Keir Starmer’s Pathetic Witch Hunt

Illustration: Steve Bell/The Guardian, 29 October 2020

JVL Introduction

Blogger Phil Burton-Cartledge has been following British political life and the fortunes of both Labour and Tory parties for quite a while.

Here he muses on Keir Starmer’s golden opportunity, as all Covid-19 precautions are thrown to the wind, of articulating public anger and fear about the Tories’ “psychopathic course”.

So what does Starmer do?

He launches a purge.

What better way of redeeming his pledge to unify the party…

The author concludes: “Anyone with a leftwing, socialist bone in their body should stand against this petty purge.”

Thanks to the author for permission to repost.

This article was originally published by All That Is Solid ... on Sat 17 Jul 2021. Read the original here.

Keir Starmer's Pathetic Witch Hunt

We’re told that opposition in the age of Covid is hard. Boris Johnson is enjoying a vaccine bounce, and people have tuned out from politicians who aren’t in the government. This, according to Keir Starmer’s defenders, is why Labour are trailing in the polls and done have badly in the last three by-elections. With the government determined to throw caution to the wind by dropping virtually all legal precautions from Monday, the public jittery about it, and Johnson forced to wind down his Freedom Day rubbish, Labour has a golden opportunity. Indeed, as hospitals fill up and infections mount the Labour leader has a rare second chance, a moment he could spend wiping the slate clean by articulating the anger and fear about the Tories’ psychopathic course.

Instead, Keir Starmer is mounting a purge.

According to The Mirror, Starmer is to expel four groups of activists from the party next week. These are the Chris Williamson vehicle Resist (which, tbh, I thought was entirely outside of Labour anyway), Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile, and Socialist Appeal. The paper is being very generous to say their total membership amounts to a thousand activists, which at first glance makes the mooted proscriptions somewhat puzzling. Given the faction wars the right provoked from the moment of Jeremy Corbyn’s election, none of these organisations – with the exception of Chris himself – were key players. If anything, the first three are more or less groups that have come together in the conflict’s aftermath, and groups individual activists and the odd small left outfit. Socialist Appeal is different, being a Trotskyist organisation and one of the descendents of the Militant tradition. Except they’ve hardly had a prominent role in Corbynism, and have been practically invisible to the wider labour movement since their formation in 1991/92. What is the thinking?

Control, of course. The only power the Labour right are serious about winning is in the party they deem theirs as of right. The four targeted organisations don’t have mass followings and are inconsequential, which is entirely the point. Giving them the heave-ho sends a message to the much larger Momentum which, readers will know, is backed by a couple of unions and has deeper roots in the wider membership. It reads you’re next. That is if it starts organising as seriously as Labour First does. Not that any of the left are going to be put off by this pathetic display of “strength”. The mass base of Starmerism has been eroded in the party following the leader’s lame stunts and dismal performance, and he and his close supporters know there isn’t an appetite among his passive support in the ranks and, crucially, the union bureaucracies and sections of the party apparat for a return to open warfare. This is Mr Unity, and his position becomes even more precarious should the facedown with Momentum come – all the more reason then to ensure the Starmerist position isn’t strengthened.

The second? It’s how Tony Blair won things, innit. The mythology says New Labour only won in 1997 because of Blair’s public confrontation with the Labour and union left over the old Clause IV. The likes of Peter Mandelson have likewise urged this course to make Labour electable – just ignore the polls that show Starmer is the main drag on the party’s performance, and pay no mind to how Labour were doing before John Smith’s untimely death. The thinking goes if the party is pacified then, and only then is it fit for office. It was rubbish in the 90s, and in the age where radical structural transformation is needed to mitigate climate change, tackle the health challenges, deal with Britain’s continuing economic decllne, and manage the multiple crises of housing, adult care, the decay of social security and the public sector, it’s the most foolish, electorally toxic, self-indulgent course of action available to the Labour leader. But the likes of the Mandelsons, the Blairs, the centrist newspaper columnists, and those elements of the Labour right more motivated by fighting the left than the Tories have to be mollified. Especially if the appearance of action, of making the party safe for capital again, attracts back “high net worth” donors. Chucking out Trots and undesirables is designed to show Starmer is following their playbook, and is happy to fire up a witchhunt down the line if necessary. But given how the targets are small fry, with what he perceives a minimum of political blowback.

We know what the game is, and obviously it has nothing to do with winning elections and taking the fight to the Tories. Proscribing these four organisations is driven by internal politicking, of consolidating Starmer’s petty and brittle authoritarianism, of trying to cow the left and currying favour with (would-be) establishment backers concerned by his record of failure. Anyone with a leftwing, socialist bone in their body should stand against this petty purge. And remind ourselves again that we’re not dealing with just another Tory-lite Labour leader but an existential threat. Starmer is more likely to lead the party into complete collapse than Number 10 and government.

Comments (12)

  • Margaret West says:

    I think that many in the LP who object to this Purge Project are waiting for it to crash and burn.

