Two years ago, left author Calvin Tucker analysed attempts by Starmer’s campaign to portray him as a radical during the 2020 leadership contest
Calvin Tucker is a left activist and writer based in London. The article below is adapted, with permission, from a post on his Facebook account yesterday.
Two years ago, as the Labour leadership contest got into gear, I wrote that I wasn’t buying his campaign’s attempt to repaint him as a radical. That analysis has stood the test of time. Here’s what I wrote then:
Keir Starmer’s relatively short parliamentary career (he was elected in 2015) is notable for two things: his participation in the failed ‘chicken coup’ against Corbyn in 2016, and then later, as the architect of Labour’s 2019 Brexit policy that lost the party its Leave-voting seats. On their own, these should rule out Starmer as a credible Labour leader who can unite the party and win back the heartlands in the North and Midlands. But we live in strange times.
Before becoming an MP, Keir Starmer was a high-flying lawyer. In November 2008, just six weeks after the collapse of Lehman precipitated the financial crisis, he was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). This was Starmer’s opportunity to call out the bankers who caused the crash and put the vast resources of the CPS behind prosecutions.
But he didn’t.
Instead, the mood in the country slowly changed, with a little help from the media of course. The Tories were able to successfully shift the debate from bankers to “‘the non-productive public sector’ vs ‘the productive private sector’” and “‘shirkers’ Vs ‘strivers’”. Divide and rule was now the name of the game.
Before too long, it wasn’t crony capitalism and bent bankers who were the problem, it was the parasitic public sector and the undeserving poor. As the poorest and most vulnerable were systematically targeted, the language used to demonise them became almost Victorian in its callousness. What, the media demanded, was Labour going to do about these spongers?
That was the context in which Keir Starmer announced in 2013 his “tough stance” on benefit cheats. He went far above and beyond the call of duty with his enthusiasm for the new Conservative / Lib Dem law, announcing:
It is vital that we take a tough stance on this type of fraud and I am determined to see a clampdown on those who flout the system.
“Benefits cheats,” the Guardian told us, “will face increased jail terms of up to 10 years in a crackdown.” The Sun newspaper surely missed a trick by not dubbing him: ‘Stormin’ Starmer’.
Starmer was, unmistakably, blowing a dog whistle – and as DPP, he must have known exactly how it would play out: scaring many poor people from even applying for benefits in case they made a mistake and got prosecuted. According to the Guardian: “The head of Citizens Advice warned prosecutors of not excessively punishing those who had made innocent mistakes or been caught unawares by ongoing and “fiendishly complicated” changes to the benefit system.“
Labour, meanwhile, called for “even stronger penalties”. Yet in the months and years before and after the benefits clampdown, no billionaires were sent to prison for costing us trillions by evading tax – and almost all MPs who defrauded their expenses were let off with a slap on the wrist and were allowed to stay in their jobs.
Very occasionally, socialists find themselves in a position of power and influence. It is then that their true character and politics are revealed. Keir Starmer could have been the champion of the little guy against the system. He could have made a difference. Instead, the half dozen MPs who were punished, were given sentences typically between 6 and 18 months, and mostly served their time in open prisons before being released after a few weeks. No 10-year jail terms for them. Not on Keir Starmer’s watch.
One of those half dozen jailbirds, Denis MacShane, has since made a mini career for himself as an anti-Corbyn pundit. Rehabilitation is wonderful thing. In an article in yesterday’s Times, he was refreshingly candid. In the changed environment of the Labour Party, he wrote, “every candidate must play to the hard left”. Members, in other words the ‘hard left’, would be wise to bear that in mind when they cast their votes for the next leader.
To put it in starker terms: You are being played. So when I peruse Keir Starmer’s campaign videos and articles, replete with grainy footage from the Miners Strike, Wapping, and the Poll Tax riots, I smell bullshit. A big fat steaming pile of bullshit. And before I cast my vote, I will apply that reliable old maxim: watch what they do, not what they say.
Skwawkbox, a handful of left sites and activists like Calvin Tucker warned the movement that Starmer was an impending disaster – and many begged the left hierarchy at the time to put forward a candidate who could beat him because Rebecca Long-Bailey wouldn’t. It is an enduring tragedy for this nation that the Starmer campaign con succeeded.
SKWAWKBOX needs your help. The site is provided free of charge but depends on the support of its readers to be viable. If you’d like to help it keep revealing the news as it is and not what the Establishment wants you to hear – and can afford to without hardship – please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal or here to set up a monthly donation via GoCardless (SKWAWKBOX will contact you to confirm the GoCardless amount). Thanks for your solidarity so SKWAWKBOX can keep doing its job.
If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.