Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer in 2019. Photo: Flickr/Jessica Taylor and Stephen Pike Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer in 2019. Photo: Flickr/Jessica Taylor and Stephen Pike

Lindsey German on Labour travails and the power of protest

Labour right-wingers have been telling us for the past year that all will be well now that Jeremy Corbyn has been replaced with an ‘electable’ leader. Problem is, all is not well in Labour. The elections now looming look bad for party, and there isn’t much excuse for that after over a decade of the Tories in power and when the government has been revealed as corrupt, incompetent and heartless at every turn during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opinion polls are putting the Tories well ahead of Labour. It is expected to come third in Scotland, lose seats in Wales, and put in a lacklustre performance in London. The Hartlepool by-election is quite likely to be won by the Tories. Starmer, heroic as ever, is already blaming poor ratings on a ‘vaccine bounce’. In fact they point to a ‘Starmer slump’ as the nationalists, Greens and Lib Dems all pick up votes from the main opposition.

Such is the discontent with the Labour leader – just a year after he took office – that there is widespread talk of a leadership challenge, with names like Yvette Cooper and even Jess Philips being mooted. This clamour will grow if May 6th turns out as badly as many predict.

Starmer is succeeding in losing friends at an alarming rate. Many on the left voted for him thinking that he would stick to at least some Corbyn policies, with people like Paul Mason acting as cheerleaders and telling us that Starmer would advance the class struggle. How wrong can you be? At every stage he has refused to seriously oppose the government, allowing it to get away with murder. It has not gone unnoticed that he has called for Nicola Sturgeon to step down while refusing to call for any Tory to do so.

As a number of us pointed out a year ago, Starmer’s political instincts appear to be near zero, he is incapable of showing any energy or emotion in speeches, and he is leading Labour to the right as rapidly as he can. He opposed corporation tax rises. The only reason there was not a Labour abstention on the police bill which passed its second reading last week is because of the anger over the attacks on women demonstrators. The Hartlepool selection had a longlist of one – an ultra-Remainer in a strongly Leave area who lost his seat in 2019 and whose sexist tweet has led to calls for him to stand down.  

Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended from the party whip. Ordinary members are witch-hunted across the country and huge numbers have already left the party. In addition, the indefinite postponement of the Gould report about the behaviour of staff at party HQ under Corbyn’s leadership is an insult to the left.

The growing anger at the government finds no reflection in Starmer or his dull and cautious shadow cabinet. Indeed their fear of the left will lead to more safety-first policies, more attempts to claim patriotic fervour and love of the flag, more obsession with winning over former Tories while ignoring left policies.   

And the Labour right isn’t letting the facts about Starmer get in the way of its dogma. Now Peter Mandelson has declared that Starmer must go much further in changing Labour and that the manifesto of 2019 is like a ‘millstone round his neck’. Mandelson’s cheek is astonishing – if Labour loses Hartlepool it will be in no small measure down to him. When sitting MP there he presided over a steady decline in the Labour vote going back 20 years. And his obsession with the second referendum, like Starmer, led to the policy which is widely held to be the main reason for Labour’s loss, rather than the manifesto.

In a time when there should be no going back to the old normal, Starmer is incapable of providing any kind of left leadership. Calls for nationalisation, taxing the rich, cutting arms spending, are not going to issue from his mouth. It may well be that Corbyn’s votes in 2017 (now written out of history by politicians and media alike) and even 2019 will mark some of the better Labour votes in this century. On Starmer’s present performance he is unlikely to beat them.

Those wanting change are going to have to look outside Labour – and especially to movements which can help reconstitute a fighting left.

Police violence and protest: time to fight back

The outrage over protest has erupted this week. Horror at the attack on the women’s vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday turned to anger at the police role and at the attempt by parliament to restrict our rights even further. The police bill will make it harder to demonstrate, further criminalise protest, put huge pressure on demo organisers. It is vindictive, aimed at effective recent protests from Black Lives Matter and XR, and all about protecting the rich and powerful. 

It has already met with wide opposition and I was pleased to be part of a protest on Monday night in Parliament Square of thousands of people, which linked up the two issues.

The best way to defend the right to protest is to keep protesting, which I am certainly going to do to the best of my ability. The People’s Assembly has called a demonstration for June 26th when hopefully we can gather safely.

However we also need to hold the police to account. More details are coming out about the police and violence against women. The alleged killer of Sarah Everard was a serving Met Police officer. Last week another serving policemen was convicted of an attack on a woman where he obviously used his police training to intimidate her. Recent reports of complaints over sexual abuse and harassment cases in the Met show 119 out of just under 600 such cases upheld.

The solutions to male violence being put forward are simply not going to deal with this. Longer sentences are not the answer when the crime of rape has been effectively decriminalised. Putting plain clothes police in clubs and pubs to supposedly detect offenders strikes me as one of the of worst ways of dealing with violence. We already have laws against sexual violence and abuse. The problem is they are not implemented or taken seriously. And that is to do with the systematic sexism in the police, the judiciary, and across wider society. We need system change to deal with it.

Before you go...

Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.