Keir Starmer became leader of the Labour Party in March 2020.
Keir Starmer once edited a left-wing magazine Socialist Alternatives in his youth. “I still see myself as a socialist,” he insists. “Whether I still agree with everything I did or said in my 20s is another matter… You gain experiences as you go along, but I would still call myself a socialist.”
Paul Mason on Keir Starmer:
- You can criticise Starmer for many things: the compromises he made as director of public prosecutions and his resignation during the chicken coup. But you cannot say he is not left wing. From the miners and print workers’ strikes onwards, even if you leave aside co-editing a Trotskyist front magazine in his 20s, Starmer has been of the humanist and socially-liberal left. As someone who stood in the way of the same mounted police charge as he did, at Wapping in 1986, I can tell you it didn’t feel very centrist at the time.
Born in Southwark, south London in 1962, Keir Starmer was the second of four children to Rodney Starmer, a toolmaker, and Josephine Starmer, a nurse. Devout in their leftism, his parents named their second son after Keir Hardie, Labour’s first parliamentary leader.
He spent his teenage years at Reigate Grammar, a selective state school where he took violin lessons with Norman Cook, later Fatboy Slim, and his friends included Andrew Cooper, later a Conservative peer, and Andrew Sullivan, who would make his name as a conservative controversialist in the US. Mention of Sullivan brought Starmer out in a broad smile: they are still in touch. “We fought over everything, Andrew and I,” he said. “Politics, religion. You name it.”
Sullivan was an unrepentant Thatcherite, while Starmer was, in the words of another schoolfriend, “left, left, left”.
Starmer joined Labour in his early teens and led the East Surrey Young Socialists. At that time, Militant’s tentacles enveloped much of Labour’s youth movement, but Starmer resisted them. According to Jon Pike, an Open University academic and east Surrey contemporary, Starmer had no truck with Bennite Euroscepticism, or the tankies who haunted hard-left meetings. “European internationalism has always been very strong for me,” Starmer says.
At Leeds University he read law (postgraduate study at Oxford followed) and experienced a deeper political awakening. “I got profoundly interested in human rights: this sense, that meant a lot to me, that the countries at the end of the Second World War had joined together and said, ‘never again’.”
Starmer, an ardent Remainer, made his peace with Brexit at the outset of the leadership campaign. But the pro-Europeanism that has manifested itself through his efforts to soften Labour’s Brexit position – first through his legalistic “six tests”, the device that enabled Labour to vote against Theresa May’s deal – comes from a place of deep conviction.
His politics are continental but are not the “bland centrism” criticised by supporters of Long-Bailey. “He was very much what Europeans would now call a red-green,” said the QC Gavin Millar, who interviewed Starmer for his pupillage in 1987 and later shared rooms with him in a set of Middle Temple chambers run by Emlyn Hooson, the radical Liberal MP who had defended the Moors murderer Ian Brady. Growing up, Starmer had never knowingly met a lawyer: Geoffrey Robertson, another QC and pioneer of the progressive bar, described how he turned up for the interview in a cardigan, was “nervous and awkward”, and “looked about 14”. By then Starmer had moved into a flat above a brothel in Highgate, where he devoted himself to work. Stacked high about his room were boxes of Socialist Alternatives, a Trotksyite pamphlet, for which he was once a co-editor.
The coercive forces of the Thatcherite state were the main targets of his ire, most often the police. In one piece, written from the picket line of the anti-Murdoch, Wapping printers’ dispute, Starmer asked “the question of the role the police should play, if any, in civil society. Who are they protecting and from what?”
He did not hide his politics at the bar. In 1990, Millar, Robertson and Starmer were among 30 barristers who left chambers in the Inns of Court and set up a new, radical practice on Doughty Street, north London. They wanted to break the establishment cartel and defeat the Thatcherite hegemony – unassailable in parliament – in the courts. “He was very interested in environmental politics: public order, protesting, and street campaigning,” Millar said.
