Labour “moderates” have no talent.
The supposed “unleashing” of backbench talent once we’d seen the back of Corbyn was a foolish myth; the moderates have no talent, no ideas, and no intellectual base.
What does Keir Starmer stand for? This is a question now asked so frequently it’s become a piece of satire, with the left flank of his own party, AND the Tory party, consistently asking him “what are you all about?” while our dear LOTO refuses to allow himself to be pinned down to anything resembling a concrete political position or commitment.
I’m here today to tell you there’s actually a reason for this: basically every flank of the Labour party save the socialist left, have zero ideas or commitments in the 21st century. The genuine hardcore “Blairites” just regurgitate electoral strategies from 1997, with no comprehension of how to tackle the big issues of the 21st century. The “Brownites” have constitutional tinkering; certainly part and parcel of any radical programme, but unoriginal, not unique to that faction, and disembowelled from radical economic reform.
The soft left has all the same policies the left proposed and developed, but watered down, and with an imperialistic western-centric foreign policy. In other words, no original ideas, just a uniquely unpopular blend that alienates everyone. The socialist left are the only people with any ideas, the people who’ve set the terrain of debate within the party, and this is showing in the fact that making a break with them for Starmer is leaving him with no ideas and no idea developers.
Another myth we were fed was that Corbyn was some sort of factional wonk, depriving us of the true Labourite talents, such as transphobic, racist, attention seeking rightwinger Jess Phillips, and swivelling hypocrite Wes Streeting. Apparently the REAL Labour was always MPs campaigning against water nationalisation, before leaving parliament to lobby for a private water company, or the likes of Luciana Burger or Chuka Umunna who were unprincipled politicians but without the slickness, and who now seem to be corporate lobbyists. Real true, red, Labour stuff.
This history of the Corbyn project, tied to a critique of the calibre of his shadow cabinet, ignores completely the realities involved at the time. Corbyn was TOO generous to other factions, by handing them most top jobs initially and letting them rebel, taking opportunity after opportunity to reach out, until the eventual bunker mentality set in out of self defence and necessity, not desire.
So are there political operators we were deprived of under Corbyn? Looking at the current shadow cabinet, seemingly not. Most of these people aren’t any better at coms and slickness, and are worse because they seem less authentic. Corbyn’s lot were rusty, but real. This lot are rusty and plastic at the same time. Corbyn’s coms were far, far from perfect and while under siege, there was plenty of errors from that leadership. However, the worst coms of all time award goes to Starmer’s shadow team; it’s painful to watch this lot go on TV.
In short, in place of the supposed hidden talented political operators banished to the wilderness, we discover they’re a bunch of unprincipled, useless, clueless, good for nothing political grifters. Why else would they refuse to serve under an elected leader (and they did for a very long time, AND they rebelled to topple a leader with a huge mandate, AND they consistently briefed hostility to Corbyn to the establishment media, don’t start).
Tony Blair killed the Labour party in more ways than one. He killed it by consistently drumming down its vote share after the 1997 landslide onwards, he alienated core voters and flung them into the arms of UKIP and now Johnsonian Toryism, and his Europhile politics enabled the hard right campaign that spearheaded Brexit (the left didn’t get in the game, it should have put Lexit on the agenda, but that’s an unrelated discussion to Blair).
The other, less high profile ways he murdered the project, is by filling it with authoritarian, warmongering, neoliberals. These people have no talent, are silver spooned career politicians, and make up the majority of the PLP. How is it right that that’s the centre of gravity in the supposed party of labour? It’s in the name! If you want a balance between labour and capital, you aren’t a Labourite, you’re a Lib Dem FFS! Blair’s destruction of the party is exemplified when you see the balance belief held by so many of the PLP.
Is there a solution? One solution was for Corbyn to be the harsh party manager many made him out to be, when in actuality he’s a jam making pacifist who always sees the best in people, even if they want his head on a platter. Mass deselection by grassroots members at election time to remake the party would have been extremely harsh, but when we’re dealing with people like we are, it should have been considered so much more.
When the membership of a democratic socialist party allegedly run by its members is so consistently at odds with the overwhelmingly majority of elected officials, no just on policy, or strategy, but on values and core convictions, something needs to be done. Because believe me, grassroots Labour members share much more beliefs with the public at large than Blairite MPs do, and that fact terrifies the Labour right.
If/when the left gets a hold of the party apparatus (potentially a decade and a half, or even two decades away, if ever), there needs to be wholesale changing of the guards within the PLP. Out with the Jess Phillipses, the Alastair Campbell warmongering stans, the people stuck in the 1990s to a politics long dead. In with the the Zara Sultanas, the Richard Burgons; working class people, imbedded in their communities and representing the grassroots through a different politics.
Labour is in a grim place right now, and that’s the result of long term systemic issues. But there is always room to hope; hope is a good thing, actually. Ambition for the world we want to build, the politics we want to foster. Just remember, we have the long term strengths, we have the ideas, the thinktanks, the people. We didn’t have this pre-Corbyn, but now we do, and we’re building an ecosystem and a media that can sustain the next left populist leadership with a shot at national power, be it a radical Labour leader, be it from the Greens or a new force, we’ll be ready and we’ll have the momentum (no pun intended) on our side.
It sounds trite, but the long term future really is ours to loose. We need to cultivate and expand our support among the young and the disenfranchised, because that’s what’s going to hand us hegemonic state power in the long term. The establishment can’t hold back the gates of change forever, unless we sit on our arses and let them.