Analysis comment Guest article

‘Lexiting Labour’ – divorcing the left from Labour and the Establishment

Jeremy Corbyn continued to look, and stand for. the left while others around him capitulated to Establishment interests, says Phil Bevin

This guest article is the second in a three-part series by former Corbyn ‘LOTO’ staffer Phil Bevin. For part one – on Corbyn, the left and Palestine – read here.

Brexit, the Labour left and the true meaning of Lexit

Many people maintain that the UK’s class war must be fought in and through the Labour Party. But if that’s the case it is already lost. The Party’s right has regained the ascendancy unchallenged and is engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of speech to prevent an “accident” like the Corbyn surge from ever happening again.

However, perhaps the Labour party never was an effective vehicle for real structural change in the UK. Traditionally, the Labour Party serves two mutually reinforcing purposes. On the one hand, it provides a way for people to express dissent and offers us the promise of progressive change within the boundaries of legitimacy set by the establishment; it patronises us with the comforting fairy-tale that, amidst the petty exchanges that characterise mainstream party politics in the UK, lies meaningful democracy. On the other hand, in performing this function it also serves as a means of control through which the establishment seeks to manage dissent and police which views fall within the limits of acceptable political debate. For example, from Labour’s “antisemitism crisis”, we learnt that challenging the UK’s foreign policy and its choice of military allies is considered out of bounds for participants within mainstream party politics, a status quo that is accepted by much of the Labour left. If Labour were a newspaper, it would be the Guardian: a progressive brand without substance.

Challenging the boundaries

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour challenged the boundaries of Labour’s traditional role, threatening to take the party beyond its remit, as set by the establishment; here was a political leader who was not seeking power for its own sake but serious in his intent to use it to establish a new political settlement that would work against the interests of war profiteers and billionaire tax avoiders – the very interests essential to the UK’s place at the financial heart of the Anglo-Saxon global empire, which the Labour Party is in part designed to protect.

At first glance, this appears to support the view that the left’s winning power in the Labour Party is a key strategic objective in Britain’s class war, certainly it might be true if the Labour left as a collective was demonstrably interested in making meaningful changes to the UK’s power structures and place in the international order. However, the events of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and failure of the Labour left to fully support their leader’s agenda suggest that this is not the case and that, rather than directly challenging the establishment, significant – even controlling – elements of the British left are more interested in negotiating their way into a bargained alliance with the holders of power. There is, in effect, a “left establishment” that mirrors and ultimately upholds the power structures of the state.

Mimicking the enemy’s values

When the left elite feels threatened by its establishment counterpart, it has historically mimicked its counterpart’s values and priorities, taking on the underlying narrative of the powerful as its own in the hope that this will encourage the establishment to not only pull its punches, but also reach out and embrace certain aspects of the left’s agenda as “unthreatening”. As I explained in my previous guest article for Skwawkbox, we saw this behaviour manifest during the 2018 “antisemitism crisis”, when the left capitulated to the right’s demands that the party adopt the deeply flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism, leading to a campaign, which activists justifiably describe as “the witch hunt”.

The folly of this “strategy” of accommodation and collaboration with supposed internal opponents is further revealed by the left’s response to the Brexit saga. On this, Oliver Eagleton’s book, The Starmer Project: a Journey to the Right is helpful.

If Owen Jones’s risible “This Land” seeks to bolster the narrative espoused by those sympathising with the left’s pro-Remain faction, Eagleton’s work essentially validates the Karie Murphy/Seumas Milne position regarding Brexit. Eagleton’s is, in my view, by far the better and more accurate book.

The ‘Starmer-McDonnell faction’

Eagleton refers to a “Starmer-McDonnell faction” and a “pro-EU network established after the 2018 Labour Party Conference, which called itself the Bruges group. Eagleton also names several prominent staff members within the Leader’s Office as having worked alongside this faction.

Eagleton’s analysis raises the uncomfortable question of whether, from 2018 conference onwards, those left leaders who were collaborating with Starmer had, for practical purposes, now ceased to be part of the Corbyn Project and become participants within the Starmer project: the then Brexit Secretary’s long leadership campaign, characterised by the Party’s journey to the right.

