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Editorial: Confronting Starmer's bullying is key to changing his policies

KEIR STARMER is out of touch. At least, that’s the message from the latest poll.

The Labour leader is increasingly unpopular. And the biggest part of the drop in his ratings over the past year is due to voters believing he does not understand their concerns.

He’s down on honesty, too, which will surprise nobody: from winning the Labour leadership by promising to continue Labour’s leftward turn under Jeremy Corbyn, he has not only ripped up nearly every socialist policy but done so by banning discussion and threatening MPs.

The received wisdom is that few people care. The common attitude among unions is one of resignation: they don’t approve of Starmer’s treatment of Corbyn or his allies, but it isn’t their core concern amid a surge in industrial action and hardly worth a huge row with a party that may soon be in government.

But Starmer’s retreat from socialist policies like nationalisation and taxing the rich, which most unions condemn, is not separate from his attacks on opponents within the party. And the dishonesty and indifference to public opinion are part of the same package.

Few outside the Labour Party pay attention to candidate selections, still less the suspension or expulsion of individual party members. 

But Starmer’s Labour has invited greater public scrutiny by behaving in this way in high-profile cases involving public figures who do have an audience well beyond the party. 

In the last year, this has included the suspension of the first black woman to be an MP, Diane Abbott, and an absurdly unfair subsequent investigatory process which the veteran socialist called out this week — something bound to anger many of her constituents and much of the black community.

It’s included the refusal to allow a sitting metro mayor, Jamie Driscoll, to stand again despite his local popularity, excellent relations with other city leaders across Britain and strong record in office.

And it’s included the unprecedented ruling banning Corbyn from standing again for a seat he has represented for 40 years. 

More important still, Labour’s march right has seemed more and more at odds with public opinion as the scale of social crisis grows.

Labour’s fiscal conservatism may not have registered strongly in 2021, but after a year in which household incomes have plunged compared to inflation while giant companies post record profits, the refusal to tax the rich is much more unpopular.

Ditto the stubborn refusal to consider nationalisation of essential services when polls show it is overwhelmingly endorsed by voters — especially water, given the scandals that have rocked that industry in the last 12 months.

It is because people are hurting and looking for solutions that Labour’s lack of them is now painfully obvious.

It’s not about timidity. Labour is attempting to piece together a broken market consensus against the will of the public — and of the party rank and file. The hundreds of thousands who flocked to join under Corbyn reflected a shift in public opinion, they were not something unconnected to it.

That’s why Starmer is prioritising the silencing of that movement, including through purging the parliamentary ranks of anyone who shows a sign of thinking for themselves.

Staying quiet on the mistreatment of Labour veterans in the hope it will make the party more sympathetic in government won’t work: these people are being turfed out precisely because they champion the politics of the labour movement, and without them Labour will be all the more difficult to influence.

And demonstrating that Labour is out of touch with public opinion won’t be enough either. Its leadership knows that. It sees its job as sealing off the option for socialist change that demonstrated unexpected mass appeal in recent years.

If we are to win anything tangible from a Labour government, that project must be comprehensively opposed — from campaigning publicly against its policy U-turns to standing in solidarity with its slandered victims.


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