Critics say Starmer’s emphasis on his work representing trade unions and environmental campaigners is a selective telling of his legal career, but Millar disagrees: “He would take very, very left-wing positions quite happily in those days. The clients he represented were on the left… He was bona fide. The context tells you why: Thatcherism, the miners’ strike, industrial conflicts, cuts to public sector and welfare budgets. It was a terrible, terrible time. Our reason for being there was to fight it.”
Then, as now, he was among those who believed that Labour could succeed only by uniting what Hilary Wainwright, the leftist sociologist and journalist, called the “fragments” of liberation movements (what would now be described as identity politics) with the traditional working class beyond parliament. Or, as Starmer later put it to Tony Benn in an interview for Socialist Alternatives, it needed to become “a united party of the oppressed”.
In that respect, Starmer has more in common with Corbyn than many of his supporters would admit: both are of the extra-parliamentary left, and neither has reversed his views on much. “I don’t think there are big issues on which I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “The big issue we were grappling with then was how the Labour Party, or the left generally, bound together the wider movement and its strands of equality – feminist politics, green politics, LGBT – which I thought was incredibly exciting, incredibly important. Broadly speaking, I think the Labour Party has done that very successfully.”
As a young barrister, Starmer devoted his energies to human rights cases, often on behalf of trade unions or against the police. He defended criminals sentenced to death in the Caribbean, where he is still lionised by the legal establishment. He remained an activist advocate, writing extensively on civil liberties for the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, alongside progressive luminaries such as Michael Mansfield and Helena Kennedy. He also worked pro bono for Helen Steel and David Morris – the so-called McLibel Two, whose environmental leaflets prompted a 15-year legal battle with McDonald’s, ending in their victory in the European courts. Starmer, fresh-faced and floppy-haired, appears in McLibel, a 1997 documentary about the pair’s epic struggle. “He was sweet, sincere and obviously super-clever, but self-deprecating and witty too,” Franny Armstrong, who directed the film alongside Ken Loach, says. “I never heard him discuss party politics, but actions speak louder than words: he spent years working, unpaid, to defend ordinary people’s right to criticise multinational corporations.”
Yet Starmer felt a nagging dissatisfaction. “Gradually, I got frustrated with individual cases, because win or lose, you’re only changing things for the individual that you’re representing,” he said. He turned to strategic litigation, picking and choosing cases in a bid to effect wider changes to the law. “I was still a human rights lawyer railing against the system from the outside.”
Those who know Starmer best were unsurprised by his move to electoral politics. “I feel I’ve always had very deep politics in everything I’ve done,” he told me. “I channelled it into cases, but in the end I came back almost to where I started when I was a teenager: in the end, you can only do it through national politics, which means being in parliament.”
Once a radical whose modus operandi was to muzzle and constrain the state, Starmer was now seeking executive power.
To explain this, he references his time in Northern Ireland, where, between 2003 and 2008, he worked as a human rights adviser to the Policing Board – a body set up under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to oversee the work of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, the replacement for the much-maligned Royal Ulster Constabulary. Part of its remit was ensuring that the new police service was genuinely representative of both the Protestant and Catholic communities. It was there that Starmer learned the value of working with the state, rather than against it.
“That really exposed me, for five years, to working on the inside of an organisation… Some of the things I thought that needed to change in police services we achieved more quickly than we achieved in strategic litigation… I came better to understand how you can change by being inside and getting the trust of people.”
In 2008 he became the ultimate legal insider: director of public prosecutions (DPP). His appointment by Gordon Brown’s government came as something of a surprise. Starmer had been no friend to New Labour, as much as he admired its domestic policy. Its authoritarian streak sat uneasily with his civil libertarian instincts. He marched and provided legal opinions against the Iraq War, and challenged New Labour’s policies on welfare and asylum seekers. Nor had he ever prosecuted a criminal case. One of the bar’s most dogged opponents of state power was now responsible for the delivery of criminal justice and 9,000 staff.
