by Martin Odoni

Some on the left think ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has made a good start as a Labour Leader whom real progressives can rely on. Some think he is already on the brink of completely destroying every bit of progress the left made in reforming the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

For myself, I would argue that it is much too early to draw a clear conclusion, but I have to say, I already see clear signs that the left should be very suspicious. I shall list them with limited elaboration; –

  • Starmer off-loaded a lot of Corbyn supporters from the Shadow Cabinet before getting around to appointing even the first of the ones he retained. This gives a very strong impression that the likes of Rebecca Long-Bailey were only kept as a pacification gesture to the party-left. (No, Emily Thornberry is not a leftist.) Also note that Long-Bailey was Shadow Industry Secretary under Corbyn, but is now Shadow Education Secretary – something of a demotion.
  • Starmer did not retain leftist Richard Burgon, who was clearly one of the most able of, admittedly, not a huge whirlpool of potential front-bench talent.
  • Starmer recalled Blairite dinosaurs like the immensely-corrupt Lord Falconer, Nick Brown, and Rachel ‘we’ll-be-tougher-on-welfare-than-the-Tories‘ Reeves. Starmer could hardly be less progressive without offering a place at the table to Jacob Rees-Mogg.
  • Starmer failed to appoint a Shadow Minister for the Disabled.
  • Starmer has been rather ‘fluttering his eyelashes‘ at the Tory benches about forming a Government of ‘National Unity’ during the CoVid-19 pandemic. After years of fashionable complaint around the country that a Leader of the Opposition with over forty defeats of the sitting Government to his name has provided ‘ineffective Opposition’, it is utterly bewildering that Starmer’s idea of being ‘effective in Opposition’ to a Tory administration is to join forces with Boris Johnson.
  • By the same measure, Lisa Nandy, the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, keeps talking about ‘working with the Government’, rather than cross-examining Government conduct.
New Labour co-operative opposition

Corbyn defeated the Government over forty times in the Commons, and centrists called him ‘ineffective’. Starmer and Nandy want to work WITH the Government, and centrists say, “At last, some EFFECTIVE Opposition!” Do they even think before they speak?

  • Starmer asks the Government to publish their ‘exit strategy‘ for the pandemic. Not a bad question to ask in itself, but surely if he was really looking to be ‘effective’, he would prioritise other questions? Like, for instance, “How in blazes has the Government responded so badly to the pandemic that the UK is now projected to be hit far worse than any other European country, with a death-toll higher than the next four countries combined?” A national emergency requires at least as much rigorous cross-examination of Government as ‘normal’ times. This would be a much rougher question to ask, but it needs to be asked. Why is Starmer being gentle on an extreme right-wing administration?
Projected CoVid-19 death-tolls

The projected death-toll for the UK, unless there is a serious change of approach by the Government, is LARGER than the civilian death-toll due to air-raids during World War II

  • Starmer has offered little discernible reaction to the shocking death-toll confirmed in the UK for the 24 hours prior to the 8th of April. Even allowing for complications in the way data is processed – another failing he should be criticising – the toll for the day of 938 demanded a fierce response. Equally, he should have been leading the pushback against the preposterous attempts by the mainstream media to claim that the day was ‘better news‘ than the previous day, even though the new death-toll was not only a record for the UK during the crisis, but was actually higher than the disastrous peak in Italy – 919 on 27th March. Worse than Italy, after it was the epicentre of the crisis for weeks!
  • Starmer shows disturbing signs of giving in to unreasonable demands from the excessively-respected Board of Jewish Deputies, and of taking all its complaints about ‘anti-Semitism’ (actually criticism of Israel) at face-value. This was the key weapon of the Labour Right in their campaign to undermine Corbyn and smear the reputations of his supporters. It was used filthily, ruthlessly, unscrupulously, and without abatement for over four years, and destroyed the lives of thousands of good, decent people – the overwhelming majority of whom were on the party-left – who simply wanted Palestinian rights to be respected. Many of them, like myself, are actually Jewish. Starmer has displayed no willingness to discuss the matter with anti-Zionist Jewish groups like Jewish Voice For Labour, suggesting he is uninterested in getting a broader perspective, and regards ‘Jews’ as a homogeneous mass.
  • Is it ever a good look for a Labour leader to accept a knighthood?
Sir Keir - the egalitarian

Not writing off Starmer as Tony Blair mk II yet. But he is off to an unpromising start.

If you have spotted other worrying signs, feel free to list them in the comments.

To repeat, I am not writing Starmer off yet, as such. But if you know the important details to watch for, the signs are bad.

Anyway, to lighten the mood, we shall now finish on a joke, albeit one with a serious point behind it that centrists should pause to consider about their own behaviour under Corbyn. It relates to the first Opinion Poll of the new Leader of the Opposition’s tenure, a survey for Wales only; –

Centrist whining goes around & comes around

You can’t have it both ways, Centrists. Given Starmer is a new leader, there should be a ‘bounce’ and yet there isn’t one, so he has to take the same stick as Corbyn used to every time there was bad polling news.

As I say, it is a joke, but there is an echo of truth. This is exactly the sort of knee-jerk rubbish the Labour-Right were throwing at Corbyn any time there was a problem. They had better brace themselves for a lot of the same grief coming the other way in the years ahead.

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UPDATE: As I was writing the above, Starmer added to the Shadow Cabinet Jess Phillips, Wes Streeting, Peter Kyle, and Stephen Kinnock. All right wing of the party and a history of malignant anti-Corbynism, including undermining both of Corbyn’s General Election efforts. The Shadow Cabinet is now dominated by the right. I think that counts as an extra mark against Starmer’s progressive credentials.

Starmer’s total lack of pushback against the Evening Standard’s brazen display of anti-Semitism this week is another. This was against his own colleague, and while Starmer was promising the Board of Deputies that he would fight anti-Semitism. It seems that he, like all the Labour-Right, are only interested in fighting Jew-hate on the left of their own party – even when it is not there – than fight the real thing in the party that is supposed to be their diametrically-opposed enemy.