Labour centrists can be optimistic. The hard left is going to turn Keir Starmer into a Blairite

by Atul Hatwal

Keir Starmer is not a Blairite. His closest political ally is Ed Miliband and like the younger Miliband, his politics are those of the soft left.  But if the hard left continue to oppose his leadership in their current manner, they’re going to change him. The result will be the mirror image of what they seek; rather than bind him to the 2019 manifesto or constrain him to a more left-wing position, they’re going to Blairform him.

The response of the Corbynites to Labour’s apology to the whistle-blowers over anti-Semitism has been typical. Look no further than J Corbyn himself, who called the decision “political” not ” legal” and has opened himself up to being sued by John Ware from Panorama.

But it’s not just on anti-Semitism that they react in this way, it’s everything. Here’s Matt Zarb Cousin, following the release of the parliamentary Intelligence committee’s Russia report,

Ahead of the impending Unite leadership election, in the contest to be the candidate for the United Left – Unite’s hard left faction which has dominated the leadership in the past decade – Keir Starmer was used as a wedge issue, an enemy to take on as a demonstration of left wing bona fides. Howard Beckett had this tweet pinned to the top of is Twitter timeline.

A politician’s ideological heading at the start of their career is often quite different by the end.  The process of politics, their experience on the journey, changes them. When looking for portents of the future for a new soft left leader who is picking up the pieces following a shattering defeat, compare and contrast the Neil Kinnock of 1983 with that of 1992.

The intervening years for Neil Kinnock were a tale of bitter, internecine conflict where the middle ground of Labour was burned by the hard left in the political equivalent of total war.

This Labour leader is at the start of his journey and as the hard left polarise every internal party issue, two factors will reshape Starmer’s outlook just as they did Neil Kinnock’s.

First, he’s going to be praised each time he faces them down, normally followed by a bump in the polls.

This praise will come from his own MPs – the majority of the PLP is solidly against any return to Corbynism and their support will be evident in their public statements, private e-mails and hand-written notes that will find their way to the leader’s office. And it will come from the media who will gleefully support the hard left in turning these issues into perceived tests of strength which will drive Starmer to assert his authority.

The sacking of Rebecca Long Bailey was a case study. Praise and affirmation are addictive, there’s little as empowering as confirmation that you are a wise and decisive leader, especially when the following weekend’s polls show a rise of a couple of points.

Second, the media will apply the leadership ratchet. Each time decisive action is taken, this sets the minimum level of response for future situations. Sacking Rebecca Long Bailey has established a new standard, to which Keir Starmer will be held.

This isn’t an act of particularly partisan anti-Labour bias by the media, just a function of the way politics is reported. Any compromise with the hard left or movement towards their position will be written up as weakness, as a climb-down forced on the leader by a resurgent left.

Keir Starmer has been praised on anti-Semitism for the way he has overruled the hard left, but when he attempted to add some context to his position on Black Lives Matter by walking back his words that this was a ‘moment’ rather than a movement and said he’d participate in training for unconscious bias, the reporting was almost all through the frame of Labour’s leader retreating in the face of criticism from the left.

It won’t have gone unnoticed by either the leader or his advisers and no matter what his instincts, the next time he’s in a similar position, he’ll think twice and most likely hold his tongue. There will be no nuance, just a straight bat, no backing down, no compromise.

More damaging for the hard left, it won’t just be the leader who is changed. The membership will turn against them.

By taking Starmer on so vituperatively, the hard left is making the same mistake that the moderates did after the election of Corbyn. They are forcing the overwhelmingly soft left membership to row in behind their leader time and time again until the established soft left position shifts and settles into one of overt and committed opposition to the hard left.

When I started working for the Labour party in the mid-1990s, one of the most striking aspects of the party was the sense of unity behind Tony Blair. There was precious little in the way of real dissent, some policy debates yes, but broadly the soft left were largely behind the leadership. This was a legacy of the previous decade’s internal battles.

