Keir Starmer’s Middle Way

With a civilian death toll that is likely to outdo even the Nazis’ air bombardment during world war two (70,000) we experience the full impact of the policies of the right. What of the parliamentary left? Labour wound up its foregone conclusion of a leadership contest a month ago. Sir Keir Starmer won, but who is he, politically? A smart move by the Labour electorate? Starmer steers as close to the middle of the road as possible. History will soon demand he chooses which side he’s on.

Starmer is seeking a clear break from Jeremy Corbyn while not entirely abandoning the popular policies of his predecessor. Even Corbyn’s staunchest supporters were worn down by four years of relentless, puerile attacks and the choice of Starmer was surely a relief, even for members who voted for the more leftist candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Starmer is a politician whose style is approved of by the full spectrum of media commentators and the Labour backstabbers who loathed Corbyn.

Narrow Parameters

The contrasting attitudes towards the two men reflects the narrow parameters of thought in British public life. Corbyn was deemed ‘unelectable’ by most Labour MPs and harassed with media absurdities (claims that he was a Czech spy, a fabricated antisemitism crisis etc) that compromised his public image. From the right-wing (inc. Murdoch) media, this was expected. For the centrist liberal media (there is no major left-wing media in the UK) Corbyn’s unforgivable crime was that he didn’t play their game and never would. He treated journalists with respect. But he treated everybody that way, no matter their status. Never distracted by sycophancy, Corbyn wanted to change society. Keir Starmer is more malleable.

The leadership election result also signalled the narrowing vision of western Europe’s largest political party, Labour. It is worth considering the figures that have elected the party’s leaders. In 2015, Corbyn won a stunning victory with 59.5% of the vote in a four-horse race that included ‘electable’ opponents Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. In 2016 he was forced by the right of the parliamentary party to face Owen Smith in another contest, with Corbyn securing victory with 61.8%. That contest is noteworthy only in that Smith received 38.2% of votes; a miserable defeat, but 193,229 of the Labour electorate backed him and presumably form the basis of Starmer’s support.

The switch from leftist Corbyn to ‘centrist’ Starmer suggests that a lot of Corbyn supporters, socialists, voted for Sir Keir. Labour members have tacitly agreed to a centre-right consensus in British politics: nothing too radical, with the debate framed by a media which spans the centre-left to the far right. The boundaries of what is possible have been reined in.

It is worth taking a moment to consider what might happen if members of leftish political parties just voted for their own interests rather than playing political pundit. In the UK, as in the US, people now vote for the leader they think other people might vote for, rather than for policies. Presumably, the decisive thought here is that the masses have not yet reached the level of enlightenment required to grasp what is being offered to them by straight-talking politicians like Corbyn or Bernie Sanders (who surely would have walked it in November against an incumbent president who advises the population to inject bleach into their veins).

Keir Starmer is the man for this political moment on the left. But by considering just a few of his stances to date, we see trouble brewing for the new Labour leader. He will have to concentrate to maintain his balance.

Sabotage

“The leader of the organisation carries the can, stands up for what goes wrong and takes responsibility” said Starmer during a hustings. He was criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s regime for “turning on its staff” during the so-called antisemitism crisis. This is Sir Keir taking the middle ground, making what he judges to be a politically safe criticism of his predecessor – not of his policies, but of his leadership. The problem is that we now have all the evidence we need that the crisis in the party was a fabrication, one entangled in a marriage of convenience with the Blairites obsessed with overthrowing Corbyn.

A leaked report from within the party since Starmer’s victory reveals the depth of the internal campaign to sabotage Labour’s chances of gaining power under Corbyn. The document shows that senior officials including the then Secretary, Iain McNicol, diverted money to right-wing candidates in safe seats rather than to left-wing candidates in marginals in 2017. This probably extended to Kensington where Emma Dent Coad won a historic victory for Labour in June 2017. When the Grenfell Tower fire atrocity took place days later, McNicol refused to send the help the new MP had requested, presumably for ideological right-left reasons.

The report also reveals the withholding of information from the leader’s office; officials boasting about not working professionally during the campaign; racism; sexism and more. Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have ordered an investigation into the leaks, but the greatest scandal in the party’s history will need to be dealt with properly if the leadership is to retain credibility within the base – crucial if they are to keep the momentum of grassroots campaigning.

Antisemitism

Some of the disgraced officials featured in the report had been tasked with investigating cases of alleged antisemitism. The report shows that these officials deliberately slowed down the process to create the impression that Corbyn was indifferent to Jewish suffering. It worked, and a lifelong anti-racism campaigner was politically assassinated as an anti-Semite.

At root, the concocted crisis was always about Palestine, which Corbyn would have recognised as a state on day one of a Labour government. British Jews were deliberately and cynically scare mongered for political purposes, surely one of the basest tactics employed in our political history.

Starmer cannot be entirely ignorant of the reality of the antisemitism debacle. He must know that the Home Affairs Select Committee found “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.” And that official Labour party statistics released in January showed that a total of 2,178 Labour members had been accused of antisemitism since 2017, just 0.4 % of the overall membership. Almost all the 0.4% were not genuine cases of antisemitism. A total 56 Labour members had been expelled for alleged antisemitism at the time of the statistics being published, 0.01% of party members. “A third of all cases in 2019 have the same single individual as the main complainant,” states the 2020 document.

Starmer knows that the ‘crisis’ had a major impact on Labour’s public image but he did not miss a beat in declaring his collusion with the illusion in his victory speech: “Antisemitism has been a stain on our party. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry” and “I support Zionism without qualification.” A strategic move, or perhaps an indication of his willingness to ingratiate himself to power. He had previously made more neutral statements about Zionism, but in victory sought to establish his credentials, sending an apologetic letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, promising to “root out” Labour’s “antisemitism”.

Starmer is also declared supporter of Palestinian rights, opposes President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and has appointed Lisa Nandy, a long-term supporter of the Palestinians, as shadow foreign secretary. For justice in the Middle East, Labour is required to back Palestine’s self-determination and the right of return of seven million Palestinian refugees. Both positions contradict Zionism’s basic premise, an exclusively Jewish state in historic Palestine. When Israel annexes more land, or bombs the Gaza Strip again, Starmer will have to back the oppressor or the oppressed. He will shamefully bow to the Israel lobby while innocents die, or he will take a brave stand for peace and justice. No middle way exists.

Journalism

The new Labour leader opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but once an MP (he was first elected to the Commons in 2015) he voted against a parliamentary investigation into Tony Blair’s misleading MPs Iraq. While giving Blair a pass, Starmer has been determined to see a journalist who exposed the war crimes prosecuted. In 2010, as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) he played a key role in the persecution of Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks, who had just published evidence of a litany of western war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Collateral Murder video. 

As DPP, Keir Starmer fast-tracked the extradition of Assange to Sweden (from where he could be easily extradited to the US) for questioning over the most dubious allegations of rape. Starmer advised Swedish lawyers to reject Assange’s offer to be questioned in London, presumably understanding that the Swedes would have no option but to drop their investigation (the case had already been dropped then resuscitated by a right-wing magistrate). This set off a chain of events that have seen this one journalist harassed, imprisoned and effectively tortured and made ill by the British state on behalf of the Americans.

Emails from August 2012 show a sickening betrayal of Assange by the UK. Responding to a suggestion that Sweden might drop their phoney rape investigation, Keir Starmer’s office sent the following message to their Scandinavian counterparts: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”.

Julian Assange remains in squalid solitary confinement at Belmarsh, the prison reserved for the UK’s most violent and dangerous criminals. Despite his sentence (for skipping bail) having expired months ago, he is forced to stay in this maximum-security prison and wait for a judge to decide on his extradition to the US on surreal charges under the Espionage Act. A dangerous precedent will be set if Assange is sent to the dangerous president, never to be seen again. Who will dare inform the world about war crimes then?

Assange, who has a chronic lung condition, could die in Belmarsh. Perhaps this is what the British state wants, to save them the embarrassment of extraditing him. Parliament is quiet on Assange, but as leader of the opposition, Starmer is obliged to call for his release. 

With Wikileaks, the middle ground is untenable. Starmer either supports freedom of speech and the rule of law (a person cannot be extradited from the UK on political charges), or he does not.

Pandemic

With the government’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus, the Labour leader has aimed straight down the middle. He is withholding many obvious criticisms of the Johnson government, presumably until the lockdown phase is over and the public is more receptive to apportioning blame. In PMQs this week, the Labour leader challenged government claims of British “success” when the official figures, which are an underestimate, show 30,000 people have died. But by being eager to offer praise where he can, Starmer fell into the trap of repeatedly saying “hospital deaths are falling”. They aren’t falling, they rise every time somebody dies. It was a strange and possibly revealing use of language on his part.

The pandemic will end with a political divergence. A choice, austerity or socialism, will decide the future of the NHS. That Starmer abstained in 2015 on the Tories’ destructive Health and Social Care bill doesn’t auger well for us.

Jeremy Corbyn was unlucky in the sense that two national disasters – Grenfell and COVID – fell the wrong side of the 2017 and 2019 general elections. Starmer has some media support and a chaotic government that proudly declared a decline in shoplifting on a day that saw 813 people die in agony. He has Exercise Cygnus; Dominic Cummings; PPE; the list is long and growing. With these weapons at his disposal, there will be no need to abstain.

A radical change is needed – will Sir Keir seize the moment? To do so, he must break away from the deadening obsession with respectability and electability that gnaws away at the parliamentary Labour party. The middle way, centrism, is an abstraction. It has no meaning in the real world. Under a so-called centrist Labour government, the sale of parts of the NHS to the private sector was accelerated. Starmer cannot retain his pristine establishment image while delivering a revival of our health service.

Starmer

Like all of us, Keir Starmer is a contradictory person, but unlike most of us, he now holds immense power. In all the scenarios above, he faces a choice: justice or injustice; oppressed or oppressor; freedom of speech or tyranny; truth or illusion.

Soon, he must decide whether he stands for life or for death. If that seems shrill, look at the world around you and the impact of indifference.

A slogan for Keir Starmer’s new Labour? For the many, not the few For the many and the few? Not for the many, not for the few? For the few not the many? For some people, but who?

You?

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Venezuela’s Echoes

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map image from forbes.com

 

The US government’s push for regime change in Venezuela has implications that will be felt across the planet, including in Israel and Palestine.

Israel would be emboldened, and its position strengthened should the right wing, self-proclaimed “president” Juan Guaido take power in strategically vital Venzuela. Pro-Palestinian elements in Latin America would become isolated. Israel hopes to arrest an alarming decline in its credibility in Latin America, while the Palestinians will be hoping that one of their staunchest supporters will retain its democratically elected president, Nicolas Maduro.

Middle East

From a Middle Eastern point of view, the world is taking on an increasingly Cold War appearance. Led by the US, forces hostile to Palestinian freedom are strengthening, at least in the short-term. Israel forms part of this group, and as American power and influence grows, Israeli power also rises by default. A refusal front, headed by China and Russia, is what stands in the way of the US increasing its hegemony in Latin America and the Middle East.

Latin America had been remarkably successful in shaking off the shackles of the global system and asserting independence through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) which isolated the US in the hemisphere, forcing President Obama to warm relations with Cuba in 2014 after decades of economic blockade. Venezuela was the avant-garde of this pan-Latin American movement. Continue reading

Gerald Kaufman Tribute

There are two kinds of politician worth knowing: those of conviction, and those of savvy. The former paid tribute to the latter this week, using a word I had to look up. Jeremy Corbyn called Gerald Kaufman “an iconic and irascible figure” after the father of the House died Sunday, aged 86.

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Irascible – ‘easily angered’ – Corbyn chose the right word. Maybe he remembered the time in Beirut in 2011 when Gerald’s irascibility was aroused by a restaurant having run out of ice cream. With a black cloud hanging over Gerald’s head, other members of the group tried to pacify Kaufman, leader of the delegation and somebody for whom we were happy to make special dispensations. Nothing was working and the mood around the table was heavy, but Corbyn had sneaked out and returned from the Corniche with ice creams for everybody.

Gerald’s irascibility was also deployed for just causes. Arriving at the Palestinian-Jordanian border in 2010, a British-Palestinian member of our delegation was detained by the Israelis. Gerald refused to proceed without our friend, offering no compromise to the Israelis, and fiercely argued his way up the chain of command until he found somebody with the power to yield to common sense.

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The conditions at Lebanon’s refugee camps shocked everybody on the 2011 delegation, and it was Gerald who expressed this most succinctly in this article published by Urban Dandy.

“Bourj al-Barajneh is the worst single place I have ever seen, with children haunting narrow gullies with sewage flowing down the middle; with no legitimate electricity supply, with tangled wires from bootlegged electricity hanging so low in the alleys as to constitute a near-mortal hazard. Yet 20,000 are doomed to live out their lives there, from childhood to old age, in a tiny area that has more people per square kilometre than Hong Kong or Mumbai”.

Gerald saw it as a politician’s responsibility to do their utmost to reduce human suffering and degradation. He was unflinching in his intolerance of injustice and cruelty, however powerful the wrongdoer. He was aided in his pursuit of justice by a remarkable talent with words and an ability to deploy them unerringly.

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In Hebron. Photo: AFP

At a meeting with the UN in the West Bank, the room was too hot and Gerald drifted off to sleep. I nudged him repeatedly but he would drift off again, missing most of the presentation. Being the leader of the delegation, Gerald was to give feedback on behalf of the group. I exchanged nervous glances with a fellow organiser, but to our relief Gerald awakened and responded to the presentation with a series of apparently well thought out points that went to the heart of the issue, expressing his gratitude to our host and making everyone in the room question whether they had really just seen this 80-year-old man having a nap.

“Do you remember one phrase used by a Labour frontbencher since 2010?” Gerald asked me before the last election, and in that question he summed up a major problem that Blair, Brown and Miliband have created; a set of MPs that lack what Gerald had in spades: gravitas.

He was a great writer, with careers as a satirist, journalist, columnist, speech writer, phrase-maker and author. It was he who described Labour’s 1983 manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Gerald held Ministerial positions in the departments of Industry and Environment, and we can only speculate about how he would have dealt with the Israeli government had he become Foreign Secretary in 1987. The sycophantic grovelling of successive Tory and Labour governments would surely have been dispensed with:

The Israel lobby didn’t know what to do with Gerald. He made plenty of controversial statements about Jews and “Jewish money” but when faced with stinging criticism for his remarks, he was memorably nonchalant: “I can’t remember every comment I mutter under my breath”.

Gerald could not be dragged into the distraction of the Israel lobby’s games, life had too much more to offer him. He wouldn’t care what they are saying about him now. He was a man of hilarious anecdotes and dry Yorkshire wit, as charming with those he liked as he was ferocious with those he considered fools. His London flat was a shrine to Hollywood musicals; he loved them “because they’re beautiful”. He also loved literature, television, fashion and people; he was a dandy, a charmer, belligerent and brilliant, I will miss him.

Sir Gerald Kaufman, 21 June 1930 – 26 February 2017

 

By Tom Charles

Unknown Hell – Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

Pic at Bourj al Barajneh camp, Beirut, which inspired the title ‘Unknown Hell’. Graffiti in foreground is of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
 

In February 2011 a group of British Labour MPs joined a Parliamentary delegation to Lebanon, home to 400,000 Palestinian refugees. They live in hell, but it is never mentioned in the mainstream media. Click here to read the findings of Gerald Kaufman, Michael Connarty and Jeremy Corbyn.

Unknown Hell