Starmer’s purge of left candidates shows he is serious about governing ‘responsibly’, says Kevin Bean
Although much of the focus lately has been on the psycho-drama playing out amongst the Tories, on the other side of bourgeois politics Labour leaders have been giving some clear pointers about the shape of the next Labour government, should they win the next election.
If the opinion polls are to be believed, this seems increasingly likely and certainly most commentators and many Tories appear to think that within 18 months Sir Keir and his team will be seated around the cabinet table in Downing Street. It seems that, in this one aspect of bourgeois politics at least, the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them still appears to hold. Although Labour’s lead over the Tories could well narrow as the election campaign hots up, and there are a number of uncertainties which could impact on the actual result, such as new constituency boundaries, most recent polls point to a Labour majority, with some even suggesting a “landslide”.
Another barometer will be the forthcoming by-elections caused by the resignations of Boris Johnson and Nigel Adams – probably followed by another in the autumn, when Nadine Dorries times her departure to cause maximum political embarrassment to Rishi Sunak. Although the unusual circumstances of the by-elections will probably encourage protest votes and so maximise an anti-government vote, which may benefit the Liberal Democrats, the Labour leadership will undoubtedly play up their successes and stress that the electoral momentum now lays with them.
It is important to remember that it is this electoral perspective which dominates the politics and the strategy of Sir Keir Starmer – shaping both his recent policy shifts and the continuing attacks on what remains of the Labour left. As a fully paid-up member of the British bourgeois political class, with a long record of loyal service in the law, Starmer has shown he will always act in the interests of the state, and of capitalism more generally. Reinforcing this image and reminding his main audience – the capitalist class in Washington and London, and their allies in the media – of his proven record as a reliable, safe pair of hands has been absolutely central to Sir Keir’s leadership from day one.
The Labour leadership has also carried out a charm offensive, targeted at the City and ‘the markets’, to dispel any lingering fears that a Labour government would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ and would undermine the public finances by either raising taxes on the wealthy or borrowing extravagantly to fund its manifesto commitments. The Starmer project has generally been positively received by the key sections of the capitalist class, although, as ever, they want the Labour leader to go further in order to make the party even more ‘electable’ in their eyes. So close has this relationship become that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rowed back last week on a major plank of Labour’s economic policy – the £28 billion ‘green prosperity plan’ – because of hints that it was unacceptable to ‘the markets’.
If Sir Keir’s main audience – the capitalist class – are more than happy to see him as prime minister (especially after the bizarre chaos and farcical musical chairs at the heart of the Tory government since 2017), his other audience – the electorate – seems less than impressed by what is on offer. The coming election is unlikely to set anyone on fire, so we can expect both lacklustre political campaigning and widespread apathy on the part of voters. Given this, one possible outcome could still be a Labour victory, but, rather than the predicted landslide, it could instead be a much more modest majority which, some commentators have suggested, would make a Starmer government potentially susceptible to pressure from left MPs.
The model for this scenario is the role of the Labour parliamentary left during the late 1960s and 1970s and its ability to restrict some of the more anti-working class policies proposed by the Labour governments in this period. Whilst there are obvious and striking differences between that period and today – not least the considerable influence exercised by the ‘official’ CPGB over the Tribune group in parliament, the trade union left and rank and file activists in the CLPs – Starmer is not leaving anything to chance. He is getting his retaliation in first by ruthlessly purging the left during the candidate selection process. Changes in constituency boundaries and thus the possibilities of ‘deselecting’ existing left MPs are also being used to weed out anyone deemed unreliable by the leadership, as the recent examples in Birkenhead, Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon show. Reports also suggest that a similar stitch-up will be attempted to get acceptable candidates in place for the by‑elections caused by Johnson and co’s resignations.
After the Corbyn years, it seems to be a case of ‘never again’. The selection of candidates has been handed over to Matt Faulding and Matt Pound – with able assistance provided by NEC member Luke Akehurst. Faulding was once deputy director of the Blairite think tank Progress, while Pound used to run Labour First under Akehurst. These three are the Machiavellis of the Labour Party. Behind the scenes they are deciding the composition of the PLP in the next parliament.
Akehurst is a driven man. A fervent Zionist, he is a director of British Israeli Communication and We Believe in Israel. Combining stints with being a Hackney councillor, working for the Labour Party and the BBC and running Weber Shadwick, a global PR company, it is clear that he enjoys extraordinarily good connections … presumably including with Mossad, the CIA and MI5. But what really marks him out is his deep, enduring almost visceral animosity towards the left. The IHRA so-called definition of anti-Semitism has been a weapon wielded with the greatest passion. As a current NEC member – he topped the poll in 2022 – Akehurst, of course, chairs many of the panels which bar the objects of his hatred.
Naturally, Labour First is pro-Nato, pro-Israel, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-constitution and pro-Ukraine – so Paul Mason would find himself at home. Labour First is not just rightwing, it is militantly rightwing and considers the left an obstacle to achieving what it calls ‘Clause one socialism’; ie, a Labour government fit to serve capitalism and which puts good career politicians like themselves first. Labour as a broad based party has no place for the irresponsible, unpatriotic, left.
Directly after the election of Sir Keir as party leader, Labour First combined with Progress to found Labour to Win, and under that umbrella they dominate the NEC politically and, naturally, promote their pals as parliamentary, assembly, mayoral, etc, candidates.
More than that, Labour to Win is attempting to “fundamentally reshape” the culture and politics of the Labour Party. Take that to be something like completing the Blairite counterrevolution, delabourising Labour, repairing the split in liberalism.
Sadly, Sir Keir, Labour to Win, Akehurst, Faulding, Pound and the Labour right are having it easy – because of the supine nature of the official Labour left. During the Corbyn period there was a willingness to sacrifice leftwingers to appease the pro-capitalist right in the PLP. This resulted in waves of suspensions and expulsions. Perhaps more importantly, it provided the ideological ground for Starmer’s current purge by conceding what should have not been conceded: the big lie that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
The record of the official left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs in collaborating with the witch-hunt and generally keeping their heads down does not inspire us with confidence that they would do very much to resist Starmer’s pro-capitalist agenda, even if the parliamentary arithmetic were to give, say, 30 determined MPs a greatly enhanced leverage.
Starmer can probably rest easy on that score, although it seems he is taking no chances when it comes to parliamentary or other selection contests. In the new north-east region mayoral constituency, Labour’s long list excludes current Labour mayor for North Tyneside, Jamie Driscoll – a pretty mild municipal socialist who supports the IHRA and whose only crimes are to be tagged ‘the last Corbynista in office’ and to appear at an arts event in a Newcastle theatre with that ‘non-person’ Ken Loach.
It is possible that the SCG really is keeping its powder dry and waiting for the day when it can call the shots in parliament. Perhaps its MPs are secretly a very disciplined and highly organised group who are only awaiting the right moment to strike and sound the clarion call for socialist politics. We all may yet be surprised, but, if their record and narrow Labourist politics tells us anything, I would not hold my breath!