Feature Image Credit: The Economist
Up until quite recently, I could not see a time where I would be able to vote for the UK Labour Party in good faith. Years of in party fighting, lack of coherent or workable policy, and the constant issue of antisemitism never would sit well with me. When asking myself if this were a party ready for government, I would have had to say no. However, with the recent election of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner to leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party, I am beginning to feel competency, experience, and a genuine sense of humanity leading the party.
In the days leading up to February 18 2018, there were rumours of defections in the air. This time it happened, and it was unmissable. A group of seven former Labour MPs walked quietly through waiting press and all sat solemnly whilst they announced they were leaving the Labour Party and forming a new group. A heavily pregnant Luciana Berger spoke first and said, “This has been a very difficult, painful, but necessary decision”, adding Labour had become antisemitic and she felt “embarrassed and ashamed to stay”. I do not think there was ever a belief from Corbynites that this was done in good faith and was not a way to attack Corbyn.
It always shocked me how Corbyn reacted. Less than two years previously, one of his MPs was murdered in the streets – why did he not listen? Watching Berger say these painful words and then being met with no sympathy from the leadership of the party she had just left was simply the last straw for myself. I could no longer support the Labour Party in its current form.
I understand it is easy to poke fun at what became of the MPs from Labour and the Conservatives who left their parties and tried to form a new political party before some joined the Lib Dems. However, at the end of the day, they stood up for what they believed in. It is also what the centre-left had been waiting for before claiming they were all self-serving. It would be totally ignorant to say they did not know the risk of what they were doing. Whenever you mock the defectors, bear in mind you are also mocking the fact that a pregnant Jewish MP who was forced to leave her own party by racism and death threats were enabled and exacerbated by the leadership. If you were someone who would simply respond with calls of traitor, good riddance. If you insinuate this is a Blairite plot of some from, perhaps you were part of the problem too.
Uneasy feeling about Corbyn and his leadership were not something that came out of nowhere. He has a history of mishaps and allegiances that would not sit comfortably with most. There was always the argument that Corbyn was wholly good and it was the actions of a biased press which had been affecting his claims of “kinder, gentler politics”. However, in my opinion, this is just simply not looking at the facts. The Labour Party has always had a difficult relationship with the media and those who own it, but they have still won elections in the past. It’s also assuming that people can not make their own minds up, and are simply pawns to the media.
Perhaps the lesson is, if you have reason to believe the press has an agenda against you, do not make it so easy for them to be successful.
If you do not want the press to report you are a friend of terrorist organisations, maybe do not call them your friends.
If you do not wish the press to doubt your patriotism, maybe do not give Russia the benefit of the doubt in the Salisbury poisonings or take money from Iranian state TV.
If you do not wish to be called a terrorist sympathiser, maybe do not lay a wreath on the grave of a terrorist.
If you do not wish for the press to report an inability to stop antisemitism, perhaps do not share a platform with antisemites or defend antisemitic murals.
It all seems almost simple, but when you line up these examples, it seems to create a pattern of character that British people simply would not trust with their safety and security.
But this is endemic in Corbyn’s policy. A foreign and defence policy which was inclined to treat non-Westerners as props in some anti-American morality play, throwing Eastern Europeans to the Kremlin and throwing collective security away was not something that an average voter would be content with.
It is even further from the work of Starmer as an International Human Rights Lawyer. Did you know Starmer was seen as instrumental in 2005 and 2007 in challenging and overturning the death penalty in Uganda and Malawi? He has also worked for this in the Caribbean and has been called to the bar in several countries in the region. Even as recently as 2018 he visited Taiwan to lobby against the death penalty. It seems some simply talk about human rights abuses, whereas some actually do something about it.
After the 2017 and 2019 general election losses, it was hard to see how Corbyn could continue as leader. The public had shown they were not willing to put their faith in a party led by him. As much as his supporters want to claim the 2017 election was a success, and the 2019 election was lost over Brexit, they still lost the 2017 election. 35% of people who decided against voting Labour in the 2019 election said it was because of Corbyn. However, there is still the claim he won the arguments and his policies have now become what the Conservatives are doing in government. I guess this is basically picking at straws because you need something to get over how badly you just lost.
