Written by Emma Flint
In his first year as leader, Keir Starmer has decidedly chosen to conform rather than oppose the current government. His determination to tow the middle line is increasing almost daily, most recent of note being his decision to support the government partially running Liverpool City Council. When news broke on 24th March that the Government would intervene at Liverpool City Council, the fifth time such action has ever happened, many anticipated that Starmer and Labour would oppose such actions. After all, Liverpool has long been anti-Tory, with the last Tory councillor having been elected in 1995. Surprisingly however, Starmer was rather silent on the matter.
Regarding the arrest of five men in December 2020 and their subsequent investigation, among them then Mayor Joe Anderson, Labour’s response has been short. The statement, published the same day as the investigation report, reads as follows: “The Labour Party hasn’t received this report yet, so we can’t comment on the details of it. There are a number of investigations ongoing so it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.”. What makes their silence so damning, is that Labour have since learned more about the report, so they’re in a position where they could offer better insight into their stance on this government intervention. Yet instead, they choose so called pragmatism, further highlighting Starmer’s failure to recognise the significance of a Tory presence in a city that’s successfully avoided it for 25 years.
Now that the government will have partial control of the running of Liverpool City Council, the city is precariously close to falling ever further into Tory hands. Consequently, this could dramatically alter the national landscape of politics, particularly in North West England, which has long been regarded as a solid Labour region. Not only does this cast doubt on the security of Liverpool as a Labour city, but also whether the Labour Party has lost its radicalism since Corbyn stepped down. When Corbyn announced his resignation in late 2019, his intention was to create a space in which a more suitable candidate could lead the party to power.
When Starmer was elected the new Labour leader, there was a mix of unease and excitement – even those who’d supported Corbyn knew that he’d been forced into a position that prevented Labour from gaining momentum. The smear campaigns were too consistent, too targeted, and too influential on the public to not damn Labour. Starmer, meanwhile, seemed to deliver the favourable personality that so many had condemned Corbyn for lacking. He looked presentable, he didn’t appear too radical, nor did he stir up the right-wing masses quite as ardently as his predecessor. There was still much scepticism regarding this change in Labour, but at least the odds appeared more favourable.
How quickly the tables turned.
As Kill the Bill protests continued, On Saturday 3rd April at a protest in London, it wasn’t Starmer who voiced left-wing sentiment but Corbyn. His rousing speech at Parliament Square about the need to oppose the restrictive nature of the government’s proposed bill reminded many of his supporters what Labour once stood for, and what it’s since lost. “I want a society where it is safe to walk the streets, where you can speak out, you can demonstrate and you don’t have to seek the permission from the police or the home secretary to do so,” he said. The fact that an ex-leader of the party provided more opposition to the government is a powerful message, one that shows that Starmer lacks the integrity to follow through on his convictions no matter the cost. In a time when the Labour Party needed to affirm their opposition once and for all, they again remained on the sidelines.
The lack of opposition to Boris Johnson and his Conservative government is becoming wider felt each time Starmer fails to present a challenge to the Tories, a challenge that Jeremy Corbyn used to readily bring. Consequently, the solidarity that Labour once garnered is waning dramatically. Is it any wonder why many left-wing voters believe Starmer is nothing more than a blue MP dressed in red? Starmer often excuses his silence with commentary about previous protests. Recently he has done this by condemning the violence of Protesters in Bristol, describing their actions to LBC as “inexcusable” and “completely unacceptable”. However, this response only further aligns him with political figures like Priti Patel.
Concerns only worsened when, on 28th March , Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, came out in support of the police. Following backlash, he attempted to backtrack saying, “People should obviously have a way of making their voice heard of course and there are ways to do that in a covid-secure and safe way and that’s absolutely what they should be doing,”. However, as quoted in The Telegraph, the Shadow Home Secretary added, “But let me be clear that the scenes of violence that we’ve seen in Bristol, from a minority of protesters are totally and utterly unacceptable.”. The result is an unconvincing middle stance.
Sadly, the way in Labour is quick to justify questionable ideologies looks set to continue, as demonstrated by both Starmer and his closest MPs. Shadow cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves reasoned away Starmer’s decision to visit a notoriously homophobic church on Good Friday, as a visit to a vaccine centre. Yet knowledge of Jesus House’s views didn’t stop Starmer from praising the church, saying its a “wonderful example of a church serving their community by coming together with health professionals in the fight against the virus”. Of course, some within the party have rushed to criticise Starmer’s actions and commentary. However, the damage has already been done. Considering this is the same church Boris Johnson visited just a month ago, Starmer once again connects himself to blue politics.
As the 6th of May date for local elections fast approaches, the likelihood that Starmer’s Labour will see positive election results seems more akin to fantasy. Even though much of the nation is tired of Johnson and his bumbling politics, Labour has yet to offer anything that combats this. They seem able to deliver pretty speeches, yet unable to provide a follow through that makes voters feel assured and listened to.