There was never any persuasive evidence that adopting a commitment to a second referendum would represent anything other than a major electoral liability; the proposal rested on the dubious assumption that Labour would somehow attract swathes of former Liberal Democrat and soft Tory voters to compensate for the loss of Leave voting Labour supporters. Any sensible polling analyst will tell you that the best way to predict how people are going to vote in the future is how they’ve voted previously, so rather than being a viable electoral strategy, committing to a second referendum was tantamount to the Party relying on good fortune, while knowing the odds were stacked against it. That parts of the left worked hard to ensure that the Labour leadership became hostage to this plan is truly shocking and a major scandal.

That said, in hindsight, by spring-Summer 2019, the argument that the “Starmer-McDonnell faction” represented the establishment point of view in contrast to the more populist left Brexit – or ‘Lexit’ – agenda of Murphy and Milne rests more on the presentational rhetoric of the latter camp than substance. After all, Murphy and Milne’s hopes of resolving Labour’s Brexit woes rested upon successful negotiations with Theresa May’s Tory Government and securing a cross-party deal that would achieve majority support in Parliament. This strategy was flawed for several reasons, perhaps the most important of which only came to light very recently.

A right-wing plot

Just this week, the Grayzone published a report alleging “a plot by pro-Leave elites to sabotage Theresa May’s Brexit deal, infiltrate government, spy on campaign groups, and replace May with Boris Johnson”, which was in play as early as 2018. Former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, whom emails revealed to have been involved, apparently believed Johnson represented the best chance of “seeing off” Corbyn and “accommodating the Farage Threat.”

The forces working behind the scenes in the pro-Leave camp apparently saw ousting May and a hard Brexit delivered by a Johnson premiership as key to defeating Corbyn. It is therefore unlikely that a deal struck between the Corbyn leadership and May’s government would have done anything but hasten the latter’s departure from Downing Street. In this scenario, Corbyn would have also been faced with having to explain his decision to do a deal on Brexit with the Conservative Party to his Tory-hating and largely pro-Remain base of support within Labour, without having anything to show for it, while perhaps even being held partially responsible for the accession of Johnson. Labour Remainers in the PLP were already itching for a coup and it’s hard to imagine a better pretext for a Starmer-led challenge, especially as Starmer was already collaborating with key members of Corbyn’s inner circle. Murphy and Milne can at least feel vindicated that they were correct to identify the second referendum policy as disastrous. They were also right in their assessment that the hope of Labour going into the next election retaining 2017 manifesto policy on Brexit had already, by Spring-Summer 2019, been terminally undermined by the agitation for a second referendum from the “Starmer-McDonnell” faction; their only chance of putting the issue to rest before the next general election was to do a deal with May.

‘Risk-averse corporatist elites’

Nevertheless, it is striking that both sides of the left leave-remain split ultimately based their hopes for success on negotiating with establishment forces that were fundamentally opposed to the idea of a Corbyn led Government both in principle and in practice. To me, this demonstrates the fundamental problem with the Labour Party’s approach to politics, which reflects the conservative tendencies of traditional trade unionism. The big UK trade unions tend to prioritise mediating capitalism through improvements to worker pay and conditions, delivered via negotiations with the ruling class, above wholesale structural economic change brought about by popular mobilisation. In truth, the big unions that bankroll the Labour Party rarely represent the transformative vanguard of the working class and tend to act as risk averse corporatist entities, much like the Labour Party itself. To those who disapprove of this characterisation, it’s worth remembering that trade unions played a key role in scuppering attempts to secure open selection as Labour policy, which could have significantly altered the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to the benefit of the Corbyn Project.

The tendency to negotiate and seek accommodation with the “class enemy”, which characterised the willingness of some on the left to ally themselves with the Labour right’s campaign to sabotage the Party’s Brexit position, is therefore not simply a unique feature of a particular faction of the Labour left but an arguably core element of Labourism itself. We’d seen this before, too, when members from all of Labour’s Brexit factions leant on the leadership to force it into making the disastrous decision to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples. The Labour left, embedded as it is within the norms and culture of the Labour party, rarely presses home its arguments for change. It will always seek to negotiate with power, and when that fails, capitulate, rather than force real change.

Forcing vested interests to expose themselves

The sheer extent of the self-sabotage by the Labour left over the “antisemitism crisis” and Brexit, as well as its unwillingness to stand up to Starmer’s authoritarianism, gives the lie to the notion that Labour is a vehicle for comprehensive societal change. This tendency has perhaps reached its nadir in past few weeks, as ‘senior’ figures in the Labour left have laughably praised Starmer – who has led a purge against their own supporter base – as a man of integrity.

