Starmer’s purge is now attacking even the mildest of dissenters in the Labour party. What does this mean for the country he may soon govern, asks Michael Doyle?
The Labour Party currently has a commanding lead in the polls, which suggests it will either be the largest party in a hung parliament or will form a majority government. However, its leadership continues to spend inordinate energy purging its left-wing whilst offering no distinctive political programme to address the multiple social crises British society faces. The latest victims of the purge include Jamie Driscoll, the mayor of the North-East region, and even Neal Lawson of the soft left thinktank Compass.
Driscoll was backed by Momentum in 2019 when he successfully won the mayoralty. His connection with the organisation, even in its now diminished form, was enough to single him out for punishment. His further crime was to have a conversation with the film director Ken Loach about movies that have been set in the North-East of England. Loach is apparently beyond acceptable because he defended Jewish members of the Labour Party suspended for alleged antisemitism. It does not matter that Driscoll has repeatedly distanced himself from the ‘last Corbynista standing’ tag or, like the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG), undertaken a vow of silence and obediently pledged loyalty to Starmer whilst SCG members are deselected (as yet another SCG member was shortly after Driscoll’s own sanctioning).
Far from being a Trotskyist local government leader from the 1980s, defying the Tory government and declaring the North-East a ‘socialist republic’, Driscoll has worked with Tory governments, even receiving messages of support from former Tory cabinet ministers. He has operated as a middle-of-the-road Labour politician working with the private sector to attract investment to his region and harnessing it, as the old pitch goes, to the ends of some restrained local improvements. In other words, the very model of what Starmer’s politics is supposed to achieve. Yet the voguish ‘New Washington Consensus’ established by the Biden administration, aped by Starmer, characterised by silly neologisms like ‘securonomics’ and promising increased state intervention without redistribution, has not spared Driscoll. Nor even Lawson, a member of 44 years and leader of the utterly harmless, soft-peddling Compass initiative. He was expelled for having advocated, years ago, that most vinalla of centrist obessesions – tactical voting.
He would be joined in that crime by many of Starmers allies and numerous figures on the right of the party who preached tactical votes for various Lib Dems, as one of many approaches to undermining Corbyn. But Lawson is correct when he identifies Starmer’s intention to have MPs and party members “cowed by the fear that they will be next”. This approach has worked well. Just 11 Labour MPs appeared in parliament to vote against the government’s anti-boycott bill – yet another attempt to sqwash protest rights.
Naturally, the crackdown, which may only be exhausted by the final elimination of dissent, moves in tandem with the abandoning of policy pledges. The vaunted £28 billion investment in green technology, desperately embraced by left media figures seeking to justify their support for Labour at the next general election, and to be used to herd socialists towards a vote for Labour, has been ceremoniously dropped on the alter of fiscal rectitude. Rachel Reeves and Keir Starmer are using one of capitalism’s periodic crises to justify their jettisoning of even their mildest redistributive policies.
Starmer now presents himself as Mr Integrity in stark contrast to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. His focus on internal Labour Party affairs is one aspect of reassuring the establishment that Labour can be trusted to govern, and a willingness to rapidly adopt and drop policies is another. Ditto the policing of acceptable boundaries of political debate, notably on the Russia-Ukraine war, where even the suggestion that there should be a diplomatic solution to the conflict is enough to be designated persona non grata.
The purge has been aided at every step by the left of Labour’s parliamentary party, willing to indulge every humiliating sanction, thus inviting the next. But it may now lay down a permanent regime in a party stripped of internal democratic life or political debate. Even at the height of Neil Kinnock’s purge of the left, or in the pomp of New Labour, was the internal regime so austere. And that has implications for all of us facing a potential Labour government.