Hall of infamy: Keir Starmer

JOB: Leader of the British Labour Party

REPUTATION: Political chameleon hell-bent on ousting the Left

We’ve seen it all before. Internal party politics from Left to Right in the UK are notoriously fractious. In the case of British Labour policy, swings from a commitment to socialism through to ‘progressive capitalism’ have long shaped the 124-year-old party. The most recent politician to ride the opportunistic hobby horse is former leftwing lawyer Keir Starmer.

On the face of it Starmer would seem an unlikely candidate. As a young barrister he defended campaigners, famously offering pro bono legal advice to two environmental activists sued by McDonald’s. He even opposed the Iraq war. But something happened to move the 61-year-old from radical outsider to ambitious insider. There is a revealing quote from his days of involvement with Northern Ireland policing: ‘I came better to understand how you can [effect] change by being inside and getting the trust of people’.

Establishment trust allowed Starmer to be appointed head of the Crown Prosecution Service in 2008. As Britain’s top prosecutor, he supported more powers for the police and prosecutions of ‘benefit cheats’, while letting killer cops and spies accused of torture avoid trial. Starmer’s next career move was to run as a Labour MP in 2015. However, once our insider’s election to parliament was swiftly followed by the rise of the distinctly ‘outside’ and anti-imperialist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The movement to renovate the party in a socialist direction under Corbyn attracted nearly 200,000 new members by 2018, much to the alarm of the Labour rightwing old guard and the British establishment. While both set out to destroy the hopes engendered by Corbynistas, Starmer bided his time on the Labour opposition front bench.

With the collapse of the Corbyn project, Starmer propelled himself into the leader’s chair in 2019 by courting the Left with tales from his lawyering days and progressive pledges. Once at the helm however, the political chameleon refashioned himself as a tough leader, one never too far from a fluttering Union Jack, and jettisoned his 10 leadership pledges.

To rid the party of the vestiges of the Corbyn era, including JC himself, Starmer and his acolytes proscribed various radical caucuses, allegedly manipulated trigger ballots to unseat independent-thinking MPs and weeded out leftwing parliamentary candidates. Members were expelled en masse, with Jewish socialists disproportionately sanctioned, often over charges of antisemitism (an accusation often levelled at critics of Israel).

Amid the internal crackdown, the leader of the opposition has been less preoccupied with opposing the Conservative government itself. Keen not to rock the boat, Starmer ordered his MPs to abstain on new laws authorizing British soldiers, undercover agents and spies to commit crimes with impunity. A reactionary media has applauded Starmer’s tepid opposition, as he steers the party back towards the tame neoliberal, Atlanticist orientation seen for so many years under Tony Blair. Starmer of course denies he is mimicking the now unpopular ex-PM.

But just how far he has gone in this direction can be seen in his recent pronouncements glorifying Margaret Thatcher for her ‘iron-clad, fiscal rules’ and a ban on his frontbenchers joining striking workers on picket lines. He’s even started condemning critics of his policies as ‘un-British’, whatever that means.

But it’s Israel’s onslaught on Gaza that’s really exposed Keir the Chameleon’s true colours. Telling a reporter in October that Netanyahu had the ‘right’ to cut off electricity, food and water to the captive population, it was clear that the bright-eyed human rights lawyer who made his name standing up for the little people was long gone.

LOW CUNNING: 

After vowing not to do interviews during his leadership campaign with Britain’s rabidly rightwing tabloid The Sun, Starmer is now practically a regular for the rag. Not best pleased with the dishonest move are the people of Liverpool, who have long boycotted the paper for smearing the 1989 Hillsborough disaster victims. But Starmer remains unfazed, recently professing: ‘I am very happy to work with The Sun, to write for The Sun, to do interviews with The Sun.’

SENSE OF HUMOUR: 

A return to Blairite politics should at least allow the return of some fine old jokes.

Q: Why is New Labour like Marijuana?

A: Both induce a tendency to talk rubbish in a meaningful way.