How Keir Starmer is cleaning up Jeremy Corbyn’s toxic legacy – Ayesha Hazarika
Despite criticism from former Labour leader, Keir Starmer, who is not naturally vengeful, is unlikely to waste time on a war against the party’s Corbynite faction, writes Ayesha Hazarika.
When I interviewed Keir Starmer at the start of the leadership contest, I asked him what his priority would be. He replied – to great applause – that it was tackling anti-semitism and cleaning up the party.
Just over a hundred days in, that promise looks like it’s being honoured.
His recent decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey and this week’s decision to settle out of court and apologise to those involved in last year’s explosive BBC Panorama documentary on anti-semitism has come as a pleasant surprise to those who doubted him.
Mind you, the bar for decent leadership has been so low for the last five years, that any right-minded action feels like an extraordinary event for which we give praise.
Sadly, Corbyn has chosen not to abide by the unspoken golden rule in politics that ex-leaders slink off to their allotments and maintain a dignified silence over their successor.
After news of the Labour Party’s apology and settlement, up he popped to contest and criticise the decision and repeat the accusations against the whiste-blowers.
Not only was that highly antagonistic and offensive, it was also monumentally and characteristically stupid as now he may well be sued personally by John Ware, the journalist who fronted the Panorama show.
If that does happen, I hope the party will remember recent precedent when Labour under Corbyn withdrew financial support from Kezia Dugdale, the former Labour leader in Scotland, after she was sued.
Corbyn’s toxic legacy casts a long shadow over Starmer even though “the party is under new management”.
But what should Starmer do? I spoke to a Blairite who was defiant that now was the time to suspend or expel Corbyn from the party and withdraw the whip to show the public he was serious about change.
I’m not so sure that’s the right course of action now and if it chimes with Starmer’s instincts.
Getting rid of Corbyn now would be met a huge chorus of approval from many on the outside of the party and from the commentariat but it also would make a martyr of him and create war within the party at a time when things are still tricky.
There are crucial NEC elections running until November and Starmer needs to get members who chime with his vision and won’t make it their life’s work to block his every decision. He really doesn’t need a Justice for Jeremy slate.
While he still has many loyal disciples on social media, Corbyn is, and will be further, tainted by this week’s settlement and the forthcoming Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report.
Even members of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs will have to think about their association. It was interesting that many did not send out public messages of solidarity although Richard Burgon did.
Corbyn’s discredited reputation could make it harder for that group to mobilise against Keir in the future.
Starmer is also not a naturally vengeful person. Those close to him tell of his aversion to public spats and conflict.
The message on which he won was unity and I can’t see him wasting what would be a huge amount of time and energy on declaring war with the members over Corbyn.
But he is also a man who carefully bides his time and can take ruthless decisions which surprise us all. And he really wants to win.
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