Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter—defying Starmer means a clean break

In a fourth letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, Charlie Kimber says there is a new reason to break from Labour

Friday 17 February 2023 by https://socialistworker.co.uk/

In a fourth letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, Charlie Kimber says there is a new reason to break from Labour

Kier Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for a labour elcetion in 2019

Kier Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn at the launch of Labour’s general election campaign in 2019 (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Now decision time approaches for you. Ever since Keir Starmer said Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t be a Labour MP in November 2020, you’ve told me a key struggle was to have him reinstated as a Labour candidate. And you firmly believed this could succeed.

You pointed to his massive support in the Islington North constituency. And the backing from many big trade unions for his return, Starmer’s pledge to continue his policies, and much else.

On Wednesday, Starmer said that Corbyn would not be allowed to stand for Labour at the next general election. He said the party had changed and “we are not going back”. He told those who disagreed with him, “The door is open and you can leave.” In contrast, he said, “To all those who want to make this great country greater still, I say the door is open.”

Corbyn is excluded despite being a former leader, a Labour member since the age of 16 and the constituency’s MP for nearly 40 years.

It’s hardly a surprise, but it should extinguish any doubts. The minimum adequate response is for Corbyn to declare he is standing—whether as a Labour candidate or not—and to begin assembling support. He should also call on his friends and comrades on the Labour left to join him.

He would generate wide support. And ten or 12 candidates taking on Labour from the left would be far more serious than just a single MP’s challenge. This is a new era in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of workers have struck repeatedly. Many more could join them. As Starmer seeks to narrow the gap with pro-business ideas, it’s time to dump his party and the dead end of Labourism.

The test of any political strategy now is whether it advances the strikes, the anti-racist movement and battles for women’s and trans liberation and against environmental collapse and war. All these matter far more than manoeuvres inside a pro-capitalist party.

If Corbyn does stand independently of Labour, Socialist Worker will call for a vote for him—and any others on the left who break. But the strong likelihood is they won’t. Diane Abbott, one of Corbyn’s strongest allies, said, “He has no intention of standing as an independent.”

She added—slightly bizarrely or perhaps honestly—that Starmer and Corbyn had “a perfectly good relationship as far I knew” when they were together in the shadow cabinet. It was “a perfectly friendly relationship. The only thing that they differed on was that Jeremy, in his heart of hearts is a Brexiteer, and Keir Starmer at that point, was passionately pro-European.”

A Corbyn victory against a Labour candidate would be a very welcome bloody nose for Starmer. But it would be presented as an individual oddity. And it would be advanced as a reason for him to be returned eventually to the warm embrace of Labour. 

If it stops there, its main effect would be to entice good activists who are looking for radical alternatives back into the constrained world of electoral politics. Look at what happened to Ken Livingstone

He stood to be Labour’s candidate to be London Mayor in 2000, was undemocratically excluded, but won the election as an independent. He was allowed to come back by Tony Blair, achieved very little—and was then forced out of Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

And Jeremy so far has said only that he will redouble his efforts to let Labour members in the constituency decide. This is designed to be “clever tactics”, not putting his own supporters under pressure to declare for him.

Perhaps that will anaesthetise your own response—but let me tell you how that works. I recently spoke to a Corbyn supporter in Islington. He has been one of the strongest backers of Jeremy I’ve ever met. His delight in Corbyn was part of a strategy that says only Labour can change society and therefore the left must seek to head the party.

So I was shocked when he said to me a few weeks ago that Jeremy must now suck it up and quietly fade away as an MP. The key struggle, he said was to make sure Labour wins against the Tories and the left stays a force in the party. If Jeremy runs against a Labour candidate, he said, this might distract from the central battle. And if the left back him, they will make it easy for Starmer to chuck them out.

What began as 100 percent support for Corbyn, ends as conceding to his demise in order to pacify a leader who will be little different to Rishi Sunak. 

Starmer has made clear Labour won’t open the “big government chequebook”. He wants more money for the military than the Tories. He wants to speed up the ejection of refugees. He won’t pay striking workers anything like they are demanding. And he urges on the Ukraine war.

He’s auditioning to be the ruling class choice at the next general election. He positions himself as a man whose connection with the trade union leaders can close down the present wave of strikes at very little cost.

Do you want a bigger example of this? Look at the email that the Labour left group Momentum rushed out to its supporters this week. It described Starmer’s pronouncement as an anti-democratic insult and then added, “We know it’s not easy right now. But it’s vital we stay in Labour.” 

It’s not-very-hidden message was “don’t do anything that might see you expelled”—such as calling for Corbyn to take on Labour. And here lies the real difference behind all the specific tactics. If you believe Labour is the only way forward then any concession is justified to stay there. 

In the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) we think elections matter, but that struggle outside parliament is far more important

Over the last seven years we have discussed this. And for most of the time the idea of sustained  struggle by organised workers seemed a thing from history books or a rather strained hope.

That’s changed, but it also means it’s time to choose sides. Jeremy, to his credit, is always to be found on the picket lines and the protests. But there is a gulf between those actions and the reality of Labour.

You’re with the strikers or those who think Labour’s election prospects matter most.  

The struggle is the future, the real hope. We don’t need Labour under Starmer, and we don’t need a Labour Party mark II under Jeremy Corbyn. The Labourist tradition always puts parliament first—whether the left or right is in the leadership. Strikers are told not to rock the boat because an election is coming. Militant protesters are told to tone down their rage because it might “put voters off”.

There are now new possibilities to grasp. It’s time for a complete break to revolutionary politics.