He would leave office after his five-year term in 2013 with his reputation in the legal world unharmed and arguably enhanced. At the beginning of his tenure, the Conservative MP Dominic Grieve was among the Tories who censured Starmer after he implicitly criticised David Cameron’s plans to rescind the Human Rights Act in government. By the time Starmer’s term ended, the two had forged such a close working relationship that Grieve, who had since become Cameron’s attorney general, spoke at his leaving party. They would later work together to thwart a no-deal Brexit.
It was at the CPS that Starmer learned – as he puts it to Labour members – “how you effect change across a big organisation”. The contrast with Corbyn, whose closest brush with executive responsibility before his election as Labour leader was the chairmanship of Haringey Council’s planning committee, barely needs emphasising. Yet Starmer’s Corbynite critics question the durability of his principles, pointing to a series of controversial decisions he made in office.
Starmer decided against prosecuting the police officers responsible for the killings of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot dead on a Tube having been wrongly identified as a terror suspect following the London attacks of 2005, and of Ian Tomlinson, the London newspaper seller pushed to his death at the G20 protests in 2010. Under his leadership, the CPS charged anti-austerity protesters for staging a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason in 2012; one academic accused Starmer, who once defended the rights of acid house ravers, of criminalising peaceful assembly and protests.
His team have preferred to emphasise his decisions to launch prosecutions against News of the World journalists over phone hacking, and against MPs for their abuse of the parliamentary expenses system. Some of his supporters, however, are similarly anxious about the legacy of his time as DPP, namely in his leadership style. “We’ve already had one command-and-control, centralising leader,” said one shadow minister. “We can’t afford another.”
Former CPS colleagues disagree, and recall Starmer as a consensual, collaborative director whose first major decision was to give up his official car, which he believed was an unnecessary extravagance at the height of a financial crisis. “You can criticise him from the left, or the right, or from any particular perspective about a decision to prosecute or not prosecute,” said the barrister Gavin Millar. “That’s what happens: you expose yourself to that. All you can do is temper the role with your understanding of human rights principles, and he did that.”
In 2013, Starmer was recruited by Ed Miliband, whose soft-left politics resemble his own, to review the party’s justice policies. When the clubbable Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras – as safe a seat as any Labour MP could hope for – announced in 2014 his long-expected retirement, Starmer approached the selection campaign with Stakhanovite focus: he wooed members individually, over coffees and lunches (he organised early and was handsomely funded). He was endorsed by Neil Kinnock and, tacitly at least, by Miliband.
Raj Chada, a solicitor and former leader of Camden Council who ran against Starmer for the selection, said it became obvious very early – as it has over the course of the leadership election – that he would win comfortably: “I learned very quickly that he had broadly the same politics as me. I would have voted for him. I almost thought: why am I standing against him?”
Had Miliband won the 2015 election, the expectation was that Starmer would reach ministerial office immediately. Instead, his first weeks in parliament were soundtracked by premature leadership speculation, so uninspiring was the declared field of contenders: Labour members started an online campaign in an attempt to draft him to stand just a week after his election. He declined, but immediately found himself on the front bench, where he stayed after the election of Jeremy Corbyn – his constituency neighbour. Along with most of his colleagues, he resigned from the shadow cabinet in an attempt to force Corbyn out in the wake of the EU referendum – which his opponents on the left still hold against him.
In November 2016, he was among the few who returned to the shadow cabinet, as shadow Brexit secretary. Starmer and Corbyn have a cordial working relationship, and make small talk about Arsenal’s fortunes. But at every juncture, Starmer pushed the envelope further than the leadership would have liked. Since his turn at Labour’s 2018 conference in Liverpool – when he not only delivered the policy that committed the party to a second referendum but, without approval from Corbyn, committed to including Remain on the ballot – he has been a marked man for some on the left. Unite’s Len McCluskey – a supporter of Long-Bailey (the union is Labour’s largest donor) – is among those who blames Starmer for the collapse of Labour’s vote in its traditional heartlands in the 2019 election.