We shouldn’t see this realisation as a bad thing or confirmation that change can’t happen. Nor does it devalue the significance of the Corbyn Project, because, at its heart, stood an individual who was serious about using his position to deliver transformational change in the interests of the people. Corbyn himself is worth the hype and would have made a fantastic PM. His resilience and determination are what forced the vested interests within the Labour Party and even the Labour left to expose themselves.

Were he a weaker man, many of us wouldn’t have the knowledge we now possess, and this has gifted us an opportunity; if the Labour Party is of no use to serious socialists, it can no longer control our dissent. Now, we need not fear the disapproval of or punishment by the Labour establishment: councillors, MPs, CLP Chairs, Momentum steering committees, Labour front groups, and Party elder statesmen from the left or right.

We no longer have to rely on compromised politicians to deliver change on our behalf, on their terms, and can see them more clearly for what they truly are, as well as the role that they play. We can drive our own change within our communities; with the knowledge we now possess comes the power to save ourselves. Perhaps the true meaning of Lexit should be the divorce of the socialist left from the Labour Party and its associated institutions and outrider organisations.


  1. You are going to need some deep pockets to cover all those lost deposits.

    !”it’s worth remembering that trade unions played a key role in scuppering attempts to secure open selection as Labour policy, which could have significantly altered the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to the benefit of the Corbyn Project.”

    According to Len McCluskey the Unions were following Jeremy Corbyn’s instructions when they voted down mandatory reselection.
    In Len’s own words

    1. Did Aspire need deep pockets to cover their lost deposits in Tower Hamlets? Was smarmerism so popular to have kept it’s deposit in cChesham? Did the independent mayoral candidate for Liverpool put the shits up the keef-imposed fat Jo Anderson mkii?

      Where were all these sweeping gains in the local elections we were more-or-less guaranteed, hmm?

      Once again, you’re talking through keefs’ arse, nevermind your own. Once again you’re flogging that long dead horse, you sick bestialist.

    2. Two Cheeks
      How many fingers am I holding up
      Simple calculation
      How many supporters would he bring to the new party multiplied by £5 month
      Even with your limited numeracy you still think finance would be an issue
      Fuck me pink

    3. Its called covering your arse. Continually hanging your hat on this exercise in trying to reframe the narrative by McCluskey is sheer desperation on your part steveH to justify your untenable position.

      1. Dave – I’m not feeling in the least bit desperate, I’m not the one who felt the need to write the drivel that you posted at 9:03pm?
        All I have done is post what Len McCluskey wrote about this at the time which to the best of my knowledge nobody has to date challenged. Are you accusing McCluskey of lying?
        As for your silly accusations of attempts to reframe, go away and read the article that I linked to and you’ll find that it supports what I said in my original post at the start of this comments section and more besides.
        What untenable position are you accusing me of trying to justify?

  2. SteveH, you seem to find the idea of loyalty behind a leader to a principled party difficult to grasp. Thank heavens Len and most of the democratic left didn’t in the main. The one thing has been learnt thanks to Starmer, Evans and the Trilateral Commission: Never try to ‘accommodate’ the unacceptable.

  3. The issues that made people listen to and adopt the ideas of socialism have not gone away.
    Neither have the basic questions that drove people to build Trade Unions.
    It is this that makes Starmer and his allies irrelevant- their only purpose was to sabotage the working class movement. And now there isn’t much left to sabotage.
    The best measure of the problem is going to be the response of the Trade Unions to plummeting living standards and the ruling class’s determination to smash the last remnants of Trade Unionism to level the Labour Market playing field to the lowest common denominator.
    We are headed towards a situation in which the working people will be unprotected as employers set out to do, what has already been done in the United States, reduce the number of organised workers to about a tenth of the work force.
    And what does anyone imagine the current Trade Union leadership are going to do about it?
    There are effectively no socialist MPs in Parliament, for the first time in almost 150 years there is no organised group of MPs even ready to demonstrate minimal solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn.
    And are there any Union leaders prepared to break the law- class law aimed at them- and ensure that a Railway Strike is effective?
    We are back at ground zero.

      1. Apparently, smarmerist labourship member numbers are decreasing all the time….

      1. bevin – Oops, sorry my comment at 10:51pm should have been addressed to ‘goldbach below.

    1. Joseph, re your third paragraph about union response. You may have missed Sharon Graham’s statement in response to the Tories latest union busting legislation. I like particularly like the last paragraph.

