Sir Keir Starmer at the World Economic Forum Jan 2023 Sir Keir Starmer at the World Economic Forum Jan 2023. Photo: Benedikt von Loebell / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Starmer’s blocking of Corbyn as a Labour candidate confirms the left’s exile, but the mass movements are where we were always stronger, argues John Westmoreland

What did Jeremy Corbyn do to deserve it?

He was the most successful leader the Labour Party ever had. If leaders were measured by recruitment to the Labour Party and the enthusiasm of the membership, as well as the hatred they inspired across the establishment, Corbyn must be up there with the best. The Labour Party became the biggest social-democratic party in the world. It was a party for the young and the radical. The assortment of bureaucratic and managerial stuffed shirts that had dominated the Labour Party to that point were mortified. Corbyn’s inherent decency and humanity dwarfed them, shamed them and provoked them.

Now, for the delight of Corbyn haters everywhere, his virtual expulsion from the party he once led, by the hand of the highly esteemed mediocrity that is Sir Kier Starmer, is a moment to savour.

Corbyn represented the best of the social movements that have campaigned against poverty, racism and war. He was there on all the demonstrations for economic and social justice, speaking with knowledge and sincerity. This was the key to his leadership campaign. He was outward looking. He talked about what was wrong with the world and how it could be put right. And he always talked about himself as part of a great movement rather than the leader he so obviously was. In reality his leadership success was largely an insurgency against the political establishment of which Labour is a part.

A lot of the discussion on the left today is based on the dystopian image of a man with anti-racism in every fibre of his being getting told he can never stand again for Labour in Islington North, a constituency he has held since 1983, by a man whose proud boast is to be ‘an unflinching patriot’. Dystopia is defined as ‘an unhappy place where people are usually afraid because they are not treated fairly.’ And Labour has gone from utopian dreams to dystopian despair in the few short years since Labour lost to Johnson’s Tories in 2019.

That defeat was generated by the right wing of Labour, working with figures in other parties and the media to discredit Corbyn. The main weapon was the allegations of antisemitism that turned the proven anti-racist Jeremy Corbyn into an antisemite. It was ridiculous and insulting to link those who stood up for the rights of Palestinians and criticised Israel with a racist agenda. But the mud they threw at him stuck because senior figures in the Labour Party wanted to see him fall.

Discrediting the left

It should come as no surprise that today’s announcement by Starmer, that Corbyn could never stand for Labour and that anyone who felt sympathy for him should leave, was in response to the report clearing Labour of its ‘antisemitic failings’ under Corbyn.

And let’s be clear, the vicious attacks on Corbyn have always had the wider purpose of discrediting the left in general. The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and socialists in the Labour Party has been forced to disavow opposition to war, Nato and Israel. They allowed themselves to be consistently made to retreat from the ground they occupied under Corbyn on the grounds of party unity.

Starmer says the ‘door is open’ to those who want to criticise his leadership to leave Labour. No doubt there will be a discussion about a new left electoral party, but so far there has been no sign of the left in Labour mounting a serious fight against Starmer. This is indeed the triumph of a mediocrity.

Jeremy Corbyn deserves every bit of support from the left to defend his integrity from the slurs of Starmer and the right. But we also have to learn the lessons of the debacle Corbyn suffered. The dreams of Labour under Corbyn were always utopian. The cold revenge of the bureaucracy and establishment flunkies like Peter Mandelson was being hatched from the minute Corbyn became leader. The reality of the Labour Party, understood by Starmer and the party functionaries that cherish him, was the classic dystopia where the demand for pragmatic efficiency pours scorn and contempt on high ideals and the desire for happiness.

The best outcome for the left would be to shift from obsessing about Labour and go back to the movements on which Corbyn’s leadership was built. Mass demonstrations against poverty, Nato and war are urgently needed and can revitalise the movement.

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.