…if Keir Starmer isn’t elected Leader
In and amongst the genuinely scary headlines over coronavirus and the lurid headlines about Priti Patel’s bullying of her staff, it’s easy to lose sight of the Labour Party leadership election – and just how important this will be for our kingdom.
Voting in the membership ballot opened on 24 February and closes at midday on 2 April. The result of the leadership election will be announced on 4 April.
To the dismay of a number of my Corbynista friends, I’m going to contend that, if the Labour Party fails to choose Keir Starmer as their leader, they will almost certainly lose the next election. If, following that, they fail to elect Starmer or someone like him, they will lose the election after that. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that we might never have a Labour government again.
The problem with choosing Rebecca Long-Bailey is that, like Jeremy Corbyn before her, she will be pilloried by the right-wing press as a near-Communist flogging neo-Marxist policies exhumed from the 1970s. Anything she has said remotely expressing sympathy for a cause (such as Palestine) that could, how ever tenuously, be linked to a terrorist act (or even intention), no matter how insignificant, will be used to smear her as a terrorist sympathiser. Those, who aren’t persuaded by such diatribes in the Daily Mail or The Sun, will still be subjected to online targeting – perpetuated most probably by Russian bots by way of the likes of Cambridge Analytica.
The right-wing propaganda machine is awesome, incredibly powerful, unhesitatingly nasty and funded by the Plutocrats and their lackeys in the Elite.
When I first wrote How the Plutocrats are waging War on the Bureaucrats… back in 2017, I did wonder if I was slipping into the twilight world of conspiracy theorists…. However, everything we’ve witnessed since has convinced me I was right – and possibly even understated just how manipulative many in the Plutocracy and the Elite have been. The rise of Boris Johnson and the utter contempt with which Donald Trump now routinely treats the intelligence of the American people – commented on in Boris and Trump: how do They get away with it? – convinces me that we may be heading for even darker times than I predicted 2 years ago.
Corbyn the problem?
Jeremy Corbyn appears to be a gentleman – in the very real sense of the word, he seems a gentle man. Clearly principled and largely uncompromising, he has invoked huge passion in his followers – the ‘Corbynistas’ – yet largely been an ineffectual leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. In Prime Minister’s Questions he rarely scored damaging blows to Theresa May and certainly not to Boris Johnson. He has seemed deeply affronted by many of the smears directed at him yet either failed to take them on or, as with the anti-Semitism accusations, only taken them on too late to avoid those allegations being memes widely accepted amongst the general public.
Selling Corbyn as the next prime minister was a major problem for Labour activists. He simply “wasn’t viewed as a credible leader – even on issues like health care where his policy approach resonated with a lot of the public”, according to Zack Beauchamp on Vox. The Guardian’s Kate Proctor writes that: “after the exit poll came in many candidates said that on the doorstep it was his lack of popularity that cost them…. Among older voters, Labour campaigners said his past support for the Irish republican movement came up repeatedly on the doorsteps.” Unelected Chesterfield candidate Toby Perkins told Proctor of the “monumental unpopularity” of Corbyn.
A personal anecdote: my good friend David Burnby, Labour activist and devoted Corbynista, despaired of traditional Labour voters telling him they wouldn’t vote for Corbyn because he was a terrorist sympathiser and/or a ‘Commie’.
What a far cry from the 2017 election campaign and those inspiring rallies that Corbyn led across the country, short-circuiting the attempted news blackout of his campaign by the right-wing media. And who can forget his appearance at Glastonbury with the crowd chanting: “Oh, oh, Jeremy Corbyn!”?!
By 2019 the right-wing media had learned how to deal with Corbyn: highly-targeted smears – which proved far more effective than trying to ignore him. His stubborn refusal to take on the smears and demonstrate their falsehood – at least as portrayed in the right-wing media – meant that he lost the memetic war.