      “Responding to the latest threats by the government to undermine workers’ right to strike, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite will confront head-on and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike.

      “In Britain we already operate under the most restrictive labour laws in Western Europe. A workers’ right to withdraw their labour is inalienable in any democracy worth its name.

      “This is a cynical, authoritarian move designed to protect corporate profits and has been wheeled out to satisfy the needs of short-term factional politics.

      “While corporations make billions and ordinary working people suffer, this government chooses to attack the rights of British workers.

      “When P&O, a billion-dollar company owned by a foreign dictatorship, brutally sacked 800 British workers, they broke the law. The government’s response was a fine.

      “When British workers threaten to defend their living standards in the face of a cost-of-living crisis not of their making, this government threatens to take away their democratic rights.

      “We are now forced to put the government on notice. Unite will not sacrifice the protection of our members’ jobs, pay and conditions on the altar of ‘party gate’. If you force our legitimate activities outside of the law, then don’t expect us to play by the rules.

      “And Labour now needs to stand up and be counted. I don’t want hard-to-believe promises for the future; we need concrete action now. This is an attack on working people and on the whole of the labour movement. It’s time for the political wing that was founded by and continues to be funded by our members to step up to the plate.”

  4. “You are going to need some deep pockets to cover all those lost deposits.”
    Whether or not we agree with Phil Bevin’s analysis, surely his analysis should not be misunderstood or, worse, misrepresented. He clearly advocates working through other than parliamentary means (“We can drive our own change within our communities”), so to twitter on with the stock comment about lost deposits is a nonsense.
    Disagree with him by all means, but don’t misrepresent.

    1. goldbach – Please see my 10:51pm comment above which I mistakenly addressed to ‘bevin’.

      1. “I gave the contents of the above article the respect it warranted.” – No, that is a false statement. You implied that the article had stated something which it did not state. You either misread, misunderstood or misrepresented.
        State clearly where you disagree with the analysis, and why you disagree, and I will give your opinions the respect they deserve. I may agree with you. I may disagree. It’s called debate. Give it a go.

  5. A very good analysis of the inevitable destruction of the labour party.
    IN plain English those of you that continue to feed the labour party are either right wing or seriously deluded …step back and realise that you are part of the problem whilst the labour party collaberate with establishment politics in Britain.The real change as come across the Irish sea.,and shown that democratic socialism and a belief in the collective struggle can appeal to even those whos background and faith do not sail with socialism.Good article all round and a roadmap for all the working class to come together and finish the job of destroying the conservative and unionist party in collaboration with the labour party.

    1. Ps apart from this good article on why the labour party should go and die,theres a good article on the jubilee celebrations in the Canary and the reason why the Royal parasites are part of the same establishment as the labour party….archaic and backward looking instep with colonialist system of pomp and privalage.and not fit for any democracy.

  6. Good article. Looking forward to third part.

    Confirms much of what I said quite some time ago. I’ll never forgive the so called labour left for their crimes against the many.

    Wonder if John will be thinking about his actions come q4 2022 when hunger starts to bite and the cold won’t go away for months? Doubt it…

  7. Corbyn was as much deluded by the inevitability of Labour as anyone else, from the abandonment of his antipathy toward the EU to advancing an albeit half-hearted Remain campaign (as Remainer May was accomplishing the complimentary volte-face, also in the name of misguided party loyalty), to his current gnomic utterings that stop short of renouncing the entity that defenestrated him.

  8. General Strike
    Mass resignation from party but dont tell them, just stop your D/D
    Ask JC to jump ship
    Targeted BDS against kleptocracy
    Cherry pick a legal challenge

  9. The British political outlook has gone from buzzing with hope and excitement(2015-2019) to the depths of despair.

    There must be hundreds of thousands,nay, millions, for whom Corbyn being there was a constant comforting thought… a ray of hope that the evil bastards wouldn’t always triumph.

    I do think however, as good a man as Corbyn was and is in terms of his rock-solid, consistent socialist values, he was ill-equipped for what came with the leadership. It was very much unexpectedly thrust upon him, late in his political career. It’s simply unrealistic to expect a man of his senior years to have the energy to deal with all the almost demonic viciousness aimed at undermining him daily: the plotting (incl. by HQ staffers); leaks and constant sniping from a Blairite PLP working closely with their centre-right allies in the press. A press harassing him 24/7. Add in the people in the security establishment + broadcasters and you’ve got a leadership being fully destabilised.