    A Labour MP who wanted to include JVL on the list (because they are “outright communists”) has been attacked on twitter. The MP has apparently now been reported to the Labour Party as antisemitic for wanting to exclude a group of its Jewish members.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    The problem with Labour is not just Starmer but the PLP. They are reactionary, anti-socialist, anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, anti-climate, anti-diversity, anti nationalization. anti-BLM, anti-Corbyn, pro Israel, pro nuclear, pro-Blair and pro Trident. They are irredeemable and unremovable; their teeth are fastened tight on the party’s lower regions and will remain so for decades. Best encourage Starmer to accelerate his attack on the membership to the point where the party finally collapses, making way for a new left of centre grouping. It’s already in its death throes; one more election should see the last of it.

  • Dr Paul says:

    I wrote this elsewhere on this business:

    The more I think about it, the more I think this is the start of a major purge of the left.


    1. Threaten to expel three tiny, insignificant groups and one bigger but still uninfluential entrist group, one that is a shadow of its former self.

    2. See how the rest of the Labour left responds. a) Do they protest and thereby court expulsion themselves? b) Or do they avert their gaze and hope that the heat won’t be applied to them?

    Either ‘a’ or ‘b’ will suit the party bureaucracy; ‘a’ will bring forth a purge quicker than ‘b’, but it’s only a matter of the time-scale. Differences amongst and within the (so far) non-threatened groups over which course to take will be played on by the bureaucracy. Good old Stalinist ‘salami tactics’!

    So… Who’s next? Other small left groups, such as Socialist Resistance, are an obvious target. Unlike the Millies of the 1980s, who had a hefty membership and quite a bit of influence in places, most left groups today are pretty small and uninfluential. So why target them? Momentum and the Labour Representation Committee are the big ones, and, I believe, the main target. The small fry are just the warm-up, a test-run: whack them first, then go for the big ones.

    The expulsion of Momentum or the LRC will cause much dismay within the party’s left and will encourage many left-wing members, including those not affiliated to any faction, to drop out of activity or of the party altogether. That too, I believe, is the intention. Combine this with other recent moves, such as the restrictions upon what a party branch may discuss, and the scene is set for a major reset of the party as a right-wing social-democratic outfit.

  • Linda says:

    I think it’s unwise and unethical to wait passively in the hope that Starmer’s Purge Project will crash and burn.

    The UK is in crisis, facing imminent risks to its continuance as a democracy (we seem to be well on the way towards dictatorship). The only possible alternative to the Tory government in the UK is Labour – but Starmer’s Labour seems nearly as unprincipled and unconstitutional as Johnson’s Conservative party.

    I find it difficult to think how Starmer and co can be stopped from continuing on the disastrous path they’re now on.

    A mass “subscriptions strike” over a limited period by the unions and membership might knock sense into them – but it would be horrendously difficult to organise. If Turner wins the leadership of Unite then perhaps Unite could be asked to lead this exercise.

    A mass social media campaign might be an easier way to make the same point (if there are any high-profile, social media savvy Labour stalwarts to lead / organise it).

  • Doug says:

    Between 1997 and 2010 New Labour lost 5 million votes and almost bankrupted the party
    Twas JC who saved it by giving people clear Red Water a real choice
    New New Labour will crash and burn, who are they, who funds them, they are few and their resources are limited
    My dog could win a leadership challenge, so who is going to stand up

  • Margaret West says:

    Notwithstanding my first comment – good luck with
    your petition which I have signed!

    The MSM refers to the proscribed organisations as “toxic” –
    whereas it is the way the LP is treating its members that is toxic.

  • Nick Elvidge says:

    Group punishment is illegal and Coyne a fascistic ****. No expulsions except right wing racists named in Forde enquiry!

  • Gen Doy says:

    i am glad this MP has been reported as anti-semitic but i doubt if anything will happen to him or her. right-wing MPs are welcome in Starmer’s Labour Party, and probably most other iterations of the LP, alas.

  • Joseph Hannigan says:

    We need a panel of strongly debating members to lead. Attlee did it not too badly. Starmer cannot do it on his own.Policies,policies,policies.

  • Margaret West says:

    Linda- I agree with you that waiting for Starmers “project” to “crash and burn” is unwise. I think the left was shell-shocked – I certainly was!
    The petition is a good start in doing something as is engaging on social media.

    Someone in the MSM may pick up on JVL being threatened but not sure if they care or even understand.

  • steve mitchell says:

    The idea that the Labour Party was infiltrated by Trotskyists when Corbyn became leader is just ludicrous. There are probably no more than a couple of thousand of them in the whole country. Labour membership rose by 300 thousand . All Trotskyists ? Its comical.

  • Paul Tully says:

    I left the party when Corbyn was expelled – I know that sounds like giving in, but I cannot, in all conscience vote for a right-wing Labour Party that colludes in drumming out free speech – i.e. those who have different views of what ‘being Labour’ means. I want a fairer society, worker representation, a community focus, investment in public services, decency and a bigger state that takes care of the vulnerable. For me – that is what Corbyn stood for and I found it refreshing. Starmer and his supporters in the PLP set out the conditions which enabled JC to fail and be hung out to dry. That isn’t a Labour Party I want to belong to. I hope someone can persuade me I am wrong and should return, but it starts with JC’s re-instatement for me.

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