Democracy is dead in Keir Starmer’s Labour

The colour-themed themed Labour Pary banner, flying over the 2021 Party Confrence hall, gives a clear statement of the leadership's intended direction of travel

JVL Introduction

Ken Loach, recently auto-expelled from the Labour Party, takes a long hard look at what Labour has become.

We understand his dismay and contempt for so much of what is taking place. And we are grateful to him for drawing attention to the purge that left-wing Jews are facing, which the Party and the mainstream media have tried to ignore.

Many, like him, have no alternative but to find outlets for their socialist commitments outside the Labour Party.

Others – many of those of us who can – are committed to staying and fighting within the Party in the hope, and expectation, that those currently driving the Party will burn out and crash, sooner rather than later.

Like Loach, we recognise the need for a new initiative.

In his words, we need “a broad, inclusive, independent labour movement that unites those both in and outside the Labour party. It should be led by people who are recognised, principled and trusted, and the support of left unions would be critical. They seem barely able to recognise  the multiple crises facing our society, and humanity in general, let alone offer credible solutions to them.”

This article was originally published by the Guardian on Tue 28 Sep 2021. Read the original here.

Democracy is dead in Keir Starmer’s Labour

Criticism of the leader is forbidden, while thousands of members have been expelled or left in disgust

In recent weeks, I have been wearing a badge of honour. I have joined the ranks of those expelled or suspended from the Labour party. My crime? To have supported a group, recently proscribed, who oppose unjustified expulsions from the party. This is the reality of Keir Starmer’s purge.

Even before Starmer’s current, ill-judged plans to weaken the influence of the rank and file, he was waging a campaign to silence dissent and drive out many thousands of members. One of his frontbenchers gave the game away when he boasted: “He [Starmer] has locked out the hard left.”

Democracy in the Labour party is now dead. Starmer’s leadership has seen new rules invented and applied retrospectively and constituency parties de facto suspended, their elected officers removed and replaced by reliable rightwingers. Candidates for elections are imposed from the centre, regardless of local wishes. Motions critical of Starmer or supporting his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, are ruled out of order, and constituency party chairs who allow them to be debated are suspended. You cannot criticise Starmer’s leadership, and you cannot criticise the fact that such criticism is not allowed.

Dedicated activists with many years in the party have been harassed and driven out, angry, exhausted and in despair.

Such calculated brutality in the party is unprecedented. Yet the media, usually so obsessed with Labour splits, stays silent. Columnists talk of Starmer putting Labour’s “house in order”. Some order! Estimates of how many have left the party since he became leader are between 100,000 and 150,000: many kicked out, the majority walking away in disgust.‎

Starmer promised unity, knowing all along he would declare war on the left. Some were taken in by his 10 pledges promising to continue Labour’s “radical work” and to keep Labour’s commitments to common ownership. As his weasel words on nationalising the big six energy firms revealed, he has reneged on these promises already. He embraced Corbyn in the 2019 election before putting a knife in his back at the first opportunity.

From the moment Corbyn became leader, the right wing was hellbent on getting him out. Its sense of entitlement was outraged to see him at the top of the party, and that was compounded when he, John McDonnell and close allies developed a programme that would have begun the transformation of society in the interests of the working class.

The wider establishment was horrified. Its anxiety increased when Labour nearly won the 2017 election on a radical agenda. Something had to be done; the party had to be “sorted out”. The weapon used was the toxic allegation that Corbyn had made antisemitism endemic in the party. The assassins were sitting alongside him, his fellow Labour MPs.

It was under the cloak of claiming to rid the party of antisemitism that Starmer and his New Labour advisers have abused the party rulebook to threaten and expel so many. Jewish Voice for Labour reports a purge of leftwing Jewish members, and claims that they are four times more likely to face “actioned complaints’” than non-Jewish members. Their own complaints of mistreatment within the party have gone unanswered. What an irony.

Now all memory of Labour’s recent radicalism is to be wiped out. Corbyn is rarely heard, while Tony Blair’s aides and speechwriters are trotted out as political sages, despite their roles as apologists for privatisations and an illegal war.

For the Labour right, success in elections comes from reassuring the ruling class that its wealth and power are safe in Labour’s hands. The left must be reduced to its customary role of marching, demonstrating, a political sideshow. Rupert Murdoch will put his arm round Starmer or his successor, as he did with Blair.

Can the left respond? How can we achieve the structural change so desperately needed? The many who were inspired by Corbyn are still here, both inside and outside the party. There is a resurgent left presence in the unions. There are so many campaigns – against racism and austerity, to protect the NHS and the environment – a long list that shows how dissatisfied we are with present society.

So many yearn for a world where the common good transcends private greed, and all can look forward to lives of security and dignity. This is a moment of opportunity, but if it passes and we do not keep all these elements together, the left will fragment again and descend into sectarianism. Hundreds of thousands will remain politically homeless.

