Labour Under Keir Starmer

Photograph Source: Starmer pictured with his shadow cabinet colleagues at the launch of labour’s 2019 general election campaign. Jeremy Corbyn – CC0

Keir Starmer, an MP since 2015, won the April 2020 Labour leadership contest after Jeremy Corbyn lost the 2019 general election. Starmer beat rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy with 56.2% of the vote in the first round, and therefore also became Leader of the Opposition.  In his acceptance speech Starmer said he planned to “engage constructively with the government” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pledged to adhere to Labour’s 2019 election manifesto.

As is to be expected from someone who was a top lawyer before entering politics, Starmer is a skilled parliamentary debater, and week-in week-out trounces Boris “BoJo” Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

Apart from skinning BoJo in parliament, and calling out the failings of the government, Starmer has been somewhat lacklustre.

He fulfills the basic obligations of a competent party leader in calling out the shambolic performance of the Conservative government.

But a Tory or Lib Dem leader would be expected to call-out the shortcomings of a sitting Labour government if it were as inept as this one. Therein lies the rub— Starmer is averse to declaring his political positions, and functionally, could be the leader of any political party.

Party members such as I suspect he is ashamed of the founding principles of the party he leads.

When he became the Labour leader Starmer promptly discarded the party’s motto “For the many not the few” with his own “A new Leadership” (he might as well have said “a New Labour Mark Two” with its Blairite resonance), in an obvious gesture of separation from Corbyn’s leadership.

Starmer’s reticence in stating his political convictions does not augur well for a future Labour government, and gives the distinct impression of Labour now resembling a “One Nation” Tory party of the kind that existed before the onset of Thatcherism. This rebranding in the direction of a more “moderate” Labour of course suits the Blairite wing of the parliamentary Labour Party just fine.

The UK mediacrats who flinch at the viciousness of the Conservatives will find nothing to jeopardize their wealth and power in a potential Starmer government. The media moguls have warmed to him, and he’s faced none of the venom they directed at Corbyn. A Labour return to Blairism is exactly what someone like Rupert Murdoch wants.

Starmer ordered his MPs to abstain from voting against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill introduced by the Tories. Also known as the “Spycops” Bill, the Bill, if passed– which was always a given since the Tories have an 80-seat majority in the Commons– would (in its own words) “make provision for, and in connection with, the authorization of criminal conduct in the course of, or otherwise in connection with, the conduct of covert human intelligence sources”. In brief: the spy agencies and police are now free to commit crimes such as torture and murder in the course of their undercover operations.

The spy agencies and police have a long history of targetting of trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-war groups, and framing activists advocating for the reunification of Ireland during the Troubles.

So far 14 Trade Union General Secretaries have opposed the Bill.

The Bill passed a vote in the House of Commons on 5 October 2020 by 162 votes– 34 votes against the Bill were from Labour, 2 were from the Welsh Plaid Cymru, and 1 was from the Lib Dems.

The Labour rebels included shadow ministers Margaret Greenwood and Dan Carden, who subsequently resigned their front bench roles, as did 5 other Labour shadow parliamentary private secretaries (the equivalent of shadow junior ministers)– Sarah Owen, Kim Johnson, Mary Kelly Foy and Navendu Mishra. Jeremy Corbyn and his long-time ally John McDonnell also voted against the Bill.

Since Starmer is an ardent Zionist, it is almost certain he will not demur if pro-Palestinian groups are subjected to criminal conduct during covert operations by the spy agencies and police.

Trevor Chinn, a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist (he’s the UK’s equivalent of Sheldon Adelson) donated £50,000/$62,000 to help Starmer win the leadership election.

The official register of lawmakers’ financial interests confirms that Chinn donated the sum towards Starmer’s leadership campaign. During the campaign Starmer said “I support Zionism without qualification”, and since becoming leader he has tilted Labour markedly towards Israel.

Starmer was criticized for not revealing all his donors during the campaign—Chinn’s donation was not registered until 5 days after Starmer won the election, although it was received 2 months before. Doing this was not illegal, but many Labour party members, especially those critical of Israel’s egregious breaches of international law, consider this to be an unfortunate beginning to his leadership, bearing in mind his background as a prestigious lawyer.