    The introduction of Open Selection or mandatory reselection was indeed the key opportunity missed. Corbyn should have understood its importance to ‘the project’ and argued and fought relentlessly for it. The 580,000 members could’ve democratically done the heavy lifting against the vile PLP. Without it there was simply no viable Corbyn-led govt. As the likes of Hodge, Streeting and all the other wreckers would’ve brought a narrow majority Corbyn premiership down in no time. Chris Williamson knew this and paid a helluva price for trying to do something about it.

    1. Agree entirely Andy, as Phil has outlined, Corbyn to that extent capitulated to the establishment controlling the Labour Party and his continued support for it despite being ostracised demonstrates a kind of Stockholm Syndrome mentality which is suffered by all socialists who remain a member.

  10. If Jeremy Corbyn is not allowed to stand for Labour in the next GE it could fire a starting gun for the hundreds of thousands of us Left Wing Democratic Socialists out there and the spirit of Corbyn would be back on.
    And if each of those gave just £10 to a crowdfunding campaign that’s £2m though some who can afford it would happily give more.
    This is a good piece by Phil.
    But what some of the left haven’t clicked on yet is if JC had won in 2017 how much of his programme would he have been able to get through relying on Wing Labour MPs?
    It’s getting closer to the JC Labour Corbyn Decision Day and I would argue for a fresh start without the dead hand of Labour’s Right Wing – MPs & members!
    And whilst Right Labour has captured the Labour brand name, a Corbyn movement would offer a counter brand name backed up by hundreds of thousands (often experienced campaigners) of us enthusiasts! Solidarity!

    1. Bazza – Has anyone actually asked Jeremy whether he intends to stand at the next general election? 🤔

  11. Oops relying on Right Wing Labour MPs and sorry Andy didn’t see your post as I posted after reading the opinion piece.

  12. A ‘Corbyn movement’ is not what’s needed – it panders to the winner takes all mentality that is corrosive and undemocratic regardless of who the winner happens to be. If there is a cabal of elites running the show then nothing would delight them more than perpetuating tired binaries, be they left/right or Labour/Tory.

  13. I am one day older than JC & believe he compromised his beliefs, because he is too nice! Must get up off of your knees because @ 73 it’s uncomfortable. My wife has just been elected a Labour local councillor & I have resigned from the Labour Party for the 2nd time in my life (fun debate @ breakfast). I 1st joined the Labour Party over 50 years ago as an idealistic kid who believed it stood for Socialism. Tony Benn was my MP.

    The hypocrisey of Mr & Mrs Kinnock nearly did it but it was the war criminal Blair that finally made me realise that the Labour Party is no home for Socialists.. Jeremy again offered hope (the killer) but that was quickly extinguished. Like America, there is so little difference between major political parties & when the murderous Johnson is removed by public opinion carefully orchestrated by MSM, we will have all 3 political parties Pro-Nato & seeking to rejoin the European Union. The moral panic of anti-Semitism, endorsed by MSM did the trick for Starmer by removing Socialism forever from the political agenda.

    As in USA, we have gov’t by MSM & Socialism will never be allowed to flourish in Neo-Liberal Capitalist Britain. The concept of being ‘left-wing’ is about as meaningful as ‘Rock’ is in music. Left-Wing now has nothing to do with Socialism, it is a term imported from USA to define ‘identity politics’, thus making David Cameron a liberal leftie in Guardian reader’s terms. The Guardian never has been a supporter of the Labour Party because of its Socialist roots, but now Sir Keir Starmer’s revamped version of Blair’s vision merits supoort from the Murdoch Press too.

    1. The US is an example of why the idea that both parties in a two-party system can be infiltrated and compromised, should be taken seriously and not dismissed as ‘crank’ musings or conspiracy theories. I honestly don’t know why the likes of Epstein’s mate Mandelson, Trilateral Commission’s Starmer and Banker Reeves are in the Labour party at all?

      Naivety : There is no basis for believing those who’ve grown extremely wealthy under the status quo will simply sit back and let change unfold that potentially strips them of some of that wealth. Starmer’s Trilateral Commission membership should be an immediate red flag. Why the unions and members can’t wake up to what’s happened here, idk?

      Writing for the Sun & Times and FT interviews is another giveaway. Imagine if a Tory leader were writing for the Morning Star.

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