A new party would face the same difficulties as in the past. But we need a new initiative – a broad, inclusive, independent labour movement that unites those both in and outside the Labour party. It should be led by people who are recognised, principled and trusted, and the support of left unions would be critical.

We have a wealth of talent: young activists, rising politicians, academics, medics and economists, as well as great leaders in the communities and grassroots organisations. They understand all too well what is happening and speak with clarity and passion.

Such a movement must stand on principles that get to the root of our problems. I joined Labour in 1964 and the words on my original party card are still a good beginning: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry … upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” What are we waiting for?

Watch Ken Loach on DoubleDownNews, 22nd September, here:

Comments (20)

  • Steve McKenzie says:

    It is absolutly clear to me that the main focus for socialists and genuine trade unionists has to be in the workplaces, in industry and in the union branches.

  • Peter Smith says:

    So clear and so accurate an analysis. Ken is a socialist titan. His rallying cry needs to be heard.

  • Dave says:

    Is this the first time the Guardian has carried an explicit statement from someone on antisemitism weaponisation? If so they must feel safe that they won as indeed they have: Ken Loach and Leah Levane and many others are expelled and more will be soon (anyone identifiable who attended the Resist event, for example).

  • Adrian Stern says:

    YES! Ken has said it all. I admit to have been deceived by Starmer – his title should have been a warning I suppose.

  • Stephen Flaherty says:

    “Can the left respond? How can we achieve the structural change so desperately needed?”

    That is, indeed, the question. And I speak as one on the verge of leaving Labour.

    “A new party would face the same difficulties as in the past. But we need a new initiative – a broad, inclusive, independent labour movement that unites those both in and outside the Labour party. It should be led by people who are recognised, principled and trusted, and the support of left unions would be critical.”

    It sounds great, and if I thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, I’d join it. But, under the FPTP electoral system we have, it doesn’t. It’ll either sink without trace like many others before it, or, if we’re “successful”, we’ll split the Labour vote, win maybe a dozen or two MPs, at the cost of allowing the Tories to take another 60 or so from Labour, letting the Tories into government for generations to come. That is, pretty much, what happened the last time a party “successfully” split off from Labour (I’m old enough to remember it, and I’m sure ken Loach is too.)

    I’m afraid it seems all too likely that “…the left will fragment again and descend into sectarianism. Hundreds of thousands will remain politically homeless.”

    Disputes? Possible solutions? (Apart from abandoning FPTP and backing PR, of course, but we’re not in a position to do that).

  • Martyn Meacham says:

    Starmer’s job is almost done. scottish labour is nonexistent.English labour is now totally unelectable. He will try and destroy Welsh Labour next.

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    Having watched and listened to Starmer`s long, turgid, empty, diatribe, I can only conclude that his role is to destroy democracy and rid Socialists from the Labour Party. His claim to be a “patriot” is offering a hand to the nationalist racist right and the dangerous path of populism. I am no longer in despair or surprised when comrades were excluded from entry to the Conference or when the Young Labour event was mysteriously cancelled without the knowledge of its members by a Labour Staffer. Neither was I surprised that the live stream plug was pulled on the debate on Palestine.
    Its clear that Socialism, anti-racism and support for human rights isnt dead: activists havent faded away because David Evans and his henchmen have expelled and suspended members, whilst thousands have walked away.
    The logistics of how we all unite to co-ordinate the fight at grass-roots level and make our voices heard against the Establishment Media din is a big issue. Im afraid I dont have an answer to that one, but we clearly need to combine our beliefs in democracy, socialism and anti-racism with our practical experience and organisation.
    United we stand.

  • Mary says:

    Love & Solidarity to ALL those persecuted by Starmer.

  • The Idea of an independent Labour party is a good idea and the name could also work to our advantage by getting our point across that we are different from the tories and starmers labour party
    The most important thing would be getting our voices and our ideas accross to the people without getting silenced by the biased MSM
    If we could get people to listen to what we stand for and persuade them that an Independent Labour party is a party that is different to both the tories and the existing Labour party and show the public that we mean business by the membership that we would attract because of what we would be standing for I don’t think we would be short of people joining or raising the funding that would be required.
    We need to be able to show that we will represent a wide majority of the public and listen to various groups of people from all walks of life And for each different group to have their own representative so we can understand their needs and listen to any ideas they have that would help us all going foreward as the Independent party
    Maybe call it
    The Peoples Independent Party
    with the slogan of
    Your Pathway for a Better Future

  • John Noble says:

    Starmer has to be sidelined, he will not go but the LP must die and be resurrected in safe hands.

  • Les Hartop says:

    So, some of us are in, and some of us are out.

    The right have been merciless and focused. Well we can be focused too… and merciless, though not merciless in the dishonest, mud-slinging, unprincipled, virulent ways the right have shocked us with.

    They keep telling us, only thing the right are interested in is seats.

    Cushy jobs with status in parliament. A stage where they can luxuriate in self-importance.

    Therefore their weak point is the ballot box. The ballot box is the main route to their command and control centre, their parliamentary havens where they plot their machinations against and hide from and dominate the membership.

