- How is Keir Starmer purging the far left from the Labour Party?
- Does Keir Starmer’s leadership meet democratic principles?
- What are fundamental democratic values that have come under attack by Keir Starmer?
When the Labour Party was defeated in the 2019 general election, Jeremy Corbyn announced that he would stand down as the leader of the Labour Party. Then, Keir Starmer was endorsed as the new leader of the Labour Party. At the time, it was hoped that he could pull together the already divided Labour Party, building a bridge, in particular, between the Corbynite far left and the centre. Keir Starmer also underlined the importance of party unity during his leadership race.
“If we are to unite as a party, it is essential that the leader of the party models unity in everything he or she does-that nobody has the right to call on other people to be united if we don’t model it ourselves… If we carry on divided, we’ll lose the next general election”. However, his intention to unite the party vanished as quickly as he took over the party. Instead, he took every measure to exclude the Corbynites’ influence from the Labour Party in Westminster and the Scottish Labour in the Holyrood. But, his efforts to clear the field from the Corbynite far left have come directly as an attack on democracy. Keir Starmer’s attack on democracy by crushing the far left, however, aimed at steamrolling his way to victory in the next general election. But, this came at the price of violating democratic values such as voting rights, inclusiveness, freedom of speech, etc.
Keir Starmer’s Attack on Democracy, voting right
In a recent interview with The Times, the UK Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, accepted that he had stepped in to effectively fire the democratically elected leader of Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard, the supporter of Jeremy Corbyn on the left in 2020. “If we didn’t change the leader in Scotland two years ago, we would be at base camp rather than in a position to take advantage of that”, he said, mentioning Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation. But, Starmer’s intervention in firing Leonard from the leadership can be seen as a violation of the democratic principle of voting right. The members democratically elected Leonard in 2017 when he defeated Anas Sarwar by winning 56.7% of the vote. This harsh attack on democracy was also underlined by the SNP’s Depute Westminster leader, Mhairi Black, “By boasting about sacking Richard Leonard, Starmer has once again revealed the contempt he holds for Scottish democracy”.
Keir Starmer denies inclusiveness in his violation of democracy.
When Keir Starmer campaigned for leadership, he tried to depict himself as a unifier. “I reject the idea that it’s either unity or victory. I don’t think there’s any victory without unity or victory without values”, he said. Keir Starmer pledged to end infighting in the party when he officially launched his leadership campaign. “We cannot fight the Tories if we’re fighting each other”, he proclaimed. Moreover, he pitched his campaign to the left to not alienate the leftists, who had the final say in the party, promising to maintain Corbyn’s radical, popular program while giving the party an electable face. However, since Starmer overtook the party, he has moved quickly to squeeze the Corbynite far left out of the party apparatus and give the top jobs to the right.
For example, once installed, he took every measure to exclude Corbyn’s supporters and hard left from the shadow cabinet party. During the first week, he sacked prominent Corbynites such as Ian Lavery, John Tickett and Shami Chakrabarti from the shadow cabinet. Others, such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, stood down.
His denial of inclusiveness within the party was most evident when he removed Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow education secretary, from the shadow cabinet. Many prominent figures were replaced by the people on the right and the party’s soft left. It is as though Starmer doesn’t know that the future of a country like Britain can only be negotiated by having a broad vision, openness and capacity that endorses contradictions, paradoxes and limitations rather than exclusion, closure of debate dynamism and the arrogance of get with it or get out of it.
Therefore, his action in the unleashing dynamic of exclusion within the party, excluding the far left from critical decision-making, underlines his blatant disregard for the democratic principle of inclusiveness.
Keir Starmer’s attack on the democratic principle of civil rights
Since Keir Starmer was appointed the Labour Party leader, he has tried his best to crush those who supported Corbyn. Upon it, he endorsed some reforms passed by the party’s conference in September 2021. These changes wanted to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn would never get back to the leadership on the back of an influx of new members. Notably, Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 brought more than 200,000 new members into the Labour Party who joined the party to vote for him for leadership.
According to the new reforms, anyone wanting to stand for the leadership must first win the backing of 20% of Labour members of parliament rather than the current 10%. Yet, Keir Starmer had initially proposed 25% but agreed to lower the bar during the discussion.
This reform is intended to shift power from the party’s rank and gives it back to the parliamentarians. In other words, it strengthens the power of the MPs to pick future leaders and diminishes people’s ability to have a say in appointing the party’s leadership. But, this is in stark contradiction with the democratic principle of civil rights as it denies the right of ordinary people to decide about their party’s leadership.
Mish Rahman, a Momentum-backed member of Labour’s NEC, also highlighted this.
“Changing the threshold like this will destroy ordinary people’s right to shape the party’s future; Labour will be well on its way to becoming the party of the Westminster elite. If the 20% threshold applied to the 2020 leadership election, it would have been a contest between Sir Keir Starmer QC and Sir Keir Starmer QC”.
Keir Starmer threatens democracy by showing no political tolerance.
After Starmer was elected as the leader of the Labour Party, he tried to have complete control of the party and change it to a post-Corbyn party. For that, he forced Jennie Formby, the pro-Corbyn general secretary of the party, to quit in May 2020. Starmer also pointed out this as a part of the change in the party in his interview with The Times, “We Knew that we had to do with the general secretary”. Then, she was replaced by David Evans. But the new right-wing National Executive Committee has embarked on a concerted operation to purge left-wingers from the selection race for the parliament by disqualifying them. They aim to block anyone who is not loyal to Starmer from getting onto the shortlist of candidates, which is put in front of the members to vote. In this process, however, candidates backed by Starmer will go on the shortlist and compete just with those favoured by the leadership.
In this sense, this qualifying control that only allows Starmer-backed candidates to proceed and purges the people on the left can be perceived as an attack on the democratic principle of political tolerance.
Moreover, the National Executive Committee has voted to bar the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from standing as a Labour candidate. Yet, Jeremy Corbyn has a solid base in Islington North and has been the Member of Parliament for Islington North since 1983.
Starmer’s decision to block Jeremy Corbyn from running as a Labour candidate denies the civil and democratic rights of local party members in Islington North and other party members who want to decide their candidate. It is also against political tolerance.
Jeremy Corbyn also called the decision a flagrant attack on democracy, “Any attempt to block my candidacy is a denial of due process and should be opposed by anybody who believes in the value of democracy”.
Keir Starmer’s denial of freedom of speech is putting democracy in jeopardy.
Since Keir Starmer started his position as the leader of the Labour Party, he has not only positioned the Labour Party as a hostile environment for the far left, but he has also frequently violated the right of freedom of expression.
In Starmer’s Labour Party, criticism is forbidden, while many members have been expelled, suspended or left for raising different views to those of the leadership.
For example, in August 2022, 71-year-old Audrey White was expelled from the Labour Party following the confrontation with Starmer. She denounced his right-wing policies and ongoing purge of left-wing party members. It is as though Starmer is following the footsteps of his role model, Tony Blair, who expelled George Galloway from the Labour Party just because Galloway did not share Blair’s vision of bringing democracy and freedom of speech to the people of Iraq.
Moreover, Labour Right National Executive Committee checks the candidate’s social media to ensure they haven’t raised any contradictory positions. Any different views can be used as grounds for blocking candidates and barring them from running the race for the parliamentarian general election.
Therefore, Starmer and his party machine are not role models for freedom of speech. Upon it, they have no right to condemn any country for not allowing people to curse the head of state.