Richard Price, Leyton & Wanstead CLP, tests and traces Keir Starmer’s appointments.
Last month we detailed how, despite Keir Starmer claiming that he would uphold many of the progressive policies pioneered under Corbyn, his leadership campaign was bankrolled by rich business people and high end lawyers, united by Blairite politics and pathological opposition to Jeremy’s leadership.
We all know some credulous party members who supported the Corbyn project but think that the party can unite behind Starmer. Others who should know better like Paul Mason go further, believing the choice of Starmer was a “no brainer”, that the break with the “Stalinists” in the Corbyn inner circle represents a step forwards, and that “the left cannot run the party by acting as a faction in conflict with the rest”. Apparently Victor Serge and Andreu Nin support this approach, although when contacted by Briefing neither was available for comment.
But while some are trying to render the shift to the right more profound, the right of the party – even though some of it supported Lisa Nandy – are reaping the reward for their obsessive four-year campaign against Corbyn in Starmer’s appointments.
Of his Shadow Cabinet, 15 supported the Chicken Coup and Owen Smith’s challenge in 2016. Almost all of Corbyn’s team have been sent to the back benches. Rebecca Long-Bailey – one of the main architects of Labour’s Green New Deal – hasn’t been given the Environment portfolio, but instead sent to Education. Emily Thornberry retains her place, albeit a demotion to International Trade. No doubt her unprovoked attacks on Jeremy during the leadership campaign helped.
While there is a smattering of soft left types around the Shadow Cabinet’s virtual table, among the junior front benchers the left or vaguely left are outnumbered by the right and the centre three to one. Back in favour is the hero of the 4%, Liz Kendall. Like Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, she drew the conclusion from the 2015 general election that Labour needed to be tougher than the Tories on welfare spending. There are places for anti-Corbyn ultras like Jess Phillips and Wes Streeting along with true believing Blairite Pat McFadden. It’s likely that Starmer’s first reshuffle will whittle down the number of left wingers even further.
If anything, Starmer’s party management appointments are even more right wing. Comms Director is Paul Ovenden, a highly critical staffer who resigned in protest at Labour’s huge surge in the 2017 General Election. Jennie Formby wasn’t exactly sacked as general secretary – just “encouraged to go”, according to one ex-staffer. Emilie Oldknow was thought to be Starmer’s preferred choice as a replacement, until the leaked report outed her as a serial abuser of party activists. Right winger David Evans has now been appointed to replace Formby.
And speaking of that leaked report, the alleged “independent” inquiry commissioned by Starmer has at least one close ally on its four-person panel, and the NEC disgracefully voted against veteran peer and Kindertransport survivor, Alf Dubs, on grounds that appear to include insufficient hostility to Jeremy Corbyn. The suspicion that has existed since the inquiry was announced that its main thrust would be to concentrate on the leaker(s) rather than the appalling behaviours set out in the report appears to be confirmed by the hiring of forensic computer investigators rather than qualified diversity experts.
There’s a strong whiff of the 80s in the way that much of the soft left has bent to the wind. Then, groups like Clause Four and the Labour Coordinating Committee first came to an accommodation with the right against forces on the left that were seen as beyond the pale. Then they adapted to Kinnock’s increasingly repressive regime, and ended up swallowing the Blair Witch Project lock, stock and Iraq War.
The difference today is that the Labour left remains numerically strong and energised; many CLPs remain left-aligned; and the policies developed in the Corbyn era remain very popular with party members. But none of these are grounds for complacency. The right is on the offensive. It will continue witch hunting the left. And any repeat of the chaos and indiscipline on view in the NEC by-elections will guarantee the right a comfortable working majority when the full elections take place later this year. It needs the various organisations of the left to work with a minimum of constructive cooperation and compromise. “We must all hang together”, Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “or most assuredly we will all hang separately”.