Friday 31 May 2024

An Inhuman, Pitiless Political Machine

Peter Oborne writes:

Political commentators are today expressing shock and bemusement at Keir Starmer’s brutal targeting of the Labour left on the eve of a UK general election.

That’s because they haven’t been paying attention. It’s been obvious for a long time that the Labour leader is in charge of an inhuman, pitiless political machine.

Two years ago, Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files exposed the bleak truth about Starmer’s party. The five-part investigation was a staggering feat of reporting, based on the biggest leak of confidential documents in British political history.

It provided a wealth of documentary evidence and personal testimony to show that the Labour machine bullied party members and shamelessly manipulated internal democracy.

More shocking still, Al Jazeera brought to light a hidden story of anti-Black racism and naked Islamophobia inside Labour HQ.

Incredibly, the Al Jazeera investigation was ignored by mainstream media. The reason is simple: gullible political journalists swallowed unsceptically the Starmer narrative that the new Labour leader had brought common sense and decency to a party that had descended into a cesspit of bigotry and antisemitism under former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

This narrative was almost totally false, The Labour Files proved.

 'Deplorably factional' 

Let’s look first at the treatment meted out to Diane Abbott, then a senior member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. The right-wing clique that in the early years of the Corbyn leadership controlled the Labour bureaucracy despised her.

The Labour Files exposed the WhatsApp messages of a senior management group. One senior official wrote of Abbott: “She literally makes me sick.” Another said: “Abbott is truly repulsive.”

Al Jazeera interviewed Abbott, who said that the writer “seems to be expressing her own hatred of a Black woman, and it means that the Labour Party isn’t necessarily a safe space for Black women”.

The treatment of Abbott - the first Black woman ever to serve as an MP in the country - is far from the only example of this kind of Labour racism.

The Labour Files also contained evidence of a secret dossier that was used to disenfranchise approximately 5,000 largely Muslim Labour members, who were accused of trying to “infiltrate” the party in Newham.

One of those named in the dossier told Al Jazeera: “It seems to me that somebody is actually working inside the Labour Party against ethnic minorities.” Approached by Al Jazeera for a response, Labour denied allegations of racism.

It is important to note, however, that the credibility of the Labour Files was bolstered when barrister Martin Forde published his 2022 report into antisemitism and other forms of discrimination inside Labour.

Forde, who had been commissioned by Starmer, found “serious problems of discrimination” inside the Labour Party, including “deplorably factional and insensitive” attitudes on the WhatsApp group.

He identified a “hierarchy of racism” within Labour, with antisemitism taken more seriously than other forms of racism.

Racism and contempt

Incredibly, Starmer has not acted on all of Forde’s recommendations. He has been under little pressure to do so. Though the media did not completely ignore Forde’s findings as they did The Labour Files, his report was largely trivialised or misrepresented.

Whatever the motive behind Starmer’s decision to sideline Forde, he certainly left himself open to the charge that he put out a green light to racists in Labour ranks that such behaviour could go unpunished.

In my view, the treatment of Faiza Shaheen, abruptly deselected by the Labour Party as a candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green this week, is only comprehensible in the context of the evidence exposed in the Labour Files two years ago.

To be fair to Starmer, much of the racism and contempt for minorities exposed in the Labour Files was down to a right-wing clique that hated Corbyn and predated his arrival as party leader.

But there is no question that this toxic and undemocratic culture has been resurrected with a vengeance under Starmer. The party has proscribed a number of left-wing groups. Members can be expelled for expressing support for these organisations - even if they did so before they were proscribed.

A new clause has been added to the Labour rulebook, which reads: “Neither the principles of natural justice nor the provisions of fairness … shall apply to the termination of party membership.” This is astonishing in what claims to be a democratic party.

As I recently explained in an article for Middle East Eye written jointly with television producer Richard Sanders, this was prompted by the start of disciplinary procedures against Neal Lawson, director of the think tank, Compass, whose crime was to support tactical voting and whose prosecution signalled that the purges now extended beyond the radical left.

Michael Crick, a highly respected former political correspondent for both Channel 4 and the BBC, recently wrote about the criteria for appointing parliamentary candidates: “It’s unthinkable that Neil Kinnock, John Prescott, Clare Short and Robin Cook, all of whom were rebels in their early careers, would be selected.”

The same surely applies to the party’s founder, Keir Hardie, along with legendary Labour politicians from Aneuran Bevan to Tony Benn.

Toxic attitudes

To sum up, Starmer’s Labour Party has been captured by a small, highly determined right-wing clique, one that is as insouciant of Labour’s magnificent history and democratic tradition as it is contemptuous of ethnic minorities.

It’s important to ask why the mainstream media simply ignored so much appalling evidence of naked racism.

The answer, I believe, is that much of the British media shares the basic attitudes of Starmer’s Labour Party: the toxic racism towards Black people, the contempt for Muslims, the almost uncritical support for Israel despite its atrocities against Palestinians, and the worship of power at all costs - not to mention the instinctive authoritarianism, and contempt for due process and basic decency.

Starmer’s treatment of MPs such as Abbott and Shaheen sends a message to Britain’s right-wing media that he is on their side and deserves their support. In this way, he is opening the way to an alliance with the Murdoch press as the general election approaches.

I can see that this ugly and cynical strategy might work in electoral terms. There are analogies with the capture of the Tory party five years ago by a small, well-funded and focused coterie. Advised by Dominic Cummings, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson targeted Conservative MPs who did not share his vision, with mainstream figures such as Kenneth Clarke, Rory Stewart and Dominic Grieve barred from standing in the 2019 election.

In the very short term, the strategy was a success. Johnson won a famous election victory. But it is now clear that this scorched-earth tactic destroyed the Tories.

Today, the party has lost its soul and fallen into the hands of the far right. If it survives at all, it seems destined to become the British equivalent of Germany’s AfD or France’s National Rally.

Starmer’s equivalent of Cummings is his campaigns director, Morgan McSweeney, who has zero public profile but will soon be as well known as Peter Mandelson under Tony Blair, or Cummings under Johnson. In such relationships, it is always hard to tell who’s in charge.

The most benign interpretation of this week’s shameful events would suggest that Starmer is the creature of a political project he does not fully understand. For those seeking further guidance, I can only recommend watching Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files. Terrifyingly prescient, they provide the nearest thing we have to a blueprint for Starmer’s Britain.


  1. Pollsters only "predict" you'll get a majority of 300 if you're the safest Establishment bet in a generation.

    1. But the influence of these things works only if we let it.