Sir Keir Starmer can do 50 Push-ups
Updated: Jul 14, 2020
Keir Starmer can do 50 push-ups 1. Keir Starmer has a floppy haircut and a reassuringly droning voice. Keir Starmer is a grown up politician. Keir Starmer wears a forensic blue suit. Keir Starmer is a knight so if you want a dragon slaying he’s probably your man (though I’d likely be on the side of the dragon). If you want to slay inequality, he’s probably not.
Starmer is the leader the right of the Labour Party have been waiting for: slick haircut, lawyer; looks a bit like a Prime Minister in a Rom Com. They pine for Tony Blair (at least Lord Adonis does) but Sir Starmer will do, anyone but that dreadful, beardy, vegetarian Corbyn. Under Corbyn, the right-wingers in the party screamed that “any other leader would be 20 points ahead (in the opinion polls)!” So far the forensic knight seems intent on proving them wrong, with the latest Yougov poll putting Starmer’s Labour ten points behind the shambolic Tory government. 2
I confess that am not the biggest fan of Keir Starmer. This is probably not a surprise to anyone. I’m a socialist and I joined the Labour Party, enthused by Jeremy Corbyn and the opportunities for change that seemed to arise under his leadership. I have tried to get on board with the new ‘grownups in the room’ style leadership. But so far the grownups aren’t inspiring me and I’m hovering on the platform. All the good will and enthusiasm I had for the Labour Party is evaporating. Every time Sir Keir says something like “We support the government”, or “defunding the police – that’s just nonsense”, or “we can’t afford that at the moment” - I step back a little more.
Under Corbyn the party was not perfect by any means, but the leadership had a clear plan on how we would go about tackling the big problems of the day: climate change (Green New Deal); aging population (national care service); housing (building one million homes in 5 years, half of them council houses); lack of opportunity for young people (scrapping tuition fees, equalising and increasing the minimum wage); childcare (increased free provision), and so on. I, and millions of others, had hope for the future.
Starmer is keen to break with the Corbyn years, but has shown little in the way of a vision for the future. He is moving the party rightwards at an alarming speed, keen to be seen as "professional", "electable"; "a Prime Minister in waiting". I think this is a dangerous strategy that will lose the support of many young and black and ethnic minority voters. I cannot see Starmer doing well in our Leave voting seats, despite the cunning shift to the right, as he was the architect of the disastrous 'second referendum Brexit' policy. The liberal commentators in the media like this rightwards shift and have been keen to praise him as sensible and forensic; a real opposition. Despite this favourable media, and a government massively screwing up its response to a pandemic, he cannot pull the Party ahead in the polls.
To me, as a working class member of the Labour Party, it looks like it is back to politics as usual. Politics as practiced by a political class removed from, and not concerned with, the likes of me. Boring, dry, uninspiring, narrow, procedural, gate-kept, elitist. So far Starmer’s leadership has been weak on a number of key issues, and downright awful on some others. Below are a few of the issues I have an issue with. A bunch of sour grapes, if you will.
Corona pandemic response
A Labour opposition should be tearing into a government as incompetent and callous as this one, yet Sir Starmer prefers to offer his support. I suppose this position would be fair enough if the government were doing a sterling job, but they are not. From the failure to lockdown quickly enough; the failure to protect vulnerable people in care homes; the failure to provide PPE to health workers; awarding PPE contracts to their mates; the Dominic Cummings saga; this government has done a terrible job. The number of "excess deaths" in the UK during the pandemic currently stands at just over 65,000 3.
Starmer even offered his support for the reopening of pubs on Saturday 4th July, stating “I do support it…I support the easing of restrictions but, unlike the Prime Minister, I am not blind to the risks”.4 Here, supporting something that you can see is dangerous is seen to be the correct and sensible position. I would prefer my Labour leader to oppose the risky and dangerous proposals of the government, but maybe I’m not sensible or grown up enough.
The cringing support for the government means, that when the dust settles, Labour will be associated with the inadequate response, with the devastatingly unnecessary loss of life. With murderous and criminal incompetence. I struggle to see how this will be a vote winner. Get out your lance and skewer this government, Sir Starmer.
Starmer refused to call for Johnson’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings to be sacked following his breach of lockdown rules. Instead he gave a mealy mouthed response of “well I’d sack him” in response to a direct question from a journalist. Cummings is deeply unpopular, this timidity helps no one except the Tories.
Starmer has tried to ‘both sides’ the debate over transgender rights. 5 We should not be sitting on the fence here, minority rights should not be up for debate.
