Phil Bevin worked in Jeremy Corbyn ‘LOTO’ office. Here, he gives his assessment of Keir Starmer’s conference, media misrepresentation and concludes that Starmer is more vulnerable than ever – and must be removed urgently.
“Starmer’s conference was a triumph. He crushed his enemies with rule changes that ensure Labour’s left wing can never regain the leadership, and the resignation of socialist front bencher Andy McDonald sent a clear message to the public that Labour is “back in business” and on course to beat the Conservatives at the next election; as a result, Starmer’s authority within the Party his stronger than ever and he has nothing to fear. This is why his team now feels confident enough to brief against Ed Miliband, probably the highest performing, highest profile member remaining in his shadow cabinet. Starmer has cemented Labour’s shift to the hard right and there’s no way back.”
At least that’s the impression you might get if your sole source of information is the mainstream media. But a closer look reveals an uncomfortable truth for the present Labour leader. Contrary to the ‘MSM’ consensus, Starmer is actually less secure after conference 2021 than he was going into it.
Why? Well, there was a reason Starmer wanted to pass the electoral college reforms for leadership elections and to raise the threshold for parliamentary nominations for potential leaders above 20%. Had he been successful in reintroducing the electoral college system, which would have given the right wing PLP considerably more weight in the voting process and forced members to have their say only via easy-to-rig CLP nominations, any challenge to his leadership from the left would have been utterly pointless.
But he failed, resulting in a high-profile, embarrassing climbdown. Moreover, in the main, the changes only apply to leadership elections where there is a vacancy, such as in the very likely scenario of Starmer having to stand down when Labour loses the next election. In the circumstances of a challenge to Starmer while he’s in post, the rules of the game have barely changed. Before conference, the nomination threshold for a potential challenger was 20% of the PLP and this is the same now. Yes, registered supporters are gone, but these were not decisive in electing Corbyn anyway.
This is actually worse for Starmer than had the PLP nomination threshold in circumstances of a leadership vacancy remained at 10%. Canvassing MPs over their willingness to back a challenge to an incumbent leader is a risky business. For those who haven’t previously been brave enough to speak openly against the leadership, there at least remained the possibility of keeping quiet until after the next election, when, while the 10% nominations threshold was in place, it would have been relatively easy for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot. Why burn bridges and take risks now, when you have a better chance of getting what you want later on?
Now, with the threshold raised to 20%, there is no incentive to wait. The likelihood of getting a left-wing candidate on the leadership ballot is the same while Starmer is leader as it is in the event that he steps down. Furthermore, the longer left-wing MPs wait, the less likely it is that their candidate will be successful in a ballot of members, ever more of whom are being purged by the leadership.
This would be less an issue for Starmer if his reputation among many who voted for him in 2020 had not been terminally undermined by the following during conference:
- The obvious gerrymandering of conference votes
- The dismissal of democratic votes on key policy issues,
- The abandonment of the 10 pledges on which he stood
- The disaffiliation of a founding union at a time of financial crisis for the party
- The resignation of a respected member of his front bench
Worse still for Starmer, the lie has also been given to claims that the rightwards drift of the Labour Party is popular with the general public by the fact that this year’s conference has not resulted in an identifiable polling “bounce”: Labour remains behind the Tories during a period of prolonged national crisis. Most worryingly for Labour, actual by-election results are consistently far worse than national polling indicates. Things look set to get a lot worse for the party very soon.
Had Starmer been open about his Blairite intentions during the 2020 leadership election, he’d never have won among members. However, it’s also worth remembering that one reason for lowering the PLP nomination threshold in 2015, was to ensure that an avowedly Blairite candidate could make it to the members’ ballot. In other words, the amount of parliamentary support for the hard-right turn of Starmer’s leadership should not be overestimated, especially as it looks set to lose many MPs their seats and there’s now no incentive to wait until after the next election before he is challenged.
Starmer’s actions as leader so far – the sackings, the gerrymandering, the expulsions and rule changes – are indicative of a leadership besieged by its own fear and a sense of paranoia, which is perpetuating a permanent state of crisis, not confidence. Perhaps this is because Starmer knows, and has always known, that he is unable to win an honest argument with his internal opponents and is incapable of putting forward a policy platform that will be popular with the public. Whatever the reasons for his actions as leader, it seems far more likely that the emerging attacks on Ed Miliband are a sign of insecurity, not strength.
Keir Starmer is a political minnow; he’s a tiny fish in a very small pond and likely feels it all too keenly. Worse, under his direction, the Labour pond is shrinking to a puddle and he seems to feel that there isn’t enough room within it to accommodate any bigger fish who might squeeze him out.
The longer Starmer stays, the more talented people will be side-lined or purged, and the smaller Labour will get, until it’s support dries up completely and it is no longer a viable electoral force. Conference 2021 has revealed Starmer’s weakness. The challenge for what remains of Labour’s left and now even centre-left is to not be weaker still. As his decision to write an editorial for the S*n shows, the present leader is so desperate for the establishment’s blessing that he’s willing to destroy Labour’s electoral base to get it. Starmer must go now if the Labour party itself is to survive.
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