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LABOUR leadership contests are obviously a vital guide to the future direction of the party — which is why it is vital we make the right decision.
At the moment, Keir Starmer seems to be favourite and his campaign is definitely picking up a head of steam. I understand why to a degree, given we have just had a catastrophic defeat in the general election and Starmer seems to be the safe option.
Some of the talk I have seen in his favour is that he “looks the part” and he can talk well, that he is clever and is “the only credible option” — and then the one that really has me confused: that he is “media friendly.”
Safe option? Well, “safe for who?” is my response to that. I suppose this is connected to the “media friendly” claim. After the mauling that Corbyn has had over the last four-and-a-half years I can understand why it is appealing to have a leader who would get a better press.
But we are deluding ourselves. Tony Blair is the only Labour leader who has had a good press and that was only because he did a dodgy deal with Rupert Murdoch — even this only lasted temporarily. Normal order was restored after a few years.
At the moment Starmer is talking quite left at times, trying to attract Corbyn supporters to vote for him. But if he wins and he carries on doing that, then the press will put the boot in again — and I really don’t trust him not to capitulate and backtrack.
Does anyone really think if he capitulates on one thing he wouldn’t on another? The press would love that and would carry on putting the pressure on for more backtracking, more watering down because at the end of the day it was not Corbyn the media actually hated — but what he stood for and our policies.
We have been here before. Back in the 1980s when Kinnock became leader he believed in public ownership, he believed in unilateral disarmament, he had principles — or so we thought. But by the time his second general election came in 1992 he had long jettisoned them (and we still lost).
At this stage I have less faith in Starmer than I did when Kinnock became leader in 1983. You see it all comes down to who appears more electable.
Yes, “electable” is the magic word and funnily enough we were told that about Kinnock when he was elected leader in 1983. Of course who appears electable is subjective and in my view Starmer doesn’t seem electable at all — with his anti-Brexit views I don’t think he has a hope in hell of winning back our heartlands.
It was Starmer who was at the heart of our Brexit volte-face between 2017 and 2019, the biggest reason we lost 2.5 million votes. He has done nothing to own this calamity of the highest order and doesn’t seem to be able to accept his huge role in it. If he can’t see the problem how on earth can he try to put it right?
While Starmer himself is probably more from the centre of the party than being outright Blairite, just look who he appointed in his campaign team: Matt Pound from Labour First, a rabidly right-wing faction. There’s nothing in his history to prove he is on the left of the party.
Take his position on the Tory Welfare Bill in 2015. He abstained rather than vote against it – unlike Corbyn, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler and Rebecca Long Bailey.
Some people say he has been loyal to Corbyn but that’s simply not true; he was part of the “chicken coup” in 2016. In the 2015 leadership election he supported Andy Burnham and worse, in 2016 he endorsed the dreadful Owen Smith.
A leader should be someone who inspires and excites people. They should be charismatic in some way, especially in the modern age: they will be constantly in the public eye, needed to give their quick-fire responses to rapid developments. Corbyn and Blair were both charismatic and, agree or disagree with them, they excited and inspired people to vote Labour.
I am afraid I cannot see Starmer doing that at all. To me he comes across as a very old fashioned type of politician. Some might find that comforting but politics isn’t about being safe.
At this critical time not only for the history of the Labour Party, but for the world — when we are staring runaway climate change and potential extinction in the face — I really don’t think “safe” is what we need.
A Starmer Labour Party would be a massive backward step. He would not be the keeper of the torch that Corbyn has lit and neither would he be the answer to our electoral problems — rather, just a desperate reaction to them.
Over time he would begin watering down our hard-won progressive policies. To anyone who voted for Corbyn in previous leadership elections — please think carefully about who to vote for. As I said at the beginning it is so vital we don’t make the wrong choice. And the answer’s not Starmer.
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