When there are claims of won the argument, this seems to be based on Corbyn’s policies polling well with the public. The problem with this is that you need to actually win an election before they can be put in place. Saying the Conservatives have adopted his policies is just blatant laziness to understand how the government is responding with temporary measures to keep people alive and society functioning to a public health crisis. His supporters seem to be happy with this thought, but to me it roughly translates as “Corbyn was willing to allow his own MPs to be in danger because he had decided he was right, and that was that”. Not exactly an election winning strategy.
Starmer and Rayner now have a mandate from the membership and the opposition is acting in a way not seen under Corbyn. Competence and experience, rather than blind loyalty to the leadership, are being rewarded with cabinet and ministerial positions. Scrutiny and accountability of the government are cutting through to people as dodgy dealings from ministers and poor workings in the face of Covid can be raised effectively. Starmer is effective in questioning and knowing his brief, and Rayner is a true success story of journey from teen mother to deputy leader of the second party in Britain and a very competent campaigner.
It also seems to be hard for the press to attack them in any significant way. Remember when the Mail on Sunday reported that Starmer owned property and land worth millions? Turns out he used his earnings from being an international human rights lawyer to buy his disabled mother a place to keep and be with donkeys that she had rescued. It would definitely seem that the transgressions Starmer is accused of are far different from accusations of being a terrorist sympathiser or an antisemite.
But is this simply all well again? Can we assume the 2024 election is in the bag for labour? Certainly not. Starmer has taken a position which so far lacks policy in what he would do as Prime Minister. It would be difficult for any policy to cut through at the moment, but at some point he will have to set out his vision of Britain and the membership and voters will have to decide if he is truly as to the left of Corbyn, or if his policies will be a shift to the centre. Corbynites would argue he should not change course and should carry over Corbyn’s policies for a radical society. However, it must be draining listening to people who declare themselves the winners when they do not seem to win very often.
There is also the issue of antisemitism. Berger has said she does not know if she could re-join the party yet, but positive steps have been taken. Starmer’s first meeting as leader was with Jewish groups and has promised a zero-tolerance policy on antisemitism. This came to a head in the last week when he sacked his former leadership rival, Long Bailey.
Long Bailey shared an article from the Independent in which they interview Maxine Peake. Peake is a long-term socialist who was a prominent supporter of Corbyn. In the interview, she stated that the practice of police officers in the United States kneeling on someone’s neck, one example of which led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was “learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services”. The Independent changed the article to say, “the allegation that US police were taught tactics of ‘neck kneeling’ by Israeli secret services is unfounded”. However, Long Bailey shared the article and was sacked.
Her supporters and members of the left of the party have said this is a conspiracy to purge the left from the party and Long Bailey was not aware of what she was sharing. Odd that her supporters would admit such incompetence from someone they had very recently said was capable of leading the opposition party in the UK. Long Bailey released a somewhat non-apology and has refused to say whether she believed the statement were antisemitic.
I believe Long Bailey may have foolishly believed she was un-sackable as a former leadership rival and led to Starmer having no resort but to sack her. Rayner and Long Bailey are actually flat mates when they are working in London. It is hard to believe the deputy leader of the party would not have known or signed off on it before hand. In fact, during the deputy leadership campaign Rayner said “My first line in the sand is antisemitism. Cross that and you are out”. Maybe Rayner would have had to take a harder approach if it was up to her. Even Peake has said her comments were inaccurate in her assumptions. Something Long Bailey is still yet to do.
Whilst this just led to another week of labour infighting, it also showed how weak the left was. No other resignations, a petition to attempt to get her reinstated struggling to get any trajectory, and a majority of voters believing Starmer did the right thing. Perhaps this was a calculated move by Starmer, but if it were then it would not be beyond the realms of rational assumption to believe it has worked and has had limited or no damage to his position or the party. However, it must not be forgotten that Starmer and Rayner were both in Corbyn’s cabinet when Berger was forced out. They were there when the continual allegations of antisemitism surfaced. If they wish to show they mean business, it will have to be through action.
But why does it matter what I think? Maybe it does matter that messages of competence and strong leadership are cutting through to people who are not Labour-to-death and will vote elsewhere if the party cannot be trusted?
Perhaps years of telling people who were not willing to support Corbyn to “f**k off and join the Tories” means you do not get to win elections. It seems a lot of people did not quite leave and join the Tories, but enough of them did not support Labour and gave the worst result since 1983.
Starmer is making important and positive steps to win back support of voters who lost faith, creating a Labour Party whose leader and deputy leaders are working class success stories. They have worked hard to get where they are and help others. It is so refreshing to see, but to say their work is done is simply not true at present.