Labour wrote their policy on housing during the Corona virus pandemic after after discussion with the main landlords’ body, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), but without consulting tenants’ organizations. The idea of a rent waiver for tenants during the pandemic was dismissed as “Un-Labour” and “really regressive” by the Shadow Housing Secretary. 6 Labour proposed instead granting renters two years in which to pay back any corona-related rent arrears, meaning renters would be shouldering the burden. Oh how generous, a load of debt to help my landlord pay his mortgage on one of his buy-to-let properties. Labour should be supporting renters not landlords. This should not be a controversial position.
The biggest threat to our continued existence on Earth. Starmer’s spokesperson stated that Labour could drop the 2030 net zero climate target that was in Labour’s manifesto, as Labour did not win the election. 7 This is bizarre. Climate change is not going away even if voters do not yet feel the urgency of the situation. A weak equivocal response. Labour should be fighting hard for A Green New Deal and aiming to convince voters of the urgency of the situation. The school strikes for climate show that there is an audience for this message.
Keir Starmer was slow to take action on the leaked Labour report. That detailed a toxic culture of anti-Black racism by senior Labour staffers towards Black Labour MPs, with Labour losing Black members and supporters due to this. 8 Starmer has finally announced an investigation into the leaked report.
However, a recent statement issued by the Labour Press office in response to a query from a journalist said:
“These were messages exchanged between co-workers in the expectation that they would remain private and confidential and the tone of the language used reflects that.”
The party added that it was “po-faced” to characterise the messages as “infantile”. 9 This does not give me confidence in the outcome of the investigation.
Keir Starmer took a knee for 'Black Lives Matter' (BLM), it was a good photo opportunity but might have upset some racists. Keir Starmer was interviewed about BLM on TV and referred to it as a “moment, not a movement”. He called the key demand of defunding the police “nonsense”, perhaps to pacify said racists. After angering many Labour members with this tone deaf response, he backtracked again and called BLM a ‘defining moment’. In a typically managerialist turn, Starmer has signed himself and all Labour MPS and Peers up to a 20-30 minute online ‘Unconscious Bias’ seminar. That’ll fix it, thanks Sir Keir.
Starmer released a statement in which he re-positioned the Labour Party on Kashmir. This ignored the position taken at Labour Annual Conference in 2019 to stand in solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Shamefully he stated that “Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully”, essentially withdrawing Labour’s support for Kashmiris to decide their own future.
Starmer condemned the tearing down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston as “completely wrong”. It was then reported that Labour would give their support to a plan by the government to jail people who deface monuments for up to ten years. Ten years for defacing a statue. Come on.
As the education unions urged caution over government plans to re-open schools during the Corona pandemic, the Labour leadership sought to distance itself from them, and instead talk about the importance of reopening schools. A lone front bench voice in support of the education unions was Rebecca Long-Bailey. Starmer sacked her from his front bench as soon as he could, on a spurious charge of anti-Semitism. This charge consisted of retweeting an article that had contained an inaccuracy about Israel. This lack of support for the education unions was frankly disgraceful. Anonymous senior Labour sources briefed the Telegraph that Long-Bailey’s replacement must “Stand up to the Unions”, and complained that 'she (Rebecca) wasn’t open to working with the Tories'. 10 Well done Rebecca.
Starmer promised that he would prioritise Party unity during his bid to become Labour leader. He has done the exact opposite. He has acted swiftly and ruthlessly to side-line the left of the party. If only Corbyn had been so ruthless. His response to anti-Semitism allegations against MPs has varied along factional lines. It seems that by ‘unity’, Sir Starmer means that the left must fall into line or be side-lined. It is interesting to note the voices calling for unity under Starmer who were vocally critical of, and refused to unite behind, Corbyn.
So many forensic disappointments, such a short period of leadership. Forensically, I wonder, what else does the sensible centrist future hold? As a socialist within the Labour Party, I am facing a difficult decision. Stay and fight, or leave and organise elsewhere? There are good people in the party who I am loath to leave and NEC seats to fight for, but with each attack on the left, each betrayal of those the party is meant to represent, I am finding it more difficult to stay. Starmer has won the support of odious racists Nigel Farage and Jeremy Clarkson and is not unhappy about it. The wrong people are enthused by his forensic opposition to opposition, and I am fearful of the future direction of the party. I’m leaning towards leaving but for now I’m perching uncomfortably on the fence, Starmer style. Sour grape, anyone?
Anna Southern is currently still hanging on in there as a member of Labour Berlin. She wrote this article for www.theleftberlin.com
1 Keir Starmer, fluffy TV interview, Good Morning Britain, 29th June 2020.
4 Keir Starmer, PMQs, 1st July 2020.
6 It really isn’t, see: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/07/labour-party-history-private-landlords-housing