Tag Archives: Ronan Burtenshaw

one year of Keir Starmer and his open war on the Labour left: my exchange of letters with constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield

Keir Starmer became Labour leader one year ago today, having comfortably won the leadership race against Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, gaining an unassailable 56.2% of the vote in the first round of the election. As leader, Starmer has since failed to offer any effective opposition to what has been and continues to be an incompetent, corrupt, reactionary and increasingly authoritarian Tory government.

Moreover, rather than unifying the Labour Party as he pledged to do, under the guise of tackling antisemitism, Starmer set his sights instead on crushing the progressive wing with a series of attacks to undermine those closest to former leader Jeremy Corbyn, promptly sacking Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Starmer’s war on the left culminated with his full endorsement of the decision to suspend Corbyn, who is yet to have the whip re-instated and now sits as an independent backbench MP, where even in this diminished capacity he still offers more effective opposition than Sir Keir:

And here is Corbyn speaking out to protect our civil liberties and democratic right to protest at yesterday’s #KillTheBill rally:

On Wednesday 24th February inspired by a short interview featuring the editor of Tribune, Ronan Burtenshaw (embedded below), I penned a quick letter to my local MP Paul Blomfield, the former Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU Negotiations, inviting him to watch the video in question. Reproduced below is the full exchange of letters unabridged and augmented with further links and additional video:

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Dear Paul,

I think you should know how I and many other members of the Labour Party are feeling at this moment. I encourage you therefore to spend just ten minutes watching this short film:

Ronan Burtenshaw speaks for literally hundreds of thousands of us, some of whom have already torn up their membership cards and walked away from the party in disgust.

If the leadership and the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] continue to act in this way then Labour will lose many more members. Its grassroots base will very likely collapse. And if this isn’t already concerning enough, then I ask you also to consider the broader impact on our democracy once the party is divorced from the people, and the electorate again stops trusting our politicians. Look at the effects in America.

I cannot put my true feelings into words here which is why I very sincerely encourage you to watch the film.

Hope you are well in these difficult times.

Kind regards,

James

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Respectfully he did watch the video and replied to me on Friday 5th March:

Dear James,

Thanks for your email sharing your views about Keir’s leadership of the Labour Party.

I watched the video, but I don’t think it provides a very accurate picture of what’s happening in the party at the moment. I find it extraordinary that it criticises the current party leadership for serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet while disagreeing with some of his policies. It suggests that this is duplicity, where actually it’s loyalty to the Labour cause. We come together in political parties around shared values, with lots of different views; we make our arguments on specific policies but back what is agreed.

I’ve disagreed with every leader of the Labour Party on something, but we should always work positively to engage, not simply look to oppose at every turn which I fear that some in the Party are seeking to do at the moment. You’ll know that Jeremy’s suspension is due to his refusal to apologise for his comments on the EHRC report, not to do with his leadership or any other issue.

I also don’t recognise your characterisation of the huge loss of members during Keir’s tenure either. In November 2019 (the last set of NEC elections during Jeremy’s leadership) there were around 430,000 members. In January this year there were around 459,000.

You’re right that it’s a serious problem for democracy when people stop trusting politicians; and turning to populism – of the right or left – is not the answer. We obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician (see more here).

I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history. Let’s take comfort from the fact  that Trump lost the Presidential election, and the Biden Administration has used its position to begin to set right some of the most divisive policies – such stopping the ‘building of the wall’, launching a government initiative on racial equality, cancelling the racist ‘Muslim ban’ and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.

Thanks again for writing and for your good wishes. I hope you’re keeping well too.

With best wishes Paul.

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I then replied to Paul Blomfield the same day but at greater length – supporting links with URL addresses are as in the original but I have also included further links and Youtube clips including the interview with Andrew Feinstein:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for watching the video I sent and for your thoughtful and full reply.

Firstly, I would like to address the issue surrounding membership. Since I do not have access to the Labour database I am forced to rely on what I hear from fellow members and from the most recent newspaper reports. Regarding anecdotal evidence, it is very clear to me that I am not alone. Of the members I know personally or know through social media, many have resigned their membership; countless others feel betrayed and deceived by Keir Starmer’s calls for unity and reconciliation; and the vast majority are now terribly demoralised. As for reliable numbers:

LABOUR has lost over 50,000 members since Keir Starmer became leader, according to the party’s own election records.

