The self-purging from the left is only justifying Starmer’s takeover
A few weeks ago, members of the NEC left slate staged a virtual walkout after a tense factional atmosphere ensued over the body’s chairmanship and Corbyn’s recent suspension. Prominent Corbyn-affiliated figures, from Laura Pidcock to Howard Beckett, have scolded Keir Starmer and general secretary, David Evans, for their purging of the Labour left.
This is a theme that has taken hold since possibly Starmer’s leadership win in April. According to the Times, Labour has witnessed an exodus of approximately 250 members a day since the spring. Adding to that, high-profile socialist figures have quit the party in protest at its rightward shift. Former parliamentary private secretary to John McDonnell, Thelma Walker, and five councillors on the Lancaster City Council have relinquished their membership over the treatment of Corbyn after the EHRC report was released.
Lest we forget that the belief in a radical socialist Labour party is still ubiquitous amongst its grassroots base. In a recent interview with commentator Owen Jones, McDonnell called the “self-purging” of Labour left figures as “ludicrous” and against the party’s founding principles. He signalled the importance of staying in the party and organising with a rank-and-file strategy.
McDonnell is right. The Labour Party was discovered as a broad church and Starmer’s centrist manoeuvres will become more prolific if there’s no-one to criticise from within. Starmer must be held to account and remain committed to his word of ending sectarian strife that riddled the party during the Corbyn era. Without the left, Starmer would not have achieved a landslide leadership win without grassroots support. The majority of members, who one backed Corbyn, believed in Starmer’s “electable image” and his pledge to retain the party’s manifesto proposals in 2017 and 2019.
Those members who have dramatically exited the party just seven months into Starmerism have hindered the left’s years-long battle to control the party’s governance. Under the Blair/Brown years, no party expert would have comprehended a socialist Labour leadership winning power five years after the New Labour administration fell. Former left-wing parliamentarian and influential figure in the Socialist Campaign Group, Alan Simpson, previously described New Labour’s objective to put its internal critics into a “sealed tomb”. This was clearly not case and the party’s changing direction proves that.
The Corbynista left has never been so influential in party dynamics. With Starmer at the helm, the left still see resounding victories in internal elections and struggles. Five out of six of the Momentum-backed Grassroots Voice candidates for the NEC won their seats. The Young Labour elections also saw widespread approval of its socialist candidate, Jess Barnard, who has caused waves on Twitter with her recent posts. Her condemnation of Labour HQ has assured many that left-wing voices will not be sidelined.
This year has seen the most severe public health pandemic in over a century, outlining stark inequality between the classes. The climate crisis has galvanised many to fight for a greener world. The housing market has soared meaning over a third of millennials will never afford to buy their own home. These realities mean radical ideas are needed. The Labour party promised them under Corbyn but its current battle for centre-ground ideology will not suffice.
Members and activists must stay and fight for equality and justice under a socialist Labour government. Allowing an easy ride for Starmer and his acolytes will only marginalise the left’s vision for a fairer and better world. Labour without the left will not succeed. Starmer, David Evans and the majority of the PLP know this too. To keep Labour in the hands of the many and not the few, organising within is the better option.