SIR Keir Starmer passed his first hundred days as leader of the Labour Party at the beginning of the month. In that time, has he managed to reshape it into a sensible and decent party, as the Spectator‘s Katy Balls claims, or have his second 50 days have proved as ineffectual as his first?
Sir Keir is polling well above his party. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the last time a Labour leader polled so well was when he (and it is always a he) was also a barrister. However there the comparison ends. Tony Blair also led Labour after four successive defeats, but he was much better able to enforce party discipline. This was mainly due to an understanding across the party that being off-message would lose Labour a very winnable general election, plus a crack team of media-savvy ‘enforcers’ to keep them ‘on message’. So far there is no evidence of such media management sophistication. Perhaps a fifth successive defeat will catalyse it.
It may also be a product of the communications revolution ushered in with 4G phones and broadband that Sir Keir has so far failed to impose message discipline on his reduced band of MPs, including senior frontbenchers. The two most obvious examples have been the flip-flops over the re-opening of schools, and, at the time of writing, Labour’s wealth tax policy, which seems an echo of Ed Miliband’s vote-losing mansion tax of 2015.
By contrast with Blair, Sir Keir appears insipid and unable, or unwilling, to confront the detrimental antics of his MPs, highlighted by his failure to control those such as Rupa Huq who openly flaunted their disregard for the lockdown rules by participating in the Black Lives Matter protests.
If MPs can’t uphold law and order, surely they should be sacked. But Sir Keir appears too terrified of annoying the far Left contingent in his party to act when he needs to. Not a word was heard from him when Clive Lewis cheered on the destruction of monuments.
He remained silent, too, when Dawn Butler came out with another scientifically illiterate rant, getting her excuses in early for BLM’s possible culpability in causing a second spike of Covid-19.
Yet he has certainly been vocal when it comes to showing off his own ‘anti-racism’ credentials. He wasted no time in bending the knee in submission to BLM. His genuflection to this neo-Marxist revolutionary movement is unfitting for any political leader of a Western democracy. His vow to undertake ‘unconscious bias training’, in a contemporary form of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution show trials, puts him at the forefront of the latest virulent and destructive ‘thought crime’ ideology. His proclamation that everyone should have this training brings George Orwell’s 1984 a step closer.
Sir Keir is however consistent in his inconsistency. After years of bashing the police, he finally showed some backbone and defied Corbynista MPs by criticising the destructive campaign to defund the police. But unless he can unite his party on such matters he can’t expect to win a wider vote.
Likewise his promised root-out of anti-Semitism in his party, a prominent aspect of Corbynism, if done only as a minimum requirement will not inspire confidence. If Sir Keir really wanted to get tough on anti-Semitism he should have expelled Rebecca Long Bailey for spreading blood libels rather than just sacking her from his shadow cabinet. https://order-order.com/2020/06/25/long-bailey-sacked-from-shadow-cabinet/
He’s also been suspiciously quiet about Jeremy Corbyn’s sharing of yet another platform with Hamas supporters, on Labour MP Lisa Nandy’s call for sanctions against Israel, and on Richard Burgon marking Nakba Day, an Islamist-led mourning of the establishment of Israel, by pressing for sanctions on the Jewish State.
Letting persistent offender Lloyd Russell-Moyle remain on Labour’s front bench has shown a dire lack of judgment. It’s poor, to say the least, that it has been left to Russell-Moyle himself to judge his position untenable and to quit, while blaming the ‘Right-wing media’. Russell-Moyle’s misogynist accusation that J K Rowling used her experience of sexual assault as a platform to ‘attack’ the transgender community is but one example of his behaviour. Diatribes on Jews and Israel are others.
Sir Keir is making a bad job of reassuring the Jewish community that he’s really tackling the Jew hatred that appears to be endemic in his party. When he does speak out against it he is disregarded by his own MPs. In April Diane Abbott and Bell Rebeiro-Addy appeared in a Zoom chat with Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, known propagators of anti-Semitism. Ignoring Sir Keir, they did a similar thing a week later, with the infamous Lindsey German, convenor of the anti-Israel organisation Stop The War. This time Corbyn and another Labour MP, Apsana Begum, joined in too.
Sir Keir’s next challenge will be his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on Labour’s anti-Semitism. No doubt Corbynistas in the Party will call any findings not in Labour’s favour a ‘smear’. If culprits are named, will Sir Keir expel them?
His failure to respond to the race-baiting of Priti Patel by a number of his backbenchers, who used Commons stationery to accuse the Home Secretary of gaslighting when she had objected on the floor of the Commons to Steve Bell’s offensive caricature of her, is a further sign of weakness. It should have brought quick action. But he held back and did not even apologise to the Home Secretary.
So is Sir Keir out of his depth? With a small parliamentary party – Labour has about one hundred shadow posts to fill from just two hundred MPs – he has little choice over his team. Subtract Corbynistas exiled to the back benches and also ministers from New Labour such as Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, and what’s he left with? This could explain the appointment of Anneliese Dodds, a shadow chancellor unable to articulate Labour’s post-Corbyn economic policy. Why he selected her above the much more suited Rachel Reeves is a mystery.
He has a further problem with his narrowing talent pool – its shallowness. For years Labour primarily had made state employees and trades union officials its prospective parliamentary candidates in winnable seats. Corbyn’s control of the party meant that a significant number of the new intake are in Corbyn’s image, such as Coventry South’s Zarah Sultana, who scraped in with a majority of 401. Ian Byrne was selected for the safe seat of Liverpool West Derby despite a history of offensive posts about women Conservative MPs. Neither would enhance Labour’s reputation if promoted to the front bench. It may explain Sir Keir’s choice as shadow minister for social cohesion of Naz Shah, who came to prominence over her anti-Semitism, for which she has publicly atoned. She may have been Sir Keir’s least worst choice.
While Sir Keir benefits from a mass media that is increasingly hostile to No 10, his failings have leaked through. And Labour have yet to learn that no party that goes into a general election pledging tax rises has ever won. Sir Keir is Corbyn-lite. Right now, Labour remains a Corbynist party with Corbynist members and Corbynist policies. Sir Keir has had slightly over 100 days to show that the party is in the process of change, but the only thing that seems to have changed in this Corbynist party is its leader.