Corbyn’s biggest policy problem, right through his time as Labour leader, has been Brexit. From the time he damned the EU with faint praise – “seven out of ten” on Channel 4’s The Last Leg during the 2016 referendum – through to trying to reach a coherent position to put to the electorate in the December 2019 election. He has failed to balance his own anti-EU sentiments – shown through numerous speeches and parliamentary votes over the years -– with the stated desire of most of his MPs to remain in the EU. When Labour did eventually reach a consensus, it was surprisingly coherent: negotiate the best deal possible and then have another referendum to let the electorate decide between that deal and remaining in the EU. However, the position was reached far too late to turn the tide of Boris Johnson and the right-wing media labelling Corbyn as ‘ditherer’ when it came to the EU – eg: James Tapsfield in the Daily Mail.
The position Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet eventually reached was not only too late to sell to the kingdom but it didn’t translate easily into a soundbite like “Let’s get Brexit done!”
Stick with the extremes or moderate?
In what has been taken as a thinly-veiled attack on Keir Starmer, Labour deputy leadership candidate Richard Burgon has said: “By taking a middle of the road approach, a softly, softly, safely, safely, middle of the road, managerialist approach, I think that [the Labour Party] would be doomed to failure” (Nick Duffy, iNews).
It is, of course, possible that Burgon , a devoted Corbynista, is right…but history and Labour’s recent and current woes suggest that he is wrong. For one thing, not only does Boris Johnson have an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons but the proposed boundary changes, scheduled to be implemented this year, are generally estimated to benefit the Tories (Karl McDonald, iNews). Such changes will help the Tories consolidate many of their 2019 gains, even if they don’t deliver on promises to improve social and economic conditions in the previously-Labour-held seats they gained in December.
Recent history shows that, when Labour have a strong leftist as leader (Michael Foot, 1983; Corbyn, 2019), they lose badly. Moderate leftist Neil Kinnock came relatively close to winning in 1992. Leftist centrist Tony Blair gained 142 seats in 1997 to give Labour a landslide victory with 418 seats.
Of course, many in the left of Labour – not just Corbynistas – regard Blair as a closet Tory; and it is true that he and chancellor Gordon Brown followed the fiscal policies of Brown’s Tory predecessor Ken Clarke for the first year or so of Blair’s government. Nonetheless, Blair helped Labour get into power with so many seats it makes Johnson’s current majority look a little on the small side.
The lesson then appears to be that leftist-centrism appeals more to voters than hard leftism.
Of course, those on the left of Labour will appeal that it is an uneven playing field, with hard left policies labelled as ‘Communist’ and derided by the right-wing press and the Russian bots, meaning voters don’t get an unbiased view of how Labour policies could significantly alter the distribution of wealth in this kingdom and benefit the disadvantaged. They are absolutely right to protest the right-wing stranglehold on media, both online and offline.
Any strongly leftist leader will be figuratively ‘tarred and feathered’ by the right-wing media. In other words, they don’t stand a chance. But that is the way it is – the unpalatable reality of control of what British voters are allowed to know and learn. Even a leftist centrist like Starmer will have an almighty uphill struggle to get anything vaguely like a fair hearing from the right-wing media…but at least he might have a chance. He can’t be labelled a ‘Commie’ or a ‘terrorist supporter’. Unless either he’s made some dreadful decisions as Director of Public Prosecutions that could come to light or he’s going to have some appalling revelations from his private life exposed, there seems to be little the right-wing media can beat him with. Even in the fractured internal Labour politics of the past few years, he’s made sure to appear reasonably loyal to Jeremy Corbyn in public while offering alternatives for Corbyn to mull over – especially over Brexit. That looks ostensibly like a 2nd Tier way to handle Corbyn’s RED power vMEME.
One problem, if Labour do elect a hard-leftist like Long-Bailey is that it may deprive those who are relatively moderate in their leftism from a candidate they feel reflects their view. From collating research Monica Bourgeau (2019) believes that 56% of Americans fall into what she calls the ‘exhausted majority’, ranging from the moderately right to the moderately left. Having extremists as leaders deprives such people from having representative choice. However, due to the in-group/out-group effect, many on the moderate right would rather vote for Donald Trump or Boris Johnson rather than elect what is perceived to be a hard-leftist – especially when the right-wing media are bombarding them continuously with propaganda about the ‘evils’ of Socialism.
