Labour Leader Keir Starmer, Another Thatcher Lite

Photograph Source: Rwendland – CC BY-SA 4.0

“Labour is the party of collective security, Labour is the party of NATO….”

– Keir Starmer, 5 March 2022

The Tories are mired in one of the greatest political scandals of the postwar era.

Boris “BoJo” Johnson and several of his staffers are under police investigation for holding parties at his official residence in violation of Covid lockdown restrictions in 2020.

At the same time there is a cost-of-living squeeze draining the finances of Brits who have already suffered the longest period of wage suppression in nearly 2 centuries. The recovery since the crash of 2008 has been the most sluggish of modern times. Inequality is spiralling.

Billions of pounds of Covid contracts were awarded without competition by the government to its unqualified cronies and hangers-on, some with close ties to senior figures in government. One contract was awarded to a company operating out of a hotel room in China. Contracts were also awarded to dormant firms. Some contracts cost the public purse £800/$1076 for each protective garment delivered.

London is the money-laundering capital of the world, nicknamed Moscow-on-Thames or Londongrad in the media. Just about anyone can start a shell company– it only costs £12/$15.69 and takes less than 24 hours. Oliver Bullough’s investigative article showed that 4000 London-registered company owners, according to their registration details, were children under the age of 2.

The world-wide seizure of the assets of Kremlin oligarchs has shone a light on Moscow-on-Thames, and how several Kremlin oligarchs have parked vast sums of money there with official encouragement. In addition to huge London mansions and country estates, super-luxury cars, they own soccer clubs, TV stations, and newspapers. Several are major donors to the Tory party, and have close ties to the sybaritic BoJo, who loved attending their lavish parties. He even made one such oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a former KGB officer, a member of the House of Lords.

In such a situation the Labour party under Keir Starmer should be burying the Tories in the opinion polls. However, this isn’t happening.

Opinion polls and door-to-door campaigners indicate a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Keir Starmer’s leadership, and for the party in general.

Starmer has dedicated most of his time and energy to fighting his party’s left, hoping this will somehow project him as a suitable candidate for the prime ministership. This strategy has not worked—many of those polled don’t know what he and his party stand for, and while the “lawyerly” Starmer makes mincemeat out of BoJo in parliamentary debate, few voters pay attention to the goings-on at the parliamentary despatch box.

The uncharismatic Starmer has no public presence, and his advertised appearances draw fewer attendees than the police officers escorting him. The sidelined Jeremy Corbyn used to draw hundreds and even thousands when he appeared in public.

Corbyn remains an MP, but since Starmer has withdrawn his whip, Corbyn does not sit as a Labour MP.

The current war in Ukraine highlights Starmer’s weird combination of pusillanimity and viciousness.

Starmer, who says Labour has to be an unqualified NATO supporter, threatened to withdraw the party whip from Labour MPs who were due to speak at a Stop the War peace rally. Rather than lose the ability to represent Labour in parliament, they withdrew from the rally.

Starmer also said that the war meant Labour should not seek BoJo’s removal from the prime ministership while combat was still taking place.

A war in which Ukania is playing a minimal part—not least because BoJo has been in cahoots with Kremlin oligarchs during his time as prime minister, and so is not trusted by the UK’s allies– is thus being used as a rationale by Starmer for not opposing one of the worst prime ministers in British political history.

Many in his party believe Starmer should be more akin to a ravenous crocodile in his dealings with the Tories rather than being a tame little pussy cat. It’s becoming clear that victories in parliamentary debate, while accompanied by a feeble public presence, just won’t cut the mustard with the Ukanian electorate.

Since 2010 the Tories have pursued a version of Thatcherism in the form of austerity. By refusing to challenge austerity, in the name of a Labourite fiscal “prudence”, Starmer is simply acquiescing in the Tory cull of Ukania’s disadvantaged, homeless, and malnourished– all subsisting at record levels.

Starmer’s pitch is clear: if you want a less corrupt and more efficient version of Thatcher Lite, please vote for me and my party.

By taking his party to the centre right in order to occupy the same ground as BoJo’s Tories, Starmer is allowing the centrist Lib Dems and Green to claim a space that is mildly to the left of centre. Recent by-election election results are vindicating this strategy of the Lib Dems and Greens. They are making inroads into the Tories, with no appreciable Labour gain occurring at the same time.

A short time ago Amnesty International put out a report calling Israel an apartheid state.

Starmer says he supports Zionism “unconditionally”.

This puts Labour party members who for work Amnesty or donate to it in a potentially invidious position. (As a Labour party member who worked as a researcher for Amnesty at the London HQ during my university breaks in the 1960s, I have a vested interest in this issue.)

Given Starmer’s zeal in upholding Israel’s interests, a party member working for Amnesty could possibly run the risk of being expelled from the party by Starmer’s apparatchiks with his more or less tacit sanction.

If Starmer supports Zionism without qualification, it follows by extension of logic that he also supports an apartheid state. He could of course say he disagrees with Amnesty’s well-researched findings, but then it behooves him to say what, precisely, he finds incorrect in Amnesty’s apartheid report. The lawyer Starmer must know that disagreement with Amnesty’s findings without saying why is likely to be construed as disagreement lacking adequate justification.

I wrote Starmer on 4 February asking him to state publicly his position on the Amnesty report for Labour party members who are broadly in agreement with me the report.

If Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela had been members of the Labour party, and Starmer its leader, he would probably have expelled them from the party.

To date Starmer has not replied to my letter.

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