Mayoral candidate Jamie Driscoll has been blocked on flimsy pretexts
Sir Keir Starmer’s purge of the Left has reached the banks of the Tyne. On Friday Jamie Driscoll, a Left-wing mayor in the North East, was effectively cast out of the Labour Party when Labour HQ kept him off the longlist for the next mayoral election. No reason was given at first, but then over the weekend a shadow cabinet minister, when questioned, dribbled out something about Driscoll appearing alongside the filmmaker Ken Loach at a public meeting. (Loach was kicked out of Labour for downplaying anti-Semitism in the party.)
Driscoll defended himself with a straightforward appeal both to the right of free association and to common sense: he cannot reasonably be held accountable for all past, present and future thoughts of his interlocutors. He even railed against “cancel culture” — realising, perhaps too late, that joining the cancellation circus is an exercise in rod-making. Of course, Driscoll is wasting his breath. He is the only man in England who believes he was actually purged for sitting next to Ken Loach, something Starmer has also done.
Driscoll, the “last Corbynite”, was defenestrated because Starmer and his allies do not like what he represents. He is openly and enthusiastically on the Left. He excited grassroots activists at the last party conference, spending much of his time addressing rooms of faded pastel knitwear and anoraks on the subject of land value taxes and other socialist ideas that remain entirely novel in Britain.
And it’s not only about policies. Driscoll’s whole approach to politics is alien to Starmer and his “transformed” Labour Party. Driscoll believes that politics is a simple, open process where the candidate says what he thinks and tries to persuade his fellow citizens to think the same. Starmer’s view is the opposite. When he speaks, all of the Labour leader’s thinking is refracted through the thoughts of pollsters, focus groups and think tanks. It can change from one day of the week to the next.
Starmer and the people around him have convinced themselves that this is a very clever way of doing things. Maybe they’re right. But their position can only hold if alternative approaches based on optimism, broad-mindedness and a degree of honesty are made to fail. Note that Driscoll is a well-liked Mayor who has supervened party lines in the North East. He therefore cannot be allowed to win re-election.
But perhaps Starmer, who has been merrily tinkering with internal Labour Party selections for the past year, has shown his hand a little too much. The unions are growing furious as they learn that their funding buys them precisely zero influence in the party. And the metro mayors Andy Burnham (Manchester) and Steve Rotheram (Liverpool), have written a letter to the party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, expressing “concern”. Who can blame them for getting jittery?
British politics might soon reach a point where the Conservative Party is the natural home of intellectual energy, new ideas and dissent, while the Labour Party becomes an urn of dead assumptions. This heavy skew to one side would be bad for Britain. But also in time — and this is an appeal to self-interest that even Starmerites can understand — it would be bad for Labour. The party was last kicked out by voters when it ran out of steam and ideas. It could happen again if Starmer isn’t careful.