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Editorial: Beating the vile Rwanda policy will take courage. Keir Starmer doesn't have it

BLOCKING the first deportation flight to Rwanda on Tuesday night was a victory for people power — and it took courage.

Courage from the lawyers mounting challenges to individual asylum-seekers’ removal in the face of a vicious Tory propaganda campaign portraying them as accomplices of people-traffickers, and threats from Boris Johnson to change the law or even withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Courage from the protesters who blocked the vans from the detention centre, knowing they are up against a draconian government pushing maximal punishment for such direct action and legislating to make those punishments still more severe.

It will take similar courage to mount and maintain effective resistance to this outrageous violation of refugee rights while winning mass political support to reverse the government’s institutional hostility to people seeking sanctuary from famine and war.

Some of that courage is discernible in Parliament, from socialist MPs like Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana willing to call out Tory ministers on their attempt to demonise refugees to distract from a cost-of-living crisis their policies are responsible for.

But not on the Labour front bench. If Harold Wilson was right to say Labour is a moral crusade or it is nothing, Sir Keir Starmer — who was forced to rebuke his own shadow cabinet this week for calling him “boring” — has picked the “nothing” option.

The government’s Rwanda plan is costly and inefficient, Labour states. Is it morally wrong? Starmer will not say.

Would Labour reverse the policy if elected? He won’t tell us that, either.

What a contrast to the courage displayed by Starmer’s predecessor as Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn visited refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk to meet asylum-seekers and hear their stories in the face of media mockery and jibes from then prime minister David Cameron that he was “hanging about with a bunch of migrants.”

It is no doubt consciousness that Corbyn’s clear moral vision and principled leadership made him far more popular among Labour members and trade unionists than his successor that feeds the gnawing resentment Starmer displayed at Prime Minister’s Questions today.

Claiming Tory backbenchers have referred to Johnson as “the Conservative Corbyn,” the leader of the opposition smirked: “Prime Minister, I don’t think that was intended as a compliment.”

“Wretched, spiteful and obsessed,” as one socialist campaigner immediately observed. 

And pathetic. Aside from illustrating Starmer’s deep personal nastiness — clear enough already from the witch-hunt he has launched against socialists in the party — it exposes the weakness of his challenge to the Conservatives.

Starmer prides himself on having crushed the left. Something achieved by deceit — he pledged to maintain the key points of Corbyn’s programme to secure election as his successor — and diktat (forcing through unprecedented restrictions on local parties’ right to discuss his actions, overriding democratic processes to rig candidate selections and ignoring the decisions of his own party congress). 

He now imagines that “beating” Corbyn, through control of the party bureaucracy and a complete disregard for its rules, proves his ability to defeat a ruthless Conservative Prime Minister as cynical as he is and with all the inherent advantages in media and millionaire backing that go with heading the Tories rather than Labour.

The current attempts to big up shadow health secretary Wes Streeting as a replacement show that even the Labour right don’t buy it.

Starmer’s indifference to the human suffering of refugees emphasises the con-trick by which he became Labour leader. Members who mistook his pro-EU stance for a commitment to internationalism and anti-racism — it was in fact simply an expression of his commitment to the economic status quo — have had a rude comeuppance.

Labour “under new management” is not going to stand up for refugees, human rights or the rule of law. The real opposition to this vile government is on the streets.

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