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AS WE approach the political conference season, and Keir Starmer’s first real conference as leader, he has reason to be thankful for his kid-glove treatment by the British press.
Labour Party staff have overwhelmingly endorsed strike action in the event of compulsory redundancies in indicative ballots.
The party’s youth wing complains of bids by the leader’s office to censor their platforms and ban his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn from speaking at them.
One affiliated union, the BFAWU, has warned of a special conference to discuss disaffiliation in light of the party’s threat to expel its president. Together with another, the Fire Brigades Union, it backs a special fightback conference a week before Labour to address the extraordinary persecution of left-wing party members.
Any one of these stories would have provided days of headlines under Corbyn, when sniping from backbench MPs was considered national news and accusations that the leadership might be misusing the disciplinary process against its critics merited hours of airtime.
Starmer however walks on air. In the Guardian Labour’s bid to cull at least a quarter of its workforce is attributed to his plan to “transform the party into a leaner, election-fighting force.”
The claim is ludicrous when general secretary David Evans was widely reported in July to be recommending redundancies because the party was three months from bankruptcy.
When that financial crisis is hinted at, it is attributed to Labour’s entanglement in “costly legal battles and three general elections in six years.” Not mentioned are the cause of those legal battles — the smearing and mistreatment of members and former members — or that Labour had also fought three elections in six years when Corbyn left office, yet its finances were perfectly healthy then.
Indeed, in 2018 — when the party had fought two elections in three years — it became the richest party in Britain, the enormous influx of members Corbyn attracted raising more money even than the Tories habitually manage through their wealthy sponsors.
The reality that the biggest cause of Labour’s financial crisis today — an exodus of members who feel betrayed and insulted — is directly attributable to Starmer does not feature.
This studied myopia also applies to consideration of the party’s political prospects, with anonymous insiders briefing political pundits with the same stale, evidence-free “takes” they always do.
So when the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) of Labour MPs objected to the expulsion of film director Ken Loach, one leaked that “as the world burns [because of the crisis in Afghanistan] the hard left are intent on further degrading themselves” — though the timing of Loach’s defenestration was nothing to do with the SCG and it would be more reasonable to question why the Labour leadership were busy purging people at such a time.
A shadow minister briefs that “what scares the Tories more than anything is if we make it clear the loonies aren’t part of us any more,” a triumph of wishful thinking.
It ignores Labour’s enormous electoral advance under Corbyn in 2017, the way the Conservatives had to officially renounce austerity, revamp themselves as an “anti-Establishment” party and dramatically purge their own ranks (including extremely high-profile figures like former chancellors Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond) in order to compete with Corbyn’s Labour.
It also ignores Labour’s dismal electoral performance under Starmer and the distinct lack of evidence that anyone on the Tory front bench has been ruffled, let alone scared, by his unthreatening opposition.
Labour’s purges and relentless attempts to discredit its own former leadership do not win back voters. They merely paint a picture of a war-torn party dominated by factional infighting.
Starmer may get a free pass from the press, but he won’t from the public — and without a labour movement and activist base behind him will never lay a glove on a Tory Party that enjoys all the advantages of power and wealth.
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