Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Hard left bullies spoil coronation for Labour's new leader

Hard left bullies spoil coronation for Labour’s new leader: Sir Keir Starmer storms to victory only to face immediate threat from activists not to betray Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy

  • Momentum group reacted to his triumph by vowing to hold the leader to account
  • But the threat sparked fury from many MPs last night who noted scale of his win
  • However, Sir Keir still left some MPs mystified over how different he would be

Sir Keir Starmer stormed to victory in the Labour leadership race yesterday only to face an immediate threat from hard-Left activists not to betray Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy.

The fervently pro-Corbyn Momentum group reacted to Sir Keir’s overwhelming triumph by vowing to hold the new leader to account ‘and make sure he keeps his promises’.

But the threat sparked fury from many MPs last night, with even one former Corbyn ally saying that such was the scale of the new leader’s victory that the hard-Left was now ‘just howling at the moon’.

In a decisive result, Sir Keir defeated ‘Corbyn continuity’ candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy by winning more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round.

Sir Keir Starmer stormed to victory in the Labour leadership race yesterday only to face an immediate threat from hard-Left activists not to betray Jeremy Corbyn ‘s legacy

He was the top choice of party members, affiliates and registered supporters with 56 per cent of the vote – way ahead of Ms Long- Bailey on 28 per cent and Ms Nandy on 16 per cent.

As Sir Keir already has the backing of most Labour MPs, party insiders said he was in a far more powerful position than Mr Corbyn ever was and could ‘take out’ the hard-Left if he wanted to.

In a further blow to the Left, schools spokesman Angela Rayner was elected deputy leader with ardent Corbynite Richard Burgon pushed into third place.

However, Sir Keir – who has promised to keep key Corbyn policies such as nationalising the rail and water industries – still left some MPs mystified last night over how different he would be.

There is deep concern from Northern, Brexit-supporting Labour MPs over how Sir Keir, who backed Remain and represents a North London constituency, could appeal to the ‘Red Wall’ of seats lost to the Tories at the Election.

And there has also been disappointment for years that while the Tories have had two female leaders, Labour refuses to give a woman the top job. Harriet Harman bemoaned this two years ago, saying: ‘It’s becoming a bit of a thing.’

In an acceptance speech delivered via the internet because of the coronavirus crisis, Sir Keir warned his party had ‘a mountain to climb’ and that if change was required ‘we will change’.

But Sir Keir, who during the contest was careful not to antagonise Corbyn supporters, continued that approach yesterday by paying tribute to the former leader ‘as a friend as well as a colleague’ but vowing on antisemitism to ‘tear out the poison by its roots’.

The promise failed to quell criticisms that he had failed to speak out strongly enough over the party’s handling of the issue while serving as Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Brexit Secretary.

His spokesman also denied reports that he had already told Mr Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy, strategy director Seumas Milne and party general secretary Jennie Formby that they would have to leave.

Momentum, set up originally to protect Mr Corbyn’s leadership, responded with congratulations to Sir Keir but tweeted: ‘In this new era, Momentum will play a new role.

‘We’ll hold Keir to account and make sure he keeps his promises.’  

Oxford MP Anneliese Dodds is being touted for Shadow Chancellor as Sir Keir today takes the key step of naming his front bench. Moderates are urging him to clear out Corbynista ‘dead wood’.

Clooney chum’s journey from an anti-royal Trot to knight of the realm: Can Sir Keir Starmer, who focus groups find ‘dull, wooden and too lawyerly’, really make inroads into the Tories’ electoral lead?  

As he knelt before Prince Charles in the Buckingham Palace ballroom, Keir Starmer’s emotions were characteristically difficult to read. Did his heart swell with pride as the knighting sword tapped his shoulder. Or did he feel a little conflicted?

After all, reflecting some years earlier, the lawyer said: ‘I got made a Queen’s Counsel, which is odd since I often used to propose the abolition of the monarchy.’

