15th April 2020
Kier Starmer – will he call out those who undermined Corbyn?
There has never been any doubt that political factions within the Labour Party consistently worked to undermine the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The abortive Owen Smith leadership bid of 2016 for example, with Lisa Nandy as campaign co- chair. The Chuka Umunna led split to create the short lived political embarrassment of Change UK. The regular pronouncements of former Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, culminating in the creation of internal faction Future Britain, in express opposition to the official policies of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
Current leader, Kier Starmer, was to the forefront in calling for a second referendum on Brexit, in stark contrast to the agreed conference policy of honouring the referendum outcome, a position which had blown a hole in Theresa May’s majority in 2017 and brought Corbyn within a whisker of Number 10.
The Labour right though, wanting neither Corbyn as Prime Minister nor departure from the EU, deliberately failed to unite around and build upon the 2017 manifesto but consistently worked to undermine it. A nest of spies in the camp. The Tories, the BBC and the right wing media had no problem with following this line.
A leaked internal report, circulated at the weekend, shows just how deep the antipathy to Corbyn went, especially amongst those employed by the Labour Party to support Corbyn’s work as Leader of the Opposition. The 860 page report, seen by Sky News initially but subsequently circulated more widely, finds “abundant evidence of a hyper-factional atmosphere prevailing in Party HQ”, going on to suggest that this “affected the expeditious and resolute handling of disciplinary complaints.”
This is significant as the major area of complaint focussed upon are those of antisemitism within the Labour Party. Corbyn was consistently vilified by the press and his own Parliamentary party for failing to act swiftly enough in dealing with alleged antisemitism. The leaked report indicates that, far from Corbyn being slow to act, the Party machinery deliberately sabotaged attempts to deal with the issue in order for it to be an ongoing source of embarrassment for Corbyn.
In the 10,000 emails and thousands of WhatsApp messages cited in the report it is claimed that senior former staff,
“…openly worked against the aims and objectives of the leadership of the Party, and in the 2017 general election some key staff even appeared to work against the Party’s core objective of winning elections.”
This is ironic as current Labour Leader, Kier Starmer, is in post precisely because of his perceived ‘electability’. The fact is that many within Labour’s ranks were simply not up to the challenge of the direction which the Party’s policies under Corbyn, as endorsed by the membership, had taken. They longed to get back to a cosy middle ground, free of any real challenge to the system or any real conflict.
The biggest fright for the right wing faction within Labour, along with the political and media establishment, was that Labour’s policies under Corbyn were actually resonating with a public sick of Tory austerity and the impact upon their standard of living. The ramping up of the antisemitism smear campaign; the blind alley of the so called People’s Vote call for a second referendum; and the personal vilification of Corbyn over the 2017 – 2019 period, were designed to bring about the election result which occurred last December, paving the way for Labour to be back in ‘safe hands’.
The Labour Movement has always had to contend with those who do not see radical change as an option for fear that it will cause conflict and disruption. Yet radical change cannot happen without conflict or disruption. Those who hold the levers of power run the system precisely to benefit their own class interests and are not going to give up control lightly. They will mock, vilify and sabotage anything which they see as a challenge.
Labour’s programme under Jeremy Corbyn was hardly revolutionary but it was radical enough and potentially popular enough for the political establishment to be worried. There is some irony in the fact that under the current COVID-19 crisis conditions, the increased state control and public spending, which Corbyn was so vilified for supporting, have become a necessity.
The real test though will come post lockdown when decisions have to be made as to who foots the bill. Following the 2008 banking crisis the very NHS, local government and care sectors workers, whom even Tory ministers applaud on a Thursday night, bailed out the bankers by paying through enforced austerity measures.
Will the banks, corporations and City of London pay this time round for all of the effort the underfunded, underpaid and under resourced public sector has put into saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus? Will Kier Starmer and Angela Rayner be leading the line in demanding that they do so? We shall see.