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Editorial: Starmer’s war on the Labour left is class war

LABOUR’S national executive (NEC) is due to consider a motion in Keir Starmer’s name on Tuesday confirming that Jeremy Corbyn will not be endorsed as a candidate for the party at the next election.

Nobody will be surprised at this long-trailed development.

From Corbyn’s first, unjustifiable, suspension from the party in autumn 2020 and Starmer’s subsequent refusal to restore the whip once his membership status was reaffirmed by the NEC, the left has responded hesitantly and incoherently.

Corbyn himself and key union allies appeared to put faith initially on a behind the scenes deal with Starmer: this fell apart because Starmer’s private assurances could not be trusted, as several union leaders have confirmed.

What looked — briefly — like a surge of anger in constituency parties was suppressed. 

Starmer’s Labour decreed that discussion of the matter was prohibited, and some constituency party officials who allowed motions on the topic to be heard were made an example of through expulsion. 

The Covid lockdowns were a backdrop that made it easier for the party centre to silence the membership.

Over the years since, the hints that Corbyn would never regain the whip became louder. Each reiteration prompted a briefer, smaller uproar. 

The fact that Corbyn himself had not specified a fightback strategy was used to absolve others of the responsibility of solidarity. 

Unions, hands full organising the biggest upsurge in industrial action in decades, ceased to see the former leader’s status as a priority, even while their leaders continued to speak regularly alongside Corbyn at strike rallies Starmer wouldn’t deign to attend.

It is this last point that should alert all fighting trade unionists to the dilemma we face. Starmer’s vendetta against Corbyn is not some act of personal revenge.

It is the focal point of a war on socialists in the party which aims at eliminating Labour’s potential as a vehicle for radical change. 

The motion Starmer and Shabana Mahmood bring to the NEC does not talk about policies. It does not even mention the smears around tolerance for anti-semitism that surrounded Corbyn’s initial suspension.

It’s a duplicitous document that states simply that the 2019 election result was dreadful and that therefore the party’s electoral prospects are “significantly diminished” should Corbyn be endorsed as a candidate in Islington North.

The fact that Corbyn also led the party to its biggest increase in vote share in 70 years two years earlier is of course not mentioned. Nor that, while admittedly disastrous, the 2019 election still saw Labour receive a bigger share of the vote than under Ed Miliband in 2015, or under Gordon Brown in 2010.

And the overriding reason for Labour’s reverse in 2019 isn’t mentioned either — namely, the support for a second EU referendum, with 52 of the 54 seats it lost to the Tories being Leave-voting.

Starmer was the foremost champion of that suicide-note policy: and it was supported by many unions too. The 2019 result was more a verdict on the gulf between much of the labour movement and large sections of the working class than it was on Corbyn.

The current strike wave is an opportunity to close that gulf. But it does need to be recognised.

So does the real target of Starmer’s crackdown: the transformative economic agenda that millions of union members want. 

It is impossible — as union leaders frequently point out — to address the the crisis in the NHS, the rigged energy market or the causes of disputes from mail to rail without looking at the longer-term causes in privatisation, marketisation and outsourcing.

Corbyn is being exorcised for having demonstrated how popular these solutions are. 

If our movement is serious about changing this country and the rotten deal it forces on workers, Starmer’s attacks on Corbyn are not an unfortunate aside. They are part of the class war being waged against us.

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