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Why Keir Starmer should not be Prime Minister
Starmer’s involvement in Corbynism is the elephant in the room – he does not have the moral character to be Prime Minister
Keir Starmer is reforming the Labour Party. Having accepted the results of the EHRC inquiry, Starmer removed the whip from Jeremy Corbyn and proscribed several Corbynite groups. The Labour conference confirmed this approach, delegates approving a new disciplinary process. Though reflecting external pressure, this approach shows the preferences of Starmer; since he has become leader, Starmer has laid down his authority.
Moderates tend to welcome these developments, proclaiming the return of the Labour Party. The measures are laudable, yet raise critical questions about the character of Starmer. In the 2019 election, Starmer endorsed an agenda that is unacceptable in the current party. There were myriad antisemitic incidents in the Corbyn party, many involving the leader; over 85% of British Jews regarded Jeremy Corbyn as antisemitic. Ultimately, the EHRC found that the Labour Party committed unlawful acts. Crucially, Starmer acknowledged the results of the EHRC report, apologizing to the Jewish community.
I think that there was a serious problem in Labour, reflecting the values of the leadership, yet accept that there were alternative, legitimate perspectives. Jon Lansman, a Jewish Corbynite, adopted a reasonable position, conceding that there was a problem with antisemitism, but not regarding the Corbyn project as irredeemable. Though not made explicit, this was the pre-election position of Starmer. Had it been anything else, membership of the shadow cabinet would have been unfeasible.
But if one adopted this stance prior to the 2019 election, a similar position had to be assumed later. Lansman did this, arguing against the suspension of Corbyn. Harder positions were unfeasible, little time elapsing and few new facts emerging. Starmer did not adopt a similar stance. Rather, he performed a volte-face, removing the whip from Corbyn and introducing stringent disciplinary procedures. This makes Starmer look terrible. Had Corbyn won the 2019 election, an outcome Starmer would still claim to prefer, Starmer would have occupied a senior role in the Corbyn government. Had this occurred, one is free to believe that Starmer would have reacted similarly to the EHRC report, perhaps resigning from the cabinet. I do not believe this. Whilst Corbyn held power, Starmer’s positions were consistently milquetoast. At the heart of the Starmer reforms, there is a painful paradox. The more Starmer does, the worse he looks.
Admittedly, others would have acted like this; politicians tend to exploit political space. But Starmer was caught, other cases remaining hypothetical. Starmer now defines certain positions as unacceptable, yet endorsed them himself, when it was politically convenient. There were other issues with Corbynism, but none indict Starmer like this. Though Corbyn’s threat to national security was debated, there is no evidence that Starmer regarded Corbyn as a risk. Significantly, there is proof that Jonathan Ashworth thought so, the shadow health secretary being recorded suggesting that Corbyn was a threat to national security. Starmer’s fitness for office is ambiguous, but the case of Ashworth is unequivocal. Given the seriousness of the area and brazenness of the behaviour, Ashworth should not be in politics.
Implications are ambiguous. Many politicians have done worse things. Among social democrats, Tony Blair (Iraq) and Felipe González (GAL) perpetrated graver misdeeds than Starmer. Though Starmer should not become Prime Minister, poor alternatives mean that I may vote for Labour at the next election. I would not vote for a party led by Blair, González or Ashworth, but could just stomach Starmer.
This is far from ideal. Ironically, Labour has many suitable politicians. If one supports the current Starmer reforms, opposition to Corbynism was most consistent. Several Labour MPs articulated this, the founders of Change UK being the most notable. Yet others kept sufficient distance. Having remained on the backbenches, Lisa Nandy could plausibly lead the Starmer reforms. But Starmer was a key figure in the Corbyn Labour Party, repeatedly endorsing its message. Demonstrably, he will adopt contradictory positions, politics superseding ethics. Starmer’s behaviour in the Brexit negotiations also followed this pattern, his six tests being specious. Starmer has few principles and should not become Prime Minister.
Alas Starmer has ridden this storm, few recalling his hypocrisy. This reflects hard realities. Members of the Corbyn shadow cabinet were least qualified to reform the post-Corbyn party, but were best placed, remaining in parliament and enjoying high profiles among party members. Though the crisis of the Labour Party should have led to the creation of a successor party, the rigidities of the British system forestalled this. Starmer’s success also reflects the fact that many MPs and members were compromised. Though less implicated than Starmer, most moderates offered limited resistance to Corbyn, prioritizing remaining in the EU. It is a depressing story.
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