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CALLS on Labour leader Keir Starmer to give evidence at the Spycops inquiry are a reminder of this former top prosecutor’s close ties to the state.
Starmer is no stranger to the suspicion that this rightly arouses in a labour movement which — as the return of the Shrewsbury pickets to court this week indicates — has been plagued by state persecution over many decades.
Many of Starmer’s actions when director of public prosecutions have been attacked, from initially declining to prosecute the police killer of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson, through his pursuit of accelerated processing and sentencing of people arrested during the London riots of 2011.
His eye for “punishment as propaganda” to win plaudits from the Tory press was as keen as current Home Secretary Priti Patel’s, as we saw from his flaunted crackdown on “benefit cheats” at a time when the David Cameron government was persecuting the disabled through a humiliating, punitive and medically unsound “fit for work” programme.
Starmer was a thoroughly political DPP: the “forensic” lawyer radiating technocratic competence is itself a propaganda construct.
His attitude to due process and the rights of the accused is clear enough from the treatment of Labour CLP and branch officers, as well as ordinary members, caught talking about an extensive list of banned subjects at party meetings.
Starmer’s links with the state matter precisely because its illegal infiltration of trade unions and activist organisations has been systemic — precisely what he claimed it was not when he determined that the overturning of convictions in the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station case, after the role of undercover officer Mark Kennedy emerged, did not mean there was any need to examine other prosecutions.
A whole succession of scandals, from the Hillsborough cover-up to the abuse of women deceived into long-term sexual relationships by secret police, have exposed the scale and consistency of repression and deceit by the British state.
Episodes like the BBC’s reversal of the footage of the police assault on striking miners at Orgreave point to the state broadcaster’s role as an attack dog for the ruling class, one equally clear from its appalling treatment of Jeremy Corbyn in more recent years.
The labour movement must learn the lessons of these cases — that the British state is by no means a neutral institution. The repression of working-class and popular organisation is one of its basic functions.
The state’s response to exposure of wrongdoing has not been democratic reform but action to formalise its rights to spy, pry and break the law, from retroactively legalising GCHQ’s mass data harvesting to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources and Overseas Operations Bills granting state operatives immunity from prosecution when they commit authorised crimes.
If Starmer’s record of opposing such Bills in Parliament is feeble, this is tied to the entire restorationist project he heads: to reverse the Corbyn years in which Labour was a real threat to the Establishment and reconstitute it as a party unquestioningly loyal to the British state.
This explains the desire to appear “patriotic” — though for all his Union Jack photo-ops, this means abandoning the independent foreign policy promoted by Corbyn and submission to a line set in Washington — at the same time as the distaste for anything linked to grassroots and working-class mobilisation (hence scrapping the community organising unit).
Both Labour and the Tories are currently committed to a “back to normal” agenda – not just with regard to the pandemic but with an eye to stabilising British politics with a cross-party consensus in favour of markets at home and aggression abroad.
Their awareness that this consensus has lost public confidence prompts calls from both to increase the repressive powers of the state.
Those powers exist to suppress our movement as much as anything. The left must fight tooth and nail against the authoritarian bent of British politics.
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