Recently elected as leader of the Labour Party on April 4 of this year, Keir Starmer’s past, present and future leaves a lot to be desired amongst young socialists within the party. To some, his first few months in office have been welcomed and desperately needed. In others, confidence has shrunk. I was present at the leadership hustings in Glasgow on February 15, which was the first hustings to feature all three candidates. My question, which I had put forward about disability rights, was chosen by the host. It was that very important question, on that very important day, which would decide who I would be backing.
Before the Glasgow hustings, the majority opinion from young socialists was that Labour needed a woman leader. Indeed, if you look at the 120 year timeline of the leadership within Labour, not one woman is to be found. The exceptions are Harriet Harman and Margaret Beckett who were acting leaders, and were not elected by ballot into the leadership position. Harman herself also shared the opinion that Labour should be led by a woman. We were pleased then, to see two women candidates on the ballot this year.
After the election result, some of the socialists including myself believed that misogyny had played a role within the vote. It was not uncommon to find misogynistic tweets against Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy during the campaign. They claimed to have been asked more questions about transgender rights and prostitution than Starmer. A lot of men remarked that the women candidates did not have much experience, despite the party then going on to elect a leader with less than half the amount of parliamentary experience.
While Labour claim to be a party for women, they also claim to be a party for LGBTQ+ rights. During the leadership campaign, both women signed up to 12 pledges put forward by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, while Starmer decided not to, instead showing support for the LGBTQ+ Labour pledges. This particular action led to a lot of uncertainty regarding Starmer’s support for transgender rights, while boosting confidence and support for the woman candidates.
In socialism, one of the common themes is equality. In regards to LGBTQ+ rights, equality must then include transgender rights. I began to question Starmer’s views as a socialist after this particular event. This is because it is common for a lot of politicians to state ideological views, but then to not practice what they preach. Especially when you consider the fact that trans people still face unacceptable injustices.
One might argue that advocating for transgender rights is a ‘small’ issue, and that there are more important things to talk about in the party. These are empty words. Part of being a socialist is about cooperation, which is another core theme of the ideology. Put simply, working together as a party, rather than against each other. No issue is too small to be ignored. This line of rhetoric can also be considered transphobic, because it silences the voices of transgender individuals, as well as the voices of those amplifying them. It is a commonly established view that transgender individuals have felt silenced and alienated by the party.
One of the issues that has come up time and time again in the Labour Party has been antisemitism. When Jeremy Corbyn assumed the position of leader in September 2015, his peaceful diplomatic stances began to be questioned. Other parties, the media, and the parliamentary Labour Party soon joined in. It has been clear right from the very beginning that Corbyn’s stance was an end to unjust wars, and peace for the people of Palestine. We echoed this stance by protesting against an Israeli political diplomat on November 15 2018. The view of antisemitism became so ingrained that people started to call him a terrorist sympathiser.
We noticed a huge amount of hostility during the 2019 general election. The Chakrabarti Inquiry found that antisemitism was not hugely prevalent but there was an occasional toxic atmosphere. This led to criticism of the leadership itself, and has been echoed ever since.
The view amongst myself and young socialists echoed that of Corbyn’s. The fact remains that there is a difference between being antisemitic and against the political state of Israel (anti-Zionism). What followed were a lot of straw man arguments made against Palestinian supporters.
The problems for Labour are far from over, because Keir Starmer removed Rebecca Long Bailey from her shadow education role last week on allegations of antisemitism. Unfortunately, tensions rose once again when it was found that there had been no response to the misogyny which Long Bailey had endured. The Independent conceded that the claim was wrong. The problem with this is that it was a much exaggerated move by Starmer, which suggests that he did not consider all of the information at the time.
Unfortunately for Starmer, sacking someone does not eliminate the much wider problem of antisemitism which is driven by media, still echoed from Corbyn’s leadership. Rather than trying to escape the bigger problem, Starmer chose a much easier route.
The final piece of the Keir Starmer puzzle was put in place just recently, regarding the Black Lives Matter campaign. In a single statement on BBC Breakfast, the Labour leader exclaimed that defunding the police is a nonsense strategy. If I was a Labour leader, it would not be ‘socialist’ of me to describe a liberation movement as nonsense. It is a slap in the face for black people who have been fighting against police brutality, oppressive structures and institutional racism for years. There is a large amount of apathy amongst black communities because their struggles are interpreted as being nothing more than silliness. Why did a Labour leader who ran on a ‘radicalism’ campaign, then completely dismiss a radical demand that could deliver a better future during his tenure?
The take home message from this piece is this: are you practicing what you preach? Are you consistent, and actually advocating for the values you express? Remember that when you call for an end to the infighting, for people to stop throwing bricks at one another to find a solution, you are forgetting that black people have tried the soft approach for decades. Many marginalised groups have been calling for change for so long, and every time they have been ignored.
We can’t stay silent. We can’t just keep throwing issues like this under the bus. Radical change is what is needed. Challenging your biggest opponent to see who can do the most amount of press ups is not fighting for change. That’s what I, as a young socialist, will fight for. Do you want to know why I personally won’t support Keir Starmer? Quite simply, his policies and actions he has shown so far do not align with my views. The question he answered on disability rights? I was not convinced. The rocky road thus, continues.