Yet he left his investiture in 2014 as a knight of the realm in recognition of his services to criminal justice and, however much it irked him, with his Establishment credentials firmly consolidated.

Some friends found the honour hard to reconcile with the firebrand politics of Starmer’s youth, just as they were discomfited when he led the Crown Prosecution Service, having previously been on the ‘other side’ as a defence barrister.

As he knelt before Prince Charles in the Buckingham Palace ballroom, Keir Starmer’s emotions were characteristically difficult to read. Did his heart swell with pride as the knighting sword tapped his shoulder. Or did he feel a little conflicted?

His knighthood has been ridiculed, too, by members of Labour’s hard Left, who say he is an Establishment stooge.

Starmer won yesterday’s vote because he convinced an outright majority of members that he is best placed to draw together Labour’s disparate elements. Calling for an end to factionalism and purges, he appealed to moderate centrists while placating radical Corbynistas.

‘I am a socialist,’ he told his local paper, the Camden New Journal. ‘I’m driven by the very deep inequalities that we’ve now got across the country of every sort: income, wealth, health, influence – it’s deeply ingrained.’

Pitching to Corbyn supporters, he promised ‘a very forward-looking radicalism’. Some critics cried opportunism but, of course, that is the trademark of most modern politicians. The bigger question now is whether the man who focus groups find ‘dull, wooden and too lawyerly’ can make inroads into the Tories’ electoral lead. Perhaps in an attempt to enliven his image, Starmer confided in a New Statesman interview last week that he moisturises every night.

Born in 1962, his father, Rod, was a tool designer, his mother, Jo, a nurse who suffered from Still’s disease, a rare auto-immune disorder characterised by fevers and rashes. Starmer spent long nights at her side in hospital – being inspired by her courage and devotion.

Starmer (pictured with his wife Victoria) won yesterday’s vote because he convinced an outright majority of members that he is best placed to draw together Labour’s disparate elements. Calling for an end to factionalism and purges, he appealed to moderate centrists while placating radical Corbynistas

After studying law at Leeds University and then at Oxford, he flirted with radicalism as part of the ‘editorial collective’ for a fringe magazine that vowed to challenge the ‘capitalist order’ and turn Labour into ‘the united party of the oppressed’.

He duly became a barrister at Middle Temple, where he focused on fighting human rights cases, engaging in battles to get rid of the death penalty in the Caribbean and in African countries. His commitment to the underdog was unstinting and he won many plaudits for it.

In 2008, despite having never prosecuted a criminal case, Starmer was an unorthodox choice as the new head of the CPS as Director of Public Prosecutions.

In a video for his leadership campaign, he claimed to have ‘stood up to the powerful’ as DPP. But others claim he pursued ‘victim-centred’ justice at the expense of the rights of defendants.

He was criticised for following fashionable liberal causes, and he also had to deal with phone-hacking and the Jimmy Savile scandal.

The latter led him to propose altering the tests used to assess complainants’ credibility in sexual violence cases, saying: ‘We cannot afford another Savile moment.’ His reforms culminated in guidance instructing CPS lawyers to focus on the credibility of complaints, rather than that of complainants.

Starmer’s influence on reforms still triggers anger to this day. One such critic is DJ Paul Gambaccini, who was investigated in 2013 over historic sexual abuse but later won damages from the CPS after the case against him was dropped.

Gambaccini accused Starmer of using his position to conduct a ‘witch-hunt’ against celebrities.

‘I have the most negative feelings about Keir Starmer imaginable,’ he said earlier this year. ‘Countless human beings were tormented because of him and he has never apologised. Keir is not only unsuitable to be leader of the Labour Party, he is unsuitable for any public position down to and including dog-catcher.’

I still fear the power of zealots who tolerated antisemitism and thuggery in the Labour Party, says former Home Secretary LORD BLUNKETT 

The long goodbye is over. Jeremy Corbyn’s exit spells the end of the power exercised by the very small clique around him. But it does not spell the end of a much wider group who still control the party’s machinery and decision-making processes.

Proclamations of unity and outbreaks of sweetness and light are, to say the least, premature.

However, at a time of darkness, there is sometimes a small shining light. A dismal chapter has closed in the history of the Labour Party and therefore, too, of this country’s functioning democracy.

After four-and-a-half years, the zealots of the hard-Left no longer hold the Labour Party. Meanwhile, the bulk of the membership has at last woken from its slumbers to recognise the catastrophe that befell the party in December when we suffered our fourth successive General Election defeat and ended up with fewer MPs than during the Michael Foot debacle of 1983.

The long goodbye is over. Jeremy Corbyn’s exit spells the end of the power exercised by the very small clique around him. But it does not spell the end of a much wider group who still control the party’s machinery and decision-making processes. Pictured: the new Labour leader Keir Starmer leaves his home yesterday morning

But this is only a beginning. The control of so many levers remains in the grip of those who tolerated antisemitism, ignored thuggery and bullying, and drove out decent people dedicated to the democratic parliamentary means of improving the lives of others.

The brutal truth is that, removing the influence of those who joined Labour only to destroy it, such as the organisers of the far-Left group Momentum, will require more than benign indifference.

After a similar hard-Left Militant Tendency attempted takeover in the 1980s, I was spat at as I walked into National Executive Committee meetings to play my part in expelling those who had joined Labour with the sole aim of taking over the party and betraying the people who had traditionally supported us.

Sir Keir Starmer’s challenge is to recognise that healing has a lot to do with delivering the right medicine, not merely covering up the wounds.

Inevitably, there is a temptation to concentrate on being a constructive Opposition. But it will not be enough, in the short-term, to articulate the demands for a dramatic improvement in testing for Covid-19 or to accelerate the distribution of personal protection equipment. Labour must also have a vision of how the nation should come together in the long period of recovery.

I supported Lisa Nandy to be leader because she expressed the hopes and fears of so many people who felt forgotten, politically isolated, and in some cases, downright antagonistic to the Labour Party. Her role will be crucial in ensuring those voices are heard.

With billions being spent by the Government to support furloughed workers, on grants and loans to businesses, and to pay for new applicants for Universal Credit, there will no longer be any immediate capacity to rebalance the economy.

Now is the moment for radical, ambitious and forward-looking policies. Not a comfort zone of indecision or complacency, but rather an understanding that the future belongs to the brave. Pictured: Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn

Many jobs will never re-emerge. Many small businesses will never recover. New ways of working, forced by necessity, may result in fewer employees and jobs with entirely different skills.

Most likely, the communities that suffered most from deindustrialisation in the 1980s and 1990s will be hit again. The same people worst affected by the global financial meltdown of 2008.

There will be lasting political consequences, as always after major traumas such as war.

Some think this will bring people together. I am not so sure.

Isolation, separation and the impact of substantial job losses, as well as the wiping out of savings and the loss of income for millions, may have the opposite effect.

All the more reason that Labour’s new leadership breaks from the schoolboy politics of those who surrounded Corbyn and who had no empathy with working people.

By necessity in this coronavirus crisis, the Conservatives have abandoned long-held dogma such as their ideological objections to the role of the State. For its part, Labour must set aside its own dogmas.

As the fourth Labour leader of the last five to be rooted in North London, it will be vital for Keir to reach out and embrace Britons living way beyond the M25.

To those who felt betrayed by Corbyn’s Labour, there must be a clear signal of internal change and party direction, as Tony Blair understood when driving through reforms to Labour’s constitution and dropping a commitment to State ownership.

The people whose votes we lost need to believe that we have really changed, and reverted back to the party that they loyally supported for generations and believed represented their interests.

Now is the moment for radical, ambitious and forward-looking policies. Not a comfort zone of indecision or complacency, but rather an understanding that the future belongs to the brave.

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