Could a leftist-centrist like Starmer win?
It would certainly be hard. The right-wing media seem generally more extreme and more in control of communications than when Blair won his landslide in 1997. But at least a moderate like Starmer wouldn’t overtly threaten the Plutocrats and their Elite lackeys in the way Corbyn did.
It’s more than possible that Starmer might have to make some concessions or do certain plutocrats some favours to assuage their bile. According to The Guardian’s Robert Booth & Jane Martinson (2016), Blair made a deal with Rupert Murdoch in 1997 to champion Murdoch’s interests within the European Union to lessen their attempts to regulate News Corporation’s activities. Corruption or ORANGE pragmatism? Either way, The Sun championed Labour and helped secure Labour’s landslide victory.
Corruption, undoubtedly, to hard leftists…but it enabled Blair to get his hands on the ‘levers of power’. People can argue endlessly about what Blair did once he had his hands on those levers. Eg: the UK went from being the world’s 7th wealthiest nation to its 2nd (World Bank, 2007) but the gap between rich and poor was greater than when Labour had swept to power (Office of National Statistics, 2007). But at least he had his hands on the levers which is something Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn never come close to. (To be fair to Blair, he did introduce a National Minimum Wage and some new employment rights and promoted new rights for gay people in the Civil Partnership Act (2004).)
So maybe some compromise is necessary for politicians to get into power, how ever unpalatable that compromise might be to those of principle. But, if a party won’t do what it needs to do to get into power – even if that means briefly ‘breaking bread’ with the devil – then that party is really little more than a protest group.
If Starmer can only get into power, through some appeasement of the hard right and advocating moderate social and economic reforms, one can only hope that he would do a better job it than Blair did. (I’ve said several times that, at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, Blair appeared to show 2nd Tier thinking; but, after that, he appeared increasingly to be dominated by a RED/ORANGE vMEME harmonic of self-aggrandisement – see A Message for Tony Blair?, for example.) Once in power with a sizeable majority, Starmer can introduce legislation to limit the powers of the transnational corporations (TNCs) and the right-wing media. Rejoining the EU – which he has refused to rule out (Rowena Mason, 2020a, The Guardian) – would help with that. The EU are very effective at bringing TNCs to heel. (Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, etc, etc, have all been forced to comply with EU regulations in order to sell into the world’s largest market.)
Getting a leftist-centrist like Starmer into power is essential. It’s the only way, short of revolution, of throwing off the increasing power and domination of the Plutocracy and their Elite lackeys. In the US and the UK we are now well immersed in what Said E Dawlabani (2013) calls ‘The Age of Only Money Matters’. Profit and financial and self-aggrandisement are the only drivers for many in the Plutocracy and the Elite. Compassion, opportunity and social mobility, social and health care, employment rights, health & safety, environmental standards and environmental protection, etc, etc, are all deprioritised, if not completely discarded, in the pursuit of personal wealth. Dawlabani attributes this to the prevalence of what he terms ‘toxic ORANGE’.
With the world fast approaching ‘Climate Catastrophe’, we simply cannot afford, on a regional, national and international level to have leaders like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson facilitating the short-termist indulgences of the wealthy and the TNCs. We need politicians who can appeal to both moderate Conservatives and moderate Labour voters – the 56% – to gain power and start making the changes the UK – and the world – needs.
In extreme times, when one side has an extreme leader, it’s almost counter-intuitive to insist the other side puts forward a moderate leader. Yet Don Beck’s Assimilation-Contrast Effect (2003) shows that moderates on one side tend to see themselves as closer to moderates on the other than they might actually be – the assimilation effect. Correspondingly extremists on one side perceive moderates on their own side to be traitors to ‘the cause’. This contrast effect was seen in the December 2019 election when Johnson insisted every Tory candidate had to have pro-Brexit credentials; in other words, anti-Brexit Conservatives were effectively purged from Parliament. So moderate Tory voters who can’t stand Johnson and his extremist policies may be inclined to give Starmer a chance if Starmer can sell himself to them as a leftist-centrist who is capable of understanding rightist-centrist concerns.