Starmer has taken an ecumenical approach to staffing as befits his promise of unity. Simon Fletcher and Kat Fletcher (they are not related), who worked on Corbyn’s 2015 leadership in 2015, are on the team, as is Matt Pound, of the old right pressure group Labour First. Morgan McSweeney, who ran Liz Kendall’s doomed leadership campaign, is likely to be Starmer’s chief of staff. Ben Nunn, his longtime adviser on communications, worked on Owen Smith’s leadership campaign.That they have all ended up in the same place either proves that there is something in Starmer’s promise of a post-factional, united party or that something will inevitably have to give, depending on one’s political persuasion.
The answer will perhaps lie in Starmer’s choice of shadow chancellor. When Jeremy Corbyn appointed John McDonnell, whose politics and personality were then loathed by most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, it marked his intended direction of travel. The left will draw similar conclusions if, as many in Westminster expect, Starmer appoints Rachel Reeves as his shadow chancellor. Anneliese Dodds, the thoughtful Oxford East MP who has served in McDonnell’s team since 2017, is another plausible candidate. 
Keir Starmer's Shadow Cabinet
- Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition
- Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party
- Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary
- Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary
- Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- David Lammy, Shadow Justice Secretary
- John Healey, Shadow Defence Secretary
- Ed Miliband, Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary
- Emily Thornberry, Shadow International Trade Secretary
- Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
- Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
- Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Education Secretary
- Jo Stevens, Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
- Bridget Philipson, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
- Luke Pollard, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary
- Steve Reed, Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary
- Thangam Debbonaire, Shadow Housing Secretary
- Jim McMahon, Shadow Transport Secretary
- Preet Kaur Gill, Shadow International Development Secretary
- Louise Haigh, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary (interim)
- Ian Murray, Shadow Scotland Secretary
- Nia Griffith, Shadow Wales Secretary
- Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary
- Andy McDonald, Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary
- Rosena Allin-Khan, Shadow Minister for Mental Health
- Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement
- Charles Falconer, Shadow Attorney General
- Valerie Vaz, Shadow Leader of the House
- Nick Brown, Opposition Chief Whip
- Angela Smith, Shadow Leader of the Lords
- Tommy McAvoy, Lords’ Opposition Chief Whip
New Labour leader Keir Starmer has appointed lots of new faces to the shadow cabinet. After emphasising the need for party unity throughout his campaign, he promised that his shadow cabinet would be “balanced across the party”, “balanced across the country” and “balanced in terms of diversity”.
Consistent with his message of unity, Keir Starmer has offered positions to his leadership rivals, with Lisa Nandy becoming the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Rebecca Long-Bailey taking the education portfolio.
Some notable if unsurprising names have left the shadow cabinet include Richard Burgon, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery. All were key allies of the outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn and were also supportive of Rebecca Long-Bailey for leader.
In contrast, 14 of the last Labour shadow cabinet supported the left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey for leader in the recent contest – while 11 backed Keir Starmer. The full list of those leaving the shadow cabinet is as follows:
- Tracy Brabin
- Richard Burgon
- Dawn Butler
- Dan Carden
- Shami Chakrabarti
- Peter Dowd
- Barry Gardiner
- Margaret Greenwood
- Andrew Gwynne
- Barbara Keeley
- Ian Lavery
- Rachael Maskell
- Christina Rees
- Jon Trickett
Overall, the number of BAME figures in the new shadow cabinet is seven (Lisa Nandy, David Lammy, Preet Kaur Gill, Thangam Debbonaire, Marsha de Cordova, Rosena Allin-Khan and Valerie Vaz) compared to four in the previous cabinet (Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Valerie Vaz and Shami Chakrabarti).
With Anneliese Dodds joining Lisa Nandy as Chancellor, Keir Starmer has selected two women for the top jobs. 17 of the positions in the new leader’s shadow cabinet are women while 15 are men. This replaces a shadow cabinet under Jeremy Corbyn with a total of 11 women.