The centre of gravity in Labour in the 1990s had shifted to the centre to such an extent that Michael Meacher, Bennite candidate for deputy leader in 1983 and latterly employer of Jon Lansman, was content to become a Minister of State in the New Labour government, a position he happily held for six years, voting with the whip on the full gamut of New Labour policies.

Once the Labour party membership makes a fundamental choice, as it did in 1983 with Neil Kinnock, 2015 with Jeremy Corbyn and 2020 with Keir Starmer, the only way for the ideological direction to be reset is electoral calamity. If Keir Starmer makes any progress electorally, even if it falls short of some of the loftier ambitions, the membership will back him to continue his work and further marginalise the hard left.

The reality is that in the upside-down world of 2020, it is the Corbynites who will most effectively deliver the aims of centrists and moderates. They will be the ones who move the Labour leader and his soft left supporters, irrevocably to the middle ground of British politics.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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8 Responses to “Labour centrists can be optimistic. The hard left is going to turn Keir Starmer into a Blairite”

  1. John P Reid says:

    I don’t see Starmer becoming blairite but hid shadow Home Secretary is doing A rather poor new labour impression
    In what way are Corbynites trying to force him down a path, except sneering

    The comparison with old 1983 labour and Corbynites is wrong
    The foot left of 1983 didn’t want to win they cheered when they saw the 83 result, it was a moral victory after 30 years they’d been finally allowed to have the manifesto they wanted,
    Corbynites want power at nearly any cost

    The tweet saying Starmer hasn’t backed
    Black MPs being bullied is wrong some from the internal investigation have been suspended Starmer offered sympathy and set up a inquiry
    For all I can see anything anyone did was wrong was tell a journalist Diane Abbott was crying in a toilet

    Kinnock faced unions NEC block votes to move us away from disastrous policies which the left / unions didn’t accept has lost us millions of votes( Thatchers union reforms buying back privatised stuff, unilateralism)
    When the leader took in unions in the 80’s they’d caused a end to the list sR consensus that out the public If as the unions thought themselves above the law, the grooming gangs and labour councils who ignored it thought themselves above the law
    Starmer hasn’t shown a start to taking them on
    And whatever ever the Corbynites were their hard left views aren’t part of the grooming gangs
    Really I don’t think the media who’d moved to slag Starmer paid any attention ruin to the RLB case it’s not like kinnock the backbencher of 1976 who opposed Denis Healeyz cuts
    was the same as starmer whos only crime
    Was a 2nd referendum for remain( as bad as that is)
    If starmer is too have a battle and is dragging the Party machine: mps along with him the way Kinnock did it’ll be the new intake of MPs who’ll break the whip if there’s a policy that seems a compromise
    Controlling the FBU union over Matt wrack stopping freezing speech, or maybe the Tories not accepting Trans Self ID

    Labour wanted to win in 97 because there was 8 or so policies where labour said it was moral and the Tories are the bad guys yet now labour just says Aurhoritarian liberal views on victims/ positive discrimination or hate crime, yet for all the talk of guild socialism labour doesn’t want to win seriously
    Labour has lost the working class vote
    Blair needed to win middle class votes

    Although Corbynites wanted to win with Jez as leader they’re not that bothered now with him hind unless they convince themselves Starmer is ind kf them
    The late 80’x hard left after seeing thatcher destroy what they had by the end of her second term finally wanted to win, but not at the extent of losing face snd see labour go to the centre
    The opponents now of Srarmer are only saving face in as much as the 2nd referendum for remain or identity politics or denying anti semitism
    Lost them the last election
    And then starmer is ignoring these issues
    Unless he decided that he would suspend some corbynite no for misogyny over a woman who got abuse as she felt revealing grooming gangs/ anti semites or Pre Op trans sex pests were excused as its transphobic/ islamophobic
    Or the snobs should sneer are brexiters
    Then there’s no comparison with Kinnock who got abused getting the party to accept thatchers trade union laws
    And starmer who seems just as happy as Ed Miliband/ Corbyn to go for ID middle class voted, think the red wall wouldn’t vote Tory
    When it has and it’s more easier for then to do it twice now

    William Hague would ein PMQs every week hands down , how did that turn out?

