Nick Cohen

Labour’s dark secret is safe with Keir Starmer

Labour’s dark secret is safe with Keir Starmer
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Keir Starmer knows. He’s not saying anything, not letting one word of criticism of the Corbyn regime escape his lips, but he knows better than the journalists who cover politics, better than you, me or anyone who hasn’t lived in Labour for the past five years, the depth of the disgrace of the British left.

Starmer knows because he was in the meetings that excused Putin and failed to tackle anti-Semitism. He knows because he saw Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray close up. And I for one would love to hear his insider account of life with the cranky tankies. More to the point, Starmer knows because he lived through the wars on the left in his own constituency.

The media profiles do not pay enough attention to the factional struggles that surrounded him. Starmer may have served Corbyn, when his more principled colleagues refused to compromise. He may be a man of the left, as a history of offering legal advice, usually free of charge, to every radical cause from the mid-1980s on shows. But although he attended its services, he was not a part of the cult and it has never forgiven him for his failure to worship at the true church.

Starmer would not be favourite to become the next Labour leader, if allies in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency in the north London borough of Camden had not fought to eliminate the possibility of the far left deselecting him. Elections for every minor post in the constituency Labour party have been ideological struggles of the utmost ferocity. I know Labour members who saw their free time disappear as they fought to keep the local branch of Momentum in its box. Most people in Camden Labour will talk only in private. But enough is on the record for outsiders to get an idea of the ugliness of London Labour life.

Far from welcoming the prospect of their MP becoming leader of the opposition, Camden Momentum greeted Starmer’s candidacy with a public appeal for Labour members not to vote for him. Starmer was ‘making an opportunistic tilt to the left – because he correctly perceives that the majority of the membership wants to continue what Jeremy Corbyn started,’ it stated.

Leftists should not be fooled. Starmer ‘presides over a constituency Labour party which contains only officers with a history of outright opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’. In other words, Camden Momentum lost elections for party posts and did not take defeat gracefully. ‘As left-leaning party members we have been completely marginalised by the right in the local party who support Keir Starmer,’ its supporters complained.

When Jon Lansman, Momentum’s founder admitted Labour has ‘a major problem’ with anti-Semitism, Camden Momentum denounced him for ‘siding with those who have made unfounded allegations against the party’.

The refusal to face up to racism is par for the course on the Camden left. The Sunday Times reported on one Phil Vasili, who it describes as ‘an amateur historian who has posted dozens of times saying the CIA and Mossad ‘masterminded’ 9/11. He is chairman of Unite Community Camden and its delegate on Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party’. Naturally, he saw Starmer, as a ‘right wing coup loser’ and ‘neoliberal Blairite’

Lansman himself played a role in the destruction of the career of Sally Gimson, a Camden councillor and a friend and ally of Starmer’s. Just before the last election Gimson won the Labour nomination for Bassetlaw. She wasn’t meant to succeed. The left had decided the seat should go to a Unite nominee.

Lansman and his comrades on Labour’s National Executive Committee went for Gimson. There were claims of ‘very serious allegations’ against Gimson. The complaints, she was told, were that she had targeted vulnerable members at constituency meetings. ‘It was a Stalinist show trial,’ her lawyer told me. The Holborn party said there had never been ‘any formal investigation into Sally Gimson’. Lansman and the NEC did not take into consideration statements from over 20 members ‘refuting the unproven allegations’. Gimson was not even present at the meeting when they stripped her of the candidacy. She heard the court pass its verdict down a phone line.

You can get a measure of the pettiness and spite in Camden from learning that Lansman and the NEC accused Gimson of calling ‘a young member a f**king idiot’. The only reason for the complaint Labour members could think of was a trivial incident at a meeting last year. Gimson had an argument with one Duncan Michie, and told him, by her account, that he was being ‘silly’. Gimson’s accusers appeared to have turned ‘silly’ into ‘f**ing stupid’ and used that as a reason to humiliate and deselect a candidate.

Michie is hardly a standard victim of Blairite oppression. His father, Jonathan, is president of Oxford university’s Kellogg College. His aunt Susan Michie’s family hails from Aberconway House, a 2,800-square-metre home in Mayfair. She joined the Communist party of Britain with her husband Andrew Murray, a descendant of the Earl of Perth, and through his half-Spanish Anglo-Irish mother, of the royal house of Navarre.

Murray went to work for Corbyn. Their daughter and Duncan’s cousin, Laura Murray worked in Corbyn’s office. You get a better class of Marxist-Leninist in north London.

You would not know about the turmoil that has surrounded him from Starmer’s campaign. His refusal to speak out is representative of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, on the British left, who will never admit they went along with a wicked movement. I keep searching for the right metaphor for the silence that has descended on the post-Corbyn Labour party. It’s like a family with a dark secret it can never discuss. Or like Spain after the fall of Franco or Greece after the colonels were overthrown. The new leaders know that too many people were complicit in the crimes of the past, and the best tactic is to quietly move forward and forget.

In Labour’s case, however, the arguments around Corbyn cannot be forgotten. Labour MPs have warned Starmer that the far left will come for him. It’ll wait a year or 18 months and then say that Starmer is too ‘technocratic’. There will be talk of ‘betrayal,’ of Jeremy’s legacy being ‘sold out,’ and of Starmer being ‘a neo-liberal Blairite’. Corbyn himself may lead the attack. The far left has never had so much power in Labour’s history, it’s not going to give it up without a fight, and I think Starmer knows it.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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