My American friends will doubtless remind me that the arch-Zionist Alan Dershowitz is also a lawyer with significant credentials.

There are two other pieces of evidence somewhat indicative of the strength of Starmer’s commitment to the Zionist cause.

The first is his preemptive settlement of the lawsuit for defamation brought by Labour insiders who appeared on a BBC Panorama report on alleged antisemitism in the party. The 7 former employees, who worked in Labour’s governance and legal unit, were responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct by party members, and sued Labour (then led by Corbyn) after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind” on the BBC show. In their lawsuit for libel the 7 said the Labour press release contained “defamatory and false allegations”.

Starmer decided to settle out of court, costing the party an estimated £500,000 in fees and damages. The party paid about £200,000 in damages to the former employees.

Corbyn opposed the settlement, having taken legal advice which determined that Labour had grounds to defend the libel action, especially after a recently leaked internal report on antisemitism cast a different light on this episode.

The 851-page report, commissioned by Corbyn, uncovered evidence “of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign”. The report confirmed that there was indisputable anti-semitism on the part of some party members. It also confirmed that the system for dealing with these individuals was inefficient, as a result of which some cases dragged on for months or even years.

At the same time the report refuted the charge that these delays were instigated by Corbyn or his office. Also refuted was the accusation that his office allowed antisemitism to flourish—to the contrary, Corbyn’s office had no truck with any kind of antisemitism. In fact the opposite was the case, and blameless individuals faced disciplinary measures on very shaky allegations of antisemitism. Many such cases gained purchase because of an inability to distinguish between genuine antisemitism and opposition to the policies of Israel.

Corbyn’s supporters maintain that this detailed report could have been the basis for opposing the settlement reached by Starmer. He disagreed, obviously, and has so far not commented on the report itself. Which is strange (or perhaps not), given that the report exonerates Corbyn and his associates on the charges of “antisemitism”.

Secondly, when he became party leader Starmer appointed Rebecca Long-Bailey, his main rival for the party leadership and the bearer of Corbyn’s mantle, as shadow education secretary.

RL-B then made a mistake in retweeting the actor Maxine Peake’s accusation that US police forces are taught the neck restraint technique by Israeli police trainers that was used in the killing of George Floyd.

Granted that the officer who murdered Floyd was trained by these Israeli “security experts”, who commonly use the technique on Palestinians. But there is no evidence that the officer in question was specifically taught the technique in his training by the Israelis, and so Peake had to withdraw her tweet.

That said, the assertion that RL-B and Peake made, even though it had to be retracted, hardly amounts to underwriting an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”, the charge Starmer used in justifying his dismissal of RL-B.

RL-B’s accusation was directed at a state regarded by many as a rogue state, which violates unwaveringly the human rights of Palestinians. Moreover, there is ample photographic and video evidence of Israeli military personnel kneeling on the necks of Palestinians, children among them.

A “conspiracy theory” therefore? Gimme a break, Sir Keir Starmer!

Completely silent on the Black Lives Matter protests. Black members leaving Labour in droves.

Nita Clark

If Starmer wasn’t able to run rings around BoJo in parliamentary exchanges, admittedly a pretty low bar given the latter’s status as a political dilettante (now confirmed on a daily basis by disgruntled members of BoJo’s own party), Starmer will soon be seen to be a complete disaster as party leader.

As a consequence of BoJo now increasingly being regarded as the incompetent fraud he’s been all his life, Labour are currently level-pegging with the Tories in the opinion polls.

As mentioned, the right-wing media are giving him an easy time.

Starmer has to do nothing but sit pretty as an onlooker, while BoJo and his pals keep shooting themselves in the proverbial foot over the Covid pandemic and the impending Brexit economic disaster.

A bit like what “Sleepy Joe” Biden is having to do in his election campaign against Trump?

Correction: An early version of this story mistakenly attributed the commissioning of an internal party report on racism and antisemitism within Labour to Starmer. The report was, of course, commissioned by Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. My apologies to readers.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.