Labour leader election: the dead hand of centrism

Davy Jones asks, what do Keir Starmer’s supporters want? Answers on a postcard, as he has little idea, following his CLP’s leadership selection meeting.

14 February 2020.

I could live with Keith Starmer as Labour leader. Just about. After all, he’s been better on freedom of movement than has Rebecca Long-Bailey(who still gets my vote, on balance).

But what really gives me the heebie-jeebies is his supporters. And not just the Labour First stoogewho’s helping run his campaign. Sitting in my Constituency Labour Party’s leader and deputy leader selection meeting was a case study in the politics of triangulation and despair. Or rather, the absence of politics.

Personality crisis

One Starmer supporter after another stood up to commend his personal characteristics – his calmness under pressure, his maturity, how well he would play with an undecided electorate.

Policies? Principles? Don’t be silly – not a word. Not a single word during the whole evening. And this is from people who spent the last five years wailing about the cult of the personality under Corbyn.

One young member stood up to ask why members so easily accepted the idea that we should accommodate reactionary views, rather than challenge and seek to change them, but was roundly jeered – largely by people old enough to be his grandparents.

On one level, this is smart tactics on the part of Club Starmer – if you cannot win a battle of ideas, don’t engage. A plan worthy of Sun Tzu.

Surely poor Sir Keir deserves better representation than this?

What we did get was lectures on how British people do not like radicalism, how they are not revolutionary.

Well, perhaps not. But think on this: you are driving a car speeding towards a precipice. You have got 50 metres to go before you run out of road. But you don’t want to slam the brakes on: the passengers don’t like sudden stops – it will spill their Starbucks sippy cups.

However, you’re not blind to the danger – you’re not crazy, after all. You ease those breaks on, so as not to spill a drop. The car will come to a gentle stop in about 100 metres.

Except for that precipice: 100 metres is empty air. So is 80 metres, or 50.00001 metres, come to that. Anything more than 50 metres, and you and your fellow passengers are plunging to a screaming death.

This is the situation we face with climate change – something barely discussed during selection meetings. The speed and degree of social and economic transformation the world needs to stave off catastrophic climate changeis radical, if not revolutionary.

RLB, more than any of the candidates, seems to understand this. But for the centre, being radical carries the same social opprobrium as crapping yourself in a crowded space. Instead, we shall go to meet our maker with our shirts neatly ironed and our top buttons done up, in true Sir Keir style.

Except I’m not sure Starmer is anywhere near as apolitical and blinkered as his base. Given he’s odds on favourite to get Corbyn’s job, I certainly hope not.

Centrist souffle

The reflex reaction back to the centre ground – pulling many soft Corbynites in its wake – ignores the fact that the election of Corbyn was itself a reaction to the collapse of the centre, after election losses in 2010 under Gordon Brown and 2015 under Ed Miliband. While 2019 was a disastrous defeat, Labour still had a larger vote than in those two elections. But the memories of Starmer’s supporters are short. And their gaze is narrow.

Centre-ground social democracy in Europe has all but collapsed, from France to Greece. And, while France’s centrist saviour Emmanuel Macron certainly pulled off a major election victory, things haven’t gone so well since. (Though, given that his proposed reforms have sparked the largest general strike in decades, perhaps we can credit him with reviving a mass working-class movement, which the Left in Britain under Corbyn singularly failed to do.)

I suspect my CLP’s selection debate was not an outlier with a particularly grim group, but a general experience. I will also give you dollars to doughnuts this won’t end well.

Riding my bus home after this soul-destroying experience, a friend texted me. Surely you have something in common with these people, he asked – after all, you’re all in the same party. I thought hard.

Cheese. Maybe they like cheese too. Other than that, I’ve got nothing.

Davy Jones is a Labour activist in West London.

© 2019 by Mutiny. Proudly created with Wix.comTerms of Use  |   Privacy Policy