeremy Corbyn, a man who in his career rarely came across anti-Semites he wasn’t prepared to defend or befriend, is expelled from the party.
If Starmer wins, as looks increasingly likely, conservatives should treat his elevation as a victory. In a first past the post electoral system, with only two credible governing factions, having one captured by those with revolutionary Marxist sympathies is inherently dangerous. It places the Britain, unusually in her history, only one brutal election result away from government by the far-left. The risk that Labour, currently governed by those who despise the liberal-democratic model of organising human society, effectively withdrawing Britain from the western alliance would be contained.
But that doesn’t mean the Corbynite threat had been vanquished. It’s a tribute to the hard-left’s power at just about every level of the party that Starmer feels the need to offer his submission on foreign and economic policy. Labour is, in all probability, at least another general election defeat away from being revived as a responsible party of government. The situation within the party far worse than it was even during the darkest phases of the 1980s. Conservatives should celebrate the vanquishing of Jeremy Corbyn, but also be aware that the wider Corbynite movement and ideology remains and will likely take a generation or more to defeat.
James Bickerton is a writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @JBickertonUK