There are eight Co-op Party MPs in the new shadow cabinet, including the chair of the group in parliament: Jim McMahon. He is joined by Anneliese Dodds, Preet Kaur Gill, Jon Ashworth, Jonathan Reynolds, Steve Reed, Luke Pollard and Lord McAvoy.
There are also 15 MPs who are members of the Fabian Society, including Keir Starmer himself. Also members of the Labour-affiliated organisation are Angela Rayner, Anneliese Dodds, Lisa Nandy, Nick Thomas-Symonds and Rachel Reeves – taking up five of the biggest jobs.
Thangam Debbonaire, Ed Miliband, Steve Reed, Lisa Nandy, Jim McMahon, Bridget Phillipson, Marsha de Cordova and David Lammy are all involved with Labour Together – a group currently conducting a review into the 2019 election defeat.
The youngest member on the shadow cabinet is Louise Haigh at 32, while Lord McAvoy is the oldest at 76.
The new shadow cabinet members largely entered parliament in the past ten years, with many only taking their seats for the first time in 2015. Only seven were elected before 2010 and Nick Brown is the longest sitting of the bunch, having joined parliament in 1983.
A total of six were elected in the 2010 election while a further nine joined in 2015, including Keir Starmer himself. Four were elected at the 2017 general election – including Dodds, whose has seen a meteoric promotion in being elevated to the role of Shadow Chancellor so soon.
12 of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet members were first elected to parliament before 2010 with several – including the former leader, Diane Abbott, John Healey, John McDonnell, Tony Lloyd, Nick Brown, Jon Trickett and Barry Gardiner – elected before 2000. 
"Uniting Our Movement"
Our shared values should bring us together to tackle injustice, argues Keir Starmer MP.
This originally appeared in Path to power BY Keir Starmer DATE 28 February 2020.
It was 120 years ago this month that 129 representatives of the British working-class movement, socialist societies and disparate left political groups met at Memorial Hall in London to create a united and common force.
They came together in support of a motion proposed by Keir Hardie to create a distinct group in parliament dedicated to “promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour.” It was the birth of the Labour Party. The Fabians were there, standing shoulder to shoulder with trade unionists and fellow socialists in common determination to break the grip of Tory and Liberal rule and put an end to the great injustices faced daily by Britain’s working class.
Since then, the Labour party has become the greatest force for good our country has ever known. Our movement founded the National Health Service, introduced the Equal Pay Act, transformed education, created Sure Start, decriminalised homosexuality, established the national minimum wage and helped to deliver peace in Northern Ireland. We fought for workers’ rights, environmental protection and equality.
It is a proud history, but the sad truth is that it should be prouder. We have only been in government for 33 of those 120 years. The vast majority of our time has been in opposition.
In government, we can change lives. In opposition, we can’t. That is why the election result was so devastating. It was devastating for our movement, our party and for the millions of people who so desperately needed change in December – and still do.
We are now facing the most right-wing government in recent history. A prime minister and a cabinet utterly lacking in principles or conviction...
The Fabian Society Apr 5. What do
have in common?
THEY ARE ALL FABIANS
The Fabian Society is delighted to congratulate Keir Starmer on his election as leader of the Labour Party. Keir is a member of the Fabian Society’s executive committee and joins the long line of Labour leaders who have been prominent Fabians.
Congratulations also to Angela Rayner on her election as deputy leader. Angela is also an active member of the Fabian Society. Both Keir and Angela have frequently written for the Fabian Society and addressed our conferences and events.
“The Fabian Society is delighted to congratulate Keir and Angela on their election as leader and deputy leader of the Labour party. We are incredibly proud to see two of our most talented Fabian Society members take charge of the British opposition.
“Both Keir and Angela exemplify the best of Fabian values in the way they combine such passion for social justice with a hard-headed practicality. The Labour party and the country will be well served by two inspiring Fabians leading the British left.”
Fabians Against Corbyn
The January 14 Fabian Society conference, “The Left in Britain. Britain in the World,” was called to discuss “where next for the British left” following “the Brexit referendum in the UK and the accession of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.”