UK Labour held its National Executive Committee (NEC) elections this week, which was won by the party’s left-wing faction.

In the NEC election, 495,961 members of the party were listed as eligible to vote.

When Starmer was elected to the leadership position after Jeremy Corbyn stood down, there were 552,835 registered Labour party members.

Those figures mean the party has lost 56,874 members since April

From an article published on November 14th by The National: https://www.thenational.scot/news/18871910.labour-nec-vote-reveals-drop-party-membership-since-keir-starmers-election/

When it comes to Labour’s electoral chances, if this decline is true then, as I wrote before, it will have a devastating effect on doorstep canvassing. The drop in revenue also means that the party will now have to become increasingly reliant on wealthy and corporate donors.

You say that “we obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician.”

Labour lost its traditional base once it came to be seen as untrustworthy. This happened when it flip-flopped over Brexit and moved from its successful stance of accepting the referendum vote in 2017 (losing by the tiniest margin of just 2.5%) to its slow adoption of calls for a second vote. Many on the left forecast this repercussion; as you may recall, I was one [see here]. The chief architect of Labour’s Brexit strategy was Keir Starmer, so he must take some of the responsibility for Labour’s dreadful 2019 defeat.

I don’t trust opinion polls very much and I think that constantly relying on them to guide us is a bad habit, and indeed one that smacks of populism. That said, at the time of the last election, the Tories won with short of a 12% lead over Labour whereas the latest opinion poll currently gives them a 13% lead. This evaluation comes after a truly disastrous year when abject incompetence and corruption in the government’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths and will leave millions of people unemployed or otherwise desperate. Of course, Corbyn’s popularity figures remained comparatively low throughout his leadership (for reasons I shall come to), but Starmer’s figures have recently nosedived too and now fallen below Corbyn’s peak. Perhaps the latest report from Yougov is illuminating in this regard:

“Starmer’s main cause for concern is that a quarter (24%) of those who voted Labour in 2019 have an unfavourable view of their party leader, although 60% still hold a favourable opinion. In fact, his personal approval rating is now better amongst 2019 Lib Dem voters, who have a favourable opinion of him by 68% to 19%. He also has the support of one in five (21%) 2019 Conservative voters.”

That he is most favoured today by Lib Dem voters certainly does not support the view that he will begin winning back traditional Labour supporters any time soon.

Keir Starmer’s decline in net satisfaction over first 12 months image

Click here to find the same graphic on page 15 of the Ipsos MORI report from March 2021.

You write that: “I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history.” The point – not really my point – is that when people lose faith in democracy they often seem to turn to fascism. And I think we may agree that with the election of Trump, America has already moved to the cusp of turning fascist.

The difference here is that I put no faith in Biden at all because I see no reason to do so. Under Biden I fully anticipate a return to the kinds of policies that we had under Obama and without going into the details of what was wrong with Obama’s domestic and foreign policy, I would simply make the obvious point that Trump’s success followed immediately on the heels of Obama’s two terms in office. Clearly those eight years of “hope and change” left many Americans feeling little more than despair and desperation. After Biden, the same will very likely happen although with still more dangerous consequences because the situation gradually worsens with each cycle of neoliberal failure.

Finally, I shall address the most contentious of the points you have raised. To those on the left of the party the suspension of Corbyn is very evidently a politically-motivated act. In the statement in question, Corbyn said anti-Semitism was “absolutely abhorrent” and “one anti-Semite is one too many” in the party. These views are ones he has consistently upheld and are views that most of us share.

He then went on to say: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” There are actually two issues here. Firstly, on what grounds is it improper for him to defend the party and himself against perceived smears by political opponents and the media?  Secondly, is his opinion false? What is the available evidence here?

I refer you to Al Jazeera’s undercover investigative series “The Lobby” broadcast in 2017. In light of Al Jazeera’s revelations, then-shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called on the government to launch an immediate inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.

She said in parliament: “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

Note that: Thornberry’s statement can also be found on the Labour Party website: https://labour.org.uk/press/reports-of-israeli-embassy-official-discussing-how/

Although this story briefly hit the headlines, the main focus of Al Jazeera’s investigation and its disclosure of a dirty tricks campaign against both pro-Palestinian Labour members and also to subvert Corbyn’s leadership has been quietly buried by the media.