  2. So-so says:

    Atul “Remain will win easily. Boris will be irrelevant and immigration will barely register in voters’ choice” Hatwal with another great and thoughtful prediction.

  3. John P Reid says:

    This is labours trouble Starmer can do a blair tough on crime and causes of crime the people who feel the causes of crime are poverty can interpret it as a call to end austerity, as this wouldn’t put off young people fed up with too much stop & search/ e Racial profiling assuming the worse (not the left doesn’t assume young black people are liberal)
    Tough in crime can be interpreted introduce new laws such as increasing the equality act to include religion/ Misogyny or cultural appropriation
    With our realising Blair needn’t the causes of crime or the powers of conservatism were holding the country up
    Meant that he felt personal responsibility and the trade unions were to blame and socially conservative not accepting his globalisation
    But labour won’t ever be able to get socially conservative culturally Tory voters over without putting off young politics metropolitan labour voters in the culture war

  4. Tafia says:

    I fail to see why Howard Beckett has a problem with anyone criticising BLM – they are a marxist organisation, already heavily infiltrated by the SWP here in UK. And we also had the disgusting spectacle of Starmer belittling himself by ‘taking the knee’, along with his pet puppy the rather dim Angela Rayner.

  5. John P Reid says:

    It’s still true block votes from cliques get preferred candidates in place think then have a run of the mill in who gets to control( run the party)
    I remember when Bernie grant said in Martha Osamor not getting to Be Vauxhall’s labour candidate if black people cant stand for parliament they’ll find other ways of expressing their views and they will be violent
    It’s Like MLK quote about Free speech
    Is stopped then rioting is the voice of the un heard

    BLM violence is partly due to stop search and labour won’t call it out through fear of losing new labour votes

    The front bench is The problem

    There was no way labour was ever gonna win with 2nd referendum for remain or Corbyn as leader

    The real fight till and how many tory voters are socially conservative in the Culture war

    A fight which is a mix of Culture of
    cultrual Marxism
    And Marx like many other communists were racists

    Section 60 should be restricted to football matches and concerts: festivals
    Decriminalise cannabis
    S & S isnt racist profiling in any other thing than little old ladies aren’t searched in a metal detector arch
    When going through a train station
    It’s just fact gangs tend to gang around car parks and going to the car we get looked at like we’re in gangs

    The couture war That
    United the working class who voted Tory for the 1st time

  6. A.J. says:

    I don’t see that there’s much to Starmer one way or the other. The only thing he has going in his favour is that he isn’t the odious Corbyn. He’s also quite predictable in his choices, promoting dim birds like Rayner to well above weight-punching level. Even Cooper and Reeves outshine her, for heaven’s sake.
    Blair was lucky – and had thugs like Campbell behind him. Not much genuine fire in his belly, though, unlike Neil Kinnock (who was more than capable of making a fool of himself in different ways, especially after the election results came in).
    I expect the kind of conscience-stricken middle-class dimwits I know will go for Starmer (but, then, it took them a year or two to twig Corbyn), mostly because of his pro-European credentials. Can’t imagine him saying anything contentious about immigration or taking any interest whatever in working-class concerns. Still, neither did Harold Wilson or his crowd.
    As for being ‘Tory-Lite’, the mainstream Labour Party has been that since the days of Arthur Henderson. The trouble is, the nutters – Laski, Zilliacus, Bevan, Benn – have always shouted the loudest.

  7. Anne says:

    Still think this should all be in the past. Kier Starmer is now our leader – of course he is going to change things and if this means a move to the centre then surely that is no bad thing – elections are won from the centre and so far Kier is going in the right direction. Some mistakes may occur on the way, but generally on the right road. Look, we really do have to have a change from this awful government. Johnson, is doing himself no favours every time he opens his mouth – says he is a man of the people but does he reward those who have done good deeds- no – gives his Brexit pals entrance to the House of Lords. Same old Tories – feathering their own nest.

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