    What we have been forced to consider is not voting for the right-wing MPs who voted for the rolling back of democracy that was passed at conference. Not voting for MPs who have shown their disrespect for democracy by harrying, attacking and ruining the reputation of the party whilst Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Not voting for MPs who do not support re-selection contests before every election.

    Support Labour candidates, and Green candidates, and other candidates, not based on their party badge, their false colours, but on their records.

    We have no control any more over who our MPs are. The only control we have is in the ballot boxes provided by the state.

    Are we going to use that power ?

  • Chimes says:

    What isn’t being openly acknowledged, however, even in this excellent article, is that UK is effectively a two party state. If democracy is undermined in one or both parties then, ipso facto, the whole of UK democracy is being undermined. Maybe this is to obvious to be stated outright, but I think it should be stated outright every time, so that the implication is widely understood.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Right on Ken! Or should I say… Left on Ken!

    PS So what’s happening with the Guardian suddenly giving space to truth-tellers?!

  • Doug says:

    We are the many
    Our bottom line has to be to get rid of Red Tories, they are in the wrong party

  • Tony says:

    And let us not forget the appalling conference speech from Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey:

  • John Bowley says:

    Ooh, Ken! This is so brilliant. I am temporarily lost for words. Ken has said them all. What a wonderful factual documenter Ken is. Oh, bring it on!

  • Mr N Haines says:

    I’m surprised there are no comments on this piece about Ken Loach’s interview as I submitted a fairly lengthy one making a mild critiscism of Jeremy Corbyn during his 50 years membership of the Party. Had he not had sufficient experience of the treacherous shenanigans of the rightwing in the PLP to justify not trusting any of them, neither those openly hostile from day one of his leadership, nor those he asked to join him in the shadow cabinet but whose political record should have given him pause for thought as to when to expect the knife in the back from them?
    Has Jeremy been elevated to uncritical political sainthood? There were some in the Party such as myself who’d joined in 1960 naively believing the Labour Party leadership was to be believed, only to have our illusions shattered by their attempts to scupper their own youth movement’s campaign in 1962/63 against the sudden growth of mass unemployment. We certainly learned a bitter lesson about the schemes and treachery of the Party’s right-wing, how come Jeremy was so unprepared for it decades later? Political leopards rarely change their spots!
    Those who decide what contributions appear on the JVL’s online newsletters no doubt might explain why my previous contribution on this matter hasn’t thus far shown up?

  • Chris Main says:

    I would certainly join a new left independent socialist movement – Ken’s ‘moment of opportunity’ is comparable to the 1900 Labour Representation Committee’s gathering of forces in the early days of the Labour Party. The urgency of climate change being the driving imperative for a new alignment of class forces, linking all the progressive elements that Ken talks so eloquently about in the recent ‘Defend the Left’ webinar and his interview with the Canary’s Steve Topple. I even agree with the suggestion of the ‘ILP’ as a possible name. It would allow for those who wish to stay in the LP to fight alongside a federation of left groups and campaigns outside of the party. It doesn’t have to be a new party: ‘movement’ being a good description, providing a ‘home’ for all those activists who’ve recently left the party and comrades outside of the party. And maybe, later, a new party could emerge?

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    We sadly are on the road to an authoritarian, undemocratic and fascist society/state, and shockingly it is Labour leadership who is pushing this forward. It started with edicts, ruling debates out of order, disallowing any form of criticism, suspending members who spoke up about this, expulsions, the barring of organisations they dislike immensely because they are socialist and challenge them, their actions.
    From mr starters speech only two things are in my memory (I actually nodded off during it): his insistence on patriotism, total law and order stuff. That for me is impossible. When working through the history of my country between 1933 and 1945, I learnt very quickly the risk of this wrong kind of patriotism which was coupled to racism and antisemitism. My generation of people grew up seeing themselves as Europeans first and foremost. We re in Europe we were born was not down to us. We also were very much aware of wanting to do all we could to stop a repeat.
    You see we did not learn about this dark part in our history at school or by reading books. German history ended in 1933 and restarted in 1945.
    Re in or out, I am pulled in two directions at the same time. I think we need to reflect on the past 20 months, the conference and the filthy dishonest tactics employed by the leadership and their acolytes. We need to discus strategies to counter them effectively.

  • Margaret West says:

    I see that many are leaving but I am hanging on – if only for the sake of our CLP which has not been targeted by Evans – yet. Everyone works so hard for the Community and so far we are left to get on with things.

    Did anyone else see Jeremy’s brief video on Face Book? He is encouraging young people to join the Labour Party. He is asked “Starmers Labour Party?” and goes on to respond words to the effect of “No THE Labour Party .. its your Labour Party .. ”

    Meanwhile conference hecklers are suspended and we are asked to help the LP out with extra contributions – words fail. Starmer is not doing well in the polls and there are manoeuvres .. It IS our Labour Party and one day we will seize it from those who have stolen it – the public are not fooled – they will not vote for a split party.

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