Moreover, in January 2017, BBC Trust felt obliged to issue a retraction and an admission that it breached its own accuracy and impartiality rules during a news report about Jeremy Corbyn’s view on shoot-to-kill policy, writing: “The breach of due accuracy on such a highly contentious political issue meant that the output had not achieved due impartiality.” Here is another indication of the media’s hostility toward Corbyn, and I will add that in response, James Harding, Director of BBC News, remained unapologetic saying (as the BBC itself reported): “While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.”

I remind you that Keir Starmer also sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey merely for retweeting a quote with a link to respectable newspaper article on the grounds that it promoted a “conspiracy theory”.

Below is the first part of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s Twitter thread apology and retraction:

Without wishing to get into the weeds, the claims made in the article in question were untrue only in the specific case of the George Floyd killing, because it irrefutably is the case that police officers in the US are being trained by Israel Defense Forces [as Amnesty International reported in 2016] and that the IDF does use a similar kind of neck restraint against Palestinians [as Jonathan Cook reports here]. As you are no doubt aware, they also routinely shoot at unarmed protesters using live ammunition.

Here is a video report also posted by Amnesty International:

And here is a video showing an IDF soldier using the same neck restraint against a Palestinian man:

Going back to Corbyn’s statement, in my view he is justifiably defending himself against an attack-dog media and those who were actively working within the party to undermine him. But my own central points are actually these: Firstly, that Corbyn is not and has never been a racist. Indeed, even his fiercest opponents have never seriously charged him with racism and that is because his antiracist position is active, long-standing and unimpeachable. Secondly, and more broadly, we must never allow criticism of Israel to be suppressed on the totally spurious charge of antisemitism. I fear that even writing this may put me somehow in breach of the party’s current position, since I fail to understand how Corbyn’s statement is more sanctionable than any of the thoughts expressed here.

Embedded below is an interview with Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP who served under Nelson Mandela and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”, discussing Keir Starmer’s ‘New’ New Labour, how the factional and weaponised use of ‘antisemitism’ is used to purge the left from the Labour party:

In this regard I stand with Jewish Voice for Labour who released the following statement:

We are appalled that Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended and had the whip withdrawn. He has a proud record of fighting all forms of racism including antisemitism. We call on Labour Party members to protest against this unjustified outrage in the strongest terms and through all channels available to us. This is an attack not just on Jeremy, but on the party membership. Do not leave, organise and fight back.

You can read their views on the EHRC report here: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/the-ehrc-report-an-interim-response/

Very glad to hear that you are well and I’d like to thank you again for taking the time and trouble to reply to my letter.

Best wishes,

James

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I received a reply from Paul Blomfield on Tuesday 16th March:

Dear James

Thanks for your further email. I just wanted to respond on a couple of your points.

Membership numbers fluctuate and, while the figures showed some decline from the highest-ever level in January 2020, they are still well above the 430,359 in November 2019. Any decline in membership is clearly disappointing, but the increase in public support is encouraging. I don’t know the potential negative affect this might have on canvassing teams. After the mass influx of new members in 2015 and 2016, there was no noticeable increase in campaigning members, so I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation.

You also make the point that Labour is in danger of losing more of its ‘traditional base’ voters, or not winning them back soon. It is a real issue; democratic socialist parties across Europe have faced a gradual loss of this support over at least the last 15 years, and in the UK this far pre-dates Brexit. In 2017, under Jeremy’s leadership, the trend continued and, while we won seats in metropolitan areas, we lost Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and other such ‘traditional Labour’ seats. Bringing together a winning electoral coalition is a complex challenge – but one that we have been considering and working on for a decade. I would also point out that our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted and was secured at Conference with the support of Len McCluskey, who later wrote this piece claiming that it “should be a vote-winner”.

I agree with you that over-reliance on polls outside election periods isn’t always helpful, but as you will recognise, in the days before Keir became leader we were 20 points behind and we’re now in a much stronger position – while Johnson enjoys a current ‘bounce’ from the successful vaccination programme (which is frustrating as it’s the hard-working NHS staff that his Government has denied a fair pay settlement to who are rolling it out!)

With best wishes

Paul

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My final thoughts: Although I reject Paul Blomfield’s contention that “our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted…” I have not replied to him since it seemed that our sequence of correspondence had run its course. I’d like sincerely to thank him again for taking such trouble to reply in fullness to my concerns.

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Additional:

Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani of Novara Media marked the anniversary with their own review on Friday 2nd:

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