Contains: integrity; authority; unity — Why Sir Keir Starmer is NOT the answer
This morning, just like every other Labour Party member, I received through the mail an A3 poster of Sir Keir Starmer, exhorting me to support him in the Labour leadership ballot that begins tomorrow (24 Feb 2020). Filled with celebrity endorsements, the leaflet emphasises the working-class credentials of this knighted former barrister and Director of Public Prosecutions. It puts forward Sir Keir as the ‘unity’ candidate under the slogan Integrity, Authority, Unity. But as Bernie makes history in the Democratic primaries to run against Trump, Starmer is the last person we need in the fight against our own Trumps — Johnson and Cummings. As the Brexit and election defeats demonstrate, a centrist candidate at the very heart of the establishment is the last thing the Labour Party, and ultimately the country, need right now.
It still seems incredible that someone like Johnson, whose corruption, racism, incompetence and bigotry is so well documented has been elected to the highest office in the country. Literally there can be few people less qualified for public office than this. As Trump famously boasted and since his impeachment repeated, he could go down Fifth Avenue, commit murder and literally no-one would care. The morality that in the past caused the downfall of many political careers in lower posts is completely gone. The manipulation of the media we have seen over the past several years has relegated facts to meaninglessness, creating alternative (post) truth where myth and unsubstantiated opinion have as much if not more importance. Experts, science and education are eschewed.
Since the beginning of the EU referendum campaign the British current affairs media have been dominated by one thing. The promises and myths of the Leave campaign, though long since proven to be deliberate lies, still remain in the popular consciousness. The EU is to blame for everything from the lack of buses and dentists to potholes in the road. In rural and semi-rural communities throughout the UK, particularly those where manufacturing industry used to be the main source of employment and where the immigrant and BAME percentage of the population is well below the national average, immigration is seen as the principal evil.
These untruths combined with a pernicious identity politics steeped in nationalist jingoism bred a dangerous xenophobia that has seen a massive increase in racist incidents and far-right terrorism. This is actively fed by the mass media, once again the BBC giving unquestioned platform to views that only a decade ago would not have been broadcast. In the past week, pundits and talking heads have been lined up to defend the misogynistic and wholly racist views of a eugenicist hired as an advisor at the very heart of the UK government.
At the heart of the Labour election defeat was Brexit, and in that vote, a rebellion against what people were told was an establishment betrayal of their previous referendum vote — that their rights and opinions were going to be overridden by some metropolitan middle-class ‘elite’. Farage, as much a part of the elite as anyone could possibly get, effectively sold this myth. Johnson’s deliberately unkempt appearance and uncombed (or de-combed) bottle-blond hair was a visible symbol of rebellion. In his utter buffoonery, he became relatable. ‘Boris’ the cartoon character was created and sustained, a persona as fake as the reality-TV Trump of The Apprentice. The reason why Johnson hardly made any public appearances during the election campaign was in order to protect this fictional character. When Johnson did appear and was challenged, the mask slipped.
Boris still breaks all the rules. He doesn’t give interviews to the Today programme; he tries to exclude journalists from organisations that don’t play his game. He posts ‘quirky’ videos on social media; he leads his new cabinet in mindless call and response games. Boris doesn’t ‘play by the rules.’ In power, Johnson and Cummings will close the borders, attack human rights legislation, attack the independence and power of the judiciary. And his fans will applaud and laugh as he consigns them to generational poverty.
Centrism will not defeat this destruction of everything that we currently take for granted. It will need a radical, progressive movement. Let’s not forget that what rights we currently possess were not simply granted by a benevolent ruling class and establishment. They were hard fought for and won by movements that at the time were considered revolutionary and radical. It will take a grass-roots radical movement, willing and able to consider mass industrial action and non-violent civil disobedience, to defend what we already have and challenge the system, to defend what rights we have and to continue to win those that still remain to be secured.
There is a real danger however in the Bernie Bounce and the socialist revival in the Labour Party. A revolutionary progressive state cannot be tolerated and cannot be seen to be successful, as this challenges the capitalist model. Capitalism can only exist based on the exploitation of an underclass, whether that be poverty-paid workers in the West or in the developing countries of the global South and East. And in the information age, it doesn’t matter if the underclass is actually producing as long as they consume, and they can do so not via welfare payments, but via exploitative credit. They must be so in fear of joblessness that they will willingly vote away their own freedoms in order to remain in employment.
As we have seen, to fight on the battleground of identity politics, to win back the trust and support of those who feel alienated and disregarded by the Westminster bubble, we need strong, principled and ideologically based radical politics, those same values and fervour that established the trade union and labour movements over a century ago. The political scene has shifted to the right, and centrism will only seek compromise where none should be tolerated.
It’s not enough for Sir Keir to pledge to ‘set goals’, to ‘support’, ‘review’ and ‘defend’. He needs to be determined and unequivocal. And we don’t want an ‘effective opposition to the Tories’ — we want a Labour government.