It would supposedly outline “what we believe, who we speak to, and how we win.”
Fabianism was central to the moves against both of Corbyn’s leadership challenges in 2015 and 2016. Fabian members and supporters within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) led last year’s attempted coup against him. No less than 15 shadow secretaries of state and nine shadow ministers, who resigned from Corbyn’s cabinet in a bid to force him out, were associated with the society.
Corbyn’s professed aim of transforming Labour into a vehicle for socialism was an anathema to the Fabian Society, which sought to utilise the party’s defeat in the 2015 General Election to engineer a further shift to the right. To this end it had launched its “Facing the Future” programme, to “bring together a broad range of voices” aimed at answering what Labour needed to do “to secure a winning coalition of support across every region and age-group, attracting SNP [Scottish National Party], UKIP [UK Independence Party] and Conservative voters..?”
It has had to make several adjustments to its efforts to position Labour firmly on the right given the failure of the anti-Corbyn coup and the crisis created by the vote to leave the European Union in the UK referendum last June. But its aims remain unchanged.
Prior to its conference, Fabian General Secretary Andrew Harrop published a report, "Stuck, How Labour is too weak to win and too strong to die". He wrote that Labour’s problem was that it is too weak to win the next election, but too strong to be displaced as the UK’s main party of opposition—mainly as a result of the first-past-the-post system. The sense of stagnation was compounded by an “uneasy calm” in the party. While Corbyn had beaten off the coup, the Labour leader had “no roadmap for winning back lost voters,” Harrop asserted, while amongst the PLP there is “quietude, passitivity and resignation.”
“This is the calm of stalemate, of insignificance, even of looming death,” he warned.
Harrop presented statistics purporting to show that Labour was haemorrhaging support to the more overtly pro and anti-EU parties, due to its “muffled and inconsistent” line on Brexit. The bottom line was that Labour “has no choice but to reach out to people in both camps, by positioning itself in the middle of the newly dominant social/cultural axis of politics….”
It must “become the party of this cultural ‘middle’,” Harrop went on. Tony Blair had tried to “own the ‘centre ground’ of the left-right economic axis. Now the party’s goal must be to dominate the centre of the newly dominant social/cultural axis that runs between Blair’s liberal internationalism and Trump’s social authoritarianism. The party must plant its flag midway between these poles and seek to occupy as much space as possible…”
The reference to Blair makes clear the character of what Harrop is proposing. The former Labour leader was the figurehead for the transformation of Labour into a right wing party of big business. The claim to stand at the centre of a “newly dominant social/cultural axis” is aimed at re-consolidating this shift, through a noxious brew of identity politics and support for Britain’s continued access to the European single market (so-called “liberal internationalism”) with economic nationalism and anti-migrant restrictions, masquerading as a defence of working people (“social authoritarianism”).
On the eve of the conference, Harrop extrapolated on this theme, writing that within the Labour Party there was a “three-way tug-of-war between populist socialism, mainstream social democracy, and the communitarianism of Blue Labour. Each has something to offer, but can Labour create a fresh politics that coherently combines a bit of them all?”
The aim is not merely to fashion some arrangement that can keep Labour together. Its goal is a Progressive Alliance that will allow Labour to “govern in partnership with other parties,” Harrop states—mainly, but not confined to, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats.
Whether this is possible matters less than the political function that such an orientation will serve—which is to bury entirely the common class issues facing working people beneath one or another variety of nationalist politics.
This is made clear by Harrop’s suggestion that Labour should recognise that “an English majority [in parliament] is also much more achievable than a UK majority. Labour must prepare itself to work in partnership, in an era of quasi-federal, multi-party politics.”
This means that Labour should essentially accept that Scotland belongs to the SNP, as the price for the Progressive Alliance and as part of the Balkanisation of the UK. Having accepted the goal of an “English majority,” Harrop suggests this would “enable Labour to legislate under the terms of ‘English votes for English laws’,” “develop a clear manifesto for England,” and a “mandate for an English legislative agenda.”
The Fabian Society’s support for a Progressive Alliance has been broadly welcomed. The Compass think-tank, founded by forces close to former Labour leader Gordon Brown and now including in its leadership representatives of the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), has been one of its main advocates. Writing in the run-up to the conference, Compass chair Neal Lawson welcomed Harrop’s “no-brainer of a political strategy.”
He ridiculed “tribalist” policies, in which Labour appeared to hate the Liberal Democrats and the SNP—writing sarcastically, “Because we are so much better than the Lib Dems, are we not? We introduced tuition fees and they doubled them. We started illegal wars and they started the bedroom tax. We focus on the 10 percent we disagree on and forget the 90 percent of times when we walk through the same lobbies… The lurch to the right means we have to forgive each other.”
Lawson was present at the conference alongside Richard Angell, of the Blairite think-tank Progress, and leading anti-Corbyn coup plotters such as Labour MPs Nia Griffith, Keir Starmer, Maria Eagle and Stephen Kinnock. Griffith and Starmer are now prominent members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.
Consensus is emerging in Labour that free movement must be limited. Kinnock, a leading figure in the pro-Remain campaign, has joined Starmer, Corbyn’s shadow Brexit secretary, in arguing for a two-tier migration system, that divides into highly-skilled EU workers and tier two, low and semi-skilled workers that should be “restricted by sector-based quotas, negotiated between government, industry and trade unions.”
Guardian journalist Paul Mason, also present at the conference, is a former member of the Workers Power group in the 1980s. His main value to the ruling class is his connections with the pseudo-left around Corbyn. Mason is another supporter of Labour building a “progressive alliance,” although previously he has sought to portray this as an opposition to the supposed racism of the white, male working class whom he blames for Brexit and Trump’s victory.
Writing the day after the conference in the Guardian, Mason now agitates for immigration controls, along the two-tier line proposed by Kinnock. He argues that Britain can remain inside the European Economic Area (EEA), while restricting freedom of movement, because “freedom of movement has always been a ‘qualified right’—not an absolute one: that is, constrained by national conditions.”
Citing the EEA treaty, Mason asserts that countries are allowed “to suspend freedom of movement, for an unspecified period and unilaterally, due to ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties’. Well, we have a serious societal difficulty: we have lost consent for high inward migration, and we need to regain it.”
Mason claims that such restrictions are aimed at clamping down on low wages and deregulated employment. Answering those who say this is “pandering to racism,” he continues, “This betrays a profound misunderstanding of what drives opposition to free movement among progressive, left-minded people,” which is really bound up with “strong cultural traditions, a strong sense of place and community…”
There is nothing to separate such language from that of the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage or Trump.
Mason’s comment was framed as a defence of Corbyn, who only last week stated that freedom of movement was “not a principle.” It is only the latest of Corbyn’s one-time “red lines”—opposition to NATO, the EU, now immigration controls—that has been unceremoniously jettisoned.
Thus Corbyn was happy to accept the position of keynote speaker at a conference organised and attended by many of his one-time political assassins.
The Labour leader said nothing explicitly on the progressive alliance, but he has no need to. His presence was proof enough. In a speech that borrowed from Trump’s references to the elite “rigging” the system, and arguing for “our exit from the EU to rebalance Britain and provide a vision for what the country could be,” he effectively signed up to the Fabian agenda.
Pledging a “further devolution of powers” in the UK, Corbyn said that a “people’s convention on how a federal Britain could work is something that is overdue.”
On immigration, he said that Labour will “do what is best for the economy,” using Brexit to “develop a genuine industrial and regional strategy…”
Benjamin Schoendorff Dec 18, 2019.
As the initiator of the magazine, where I wrote under the name Harry Curtis (and others noms-de-guerre), I remember Keir very well. I only got wind of these being online yesterday. So we were radical anti-imperialist ecosocialists. My personal stance hasn't changed much since