Labour’s Defeat and Sir Keir Starmer’s Grey Fade into Irrelevance 

Photograph Source: Chatham House – CC BY 2.0

When people talk about Labour leader Sir Starmer as being insipid and ineffectual, someone who lacks any sharp outline or definition, a washed-out middle-management type with no soul, a grey, dismal rain-jacket of a man, a torpid dish-cloth with legs, not so much a mid-life crisis but more of a mid-life compromise, a charisma vacuum, a computer simulacrum whose algorithms are designed to mimic human responses and yet always seem to be on the blink – I am rather inclined to sympathise.  But there is one way, at least, in which Sir Starmer has been both effective and decisive throughout his career, and that’s in his unstinting, unswerving service to the status-quo.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Starmer initially refused to prosecute the police officer Simon Harwood in relation to the killing of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson.  After massive public pressure and a separate internal inquest, Sir Starmer’s office reluctantly agreed to charge Harwood with manslaughter, but it was too little, too late, and the officer was acquitted.  In the shockingly similar case of Jean Charles de Menezes whereby police officers had again slain a civilian bystander who had committed no crime, Sir Starmer also chose to fortify state power and refuse to prosecute.   In that same period, however, his office oversaw the successful prosecution of a twenty-three year old student for a somewhat lesser crime. The student in question had stolen a bottle of water during the 2011 riots sparked by the police killing of the unarmed black man Mark Duggan  and was sentenced to six months in prison.  There were a slew of sentences for many other such petty infractions.

In his time as the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Starmer fought to make sure British soldiers who were accused of torture and war crimes would be immune from prosecution, even going so far as to fire one of his own MPs who voted against the bill that would sanction such measures. In that same role, he advocated immunity for those cops who infiltrate protest movements, disguising their identities while pursuing sexual relationships with female activists – committing what some people have described as ‘state-sanctioned rape’.

Starmer’s record shows what he is quite clearly; a careerist – an ambitious and driven individual, a capable bureaucrat, but someone without any sense of political imagination or allegiance beyond the professional pragmatism required to facilitate the rise of a career-politician and the deference to the powerful which comes with it.

His inability to mount a cogent challenge toward Johnson, despite the fact that the latter and his band of cohorts have expedited the deaths of 130,000 people from Corona virus – can only be seen in this context.  Sir Starmer feels – instinctively, organically – that the crimes and cronyism of an elite establishment figure such as the current Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whose grubby fumblings have led to so much suffering, do not even merit the loss of a job – his position is to remain sacrosanct – but when it comes to an ordinary protestor who happens to deface a statue in protest of slavery and a bloody colonial history; why that person would merit up to ten years in prisonaccording to the current Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Starmer’s genuflections before establishment power, his need to defer to authority and his automatic urge to fortify it through legal and bureaucratic means is perhaps only matched by his instinctive distaste for the disorder from below which comes when the majority of people take politics into their own hands in and through the grassroots movements and mass protests which develop against inequality and war.  For such people, Sir Starmer has an organic, almost infinite contempt, sneeringly dismissing the Black Lives Matter protests as a ‘moment’ rather than a ‘movement’. 

Somewhat closer to home, he worked against the movement which had raised the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to power within the Labour Party; a movement which was based on a grassroots rejection of the austerity economics imposed on a devastated population by the representatives of a financial elite, a movement which was tired of the never-ending wars abroad and the demonization of immigrants and the most vulnerable back home, a movement which rejected the stigmatization of the poor as an alibi for the reckless financial profligacy of the wealthy.  Sir Starmer was part of the elite group of Labour politicians who took part in a coup which thwarted every standard of party legality in its endeavour to remove the democratically elected leader and the challenge he posed to establishment power.

And when, eventually, Sir Starmer rose to the position of party leader himself in the aftermath of the sabotaged Corbyn leadership, although his kinship with the Conservative government was apparent in terms of the instinctive sense of consolidation and compromise he offered them as the body count from the Corona virus mounted – nevertheless, his cleaving away of what remained of the left wing of the party was utterly ruthless and decisive.  One might even say it was…forensic.  Under the rubric of fighting ‘anti-Semitism’ he expelled all those left-wingers who shared Corbyn’s abhorrence for Israeli apartheid, before suspending Corbyn himself with recourse to the same rationale.

In crippling the left tendency this way, in returning control of the party machine to the Blairite right, Sir Starmer suspended more Jewish members than any other Labour leader.  They were, of course, all left-wing Jews – that is to say, the wrong type of Jews altogether.  Of course, the mainstream press, who had been so concerned with the position of Jews in the Labour Party during Corbyn’s tenure, suddenly developed a blind spot when it came to this particular statistic. It was hardly even referenced.

If you want to look for an answer to Labour’s defeat last week it is to be found here.  Whatever grey, tepid trickle of opposition Sir Starmer might have been able to muster against perhaps the most parochial and savagely right-wing government seen in a generation has drained away entirely, leaving in its wake his brand of insipid, manufactured patriotism, the limp soundbites, those hollow and never-ending appeals to the ‘greatness’ of a rapidly fading flag.

Tony McKenna’s journalism has been featured by Al Jazeera, Salon, The Huffington Post, ABC Australia, New Internationalist, The Progressive, New Statesman and New Humanist. His books include Art, Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective (Macmillan), The Dictator, the Revolution, the Machine: A Political Account of Joseph Stalin (Sussex Academic Press), Toward Forever: Radical Reflections on History and Art  (Zero Books), The War Against Marxism: Reification and Revolution (Bloomsbury) and The Face of the Waters (Vulpine). He can be reached on twitter at @MckennaTony