To paraphrase Greta Thunberg, “There is a spectre haunting the Labour Party, blah blah blah”. Enough has been said about Sir Keir Starmer and his vanilla-flavoured, grey-coloured mode of politics, with its extraordinary ability to both overload an audience with information and to say nothing at all. These are problems, to be sure – the Leader of the Opposition must inspire the opposition, after all – but these problems are mild and surmountable. What is truly holding back a future Labour government is the hard left, socialist wing of the Labour Party.
The left wing of the Labour Party is still seething about Starmer’s appointment as leader, and his recent rule changes to the party’s electoral system have only thrown fuel on the fire. They continue to insist that Starmer should have extended an “olive branch” to the members on the hard left. What this really means is that Starmer should adopt the harsh rhetoric and socialist policies of the hardliners or continue to face insurrection, even though these policies are what is holding him back from winning in the first place. Even in the run up to his leadership election, Starmer claimed to be a socialist to appeal to party members, knowing that he would have to abandon such a foolhardy ideology when the time came to seek power in Number 10.
Stephen Bush on BBC Newsnight noted that whilst Corbynism was not popular among the electorate, it did have a clear identity and it did bring in new voters. He doesn’t acknowledge, however, that these “new voters” have little understanding of the electorate, the economy, or their own beliefs, and therefore their opinions don’t really matter much. Socialism is not popular in Britain – we are a relatively socially conservative nation, founded on principles of representative democracy and individualism. Socialism only appeals to the young, but they could be won around if they only heard better arguments. Soundbites which appeal to the collectivist sentiment of sunshine, rainbows and happy families may occasionally break through and appeal to voters, but an entire political manifesto based on widespread nationalisation of industry, toxic identity politics and unpopular attitudes towards cultural issues will not work.
The left cannot acknowledge this reality – instead, it doubles down. In the aftermath of the 2019 general election, the Owen Joneses and Ash Sarkars of the British political establishment scratched their heads and wondered how Corbynism had gone so badly wrong. Were their ideas ridiculous and unpopular? Were the public a bunch of morons who wouldn’t just shut up and take their socialist medicine? Jones blamed a confluence of factors including: the treacherous Labour right conspiring against Corbyn’s success; the desire to get Brexit done overriding the public’s concern for social and economic “justice”; and “a racist Tory political and media machine” which somehow prevented the electorate from supporting an old white man. Perhaps Occam’s Razor would be of interest to him: the socialist candidate lost because he was a socialist candidate. Jones was extremely keen to avoid such a conclusion: he stressed that socialist ideas “must remain at the core of whatever comes next.”
Examining the hard lefties of the Labour Party, it’s easy to see why they have no chance of electoral victory. Jeering and heckling when Starmer discussed his mother’s illness; spitting on Conservatives, or calling them scum; mocking individuals’ appearance and then doubling down when called out on it: these are just some of the aspects of the immature, reckless and adversarial modus operandi of the Corbynistas, who are so embittered by their loss in 2019 and relegation to the back benches of British politics that they resort to name-calling and conspiracy theories rather than policies which might actually help Britain to get back on track, policies which (God forbid) might involve the private sector. One of these conspiracy theories is related to climate change: young socialists speaking at the Labour conference talked about how “capitalism, comrades… is killing the planet” and that “the only answer is a socialist ‘Green New Deal’ based on public ownership”. There is no serious consideration of why exactly public ownership would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, or reduce consumer costs – simply “tax the rich” to make all your problems go away. And the reason none of these ideas worked in 2019? “Tory saboteurs in the PLP.” This isn’t politics, this is just childish nonsense, and it defines the slogans and convictions of the left. The time for roleplaying as communist revolutionaries and screeching at the podium is over; it’s time for grown-ups to take the wheel.
Starmer is not the main obstacle to a Labour government, no matter how much the left will complain about his image and his politics. Boring 90-minute speeches can be edited, compelling soundbites and slogans can be invented, and 14,000-word manifestos can be a building block rather than a totem pole. Moderate politicians can not only survive but thrive; the entire point of a moderate candidate is to appeal to a broader demographic and gather more votes, something the ideological puritans cannot abide. The problems listed above can be addressed; what cannot be reconciled is a radical socialist sect of the Labour Party which can never accept its mistakes or shortcomings and will only continue to double down on its deepest failures.
Until Corbynism dies (spoilers: it won’t) or splits away from the Labour Party entirely, Starmer’s hopes of a Labour government will be hijacked, diverted, and sabotaged by a group of people who will never be serious about running the country (unless it is a large-scale roleplay exercise based on the October Revolution). Their lack of serious ideas, fixation on anti-capitalist conspiracy theories and toxic attitude to public engagement will never allow them to take power, and so long as they hold considerable sway at the fringes of the party, they will anchor Labour in the quagmire of childish politics. I truly feel sorry for Sir Keir as he comes to realise what ideological poison he is up against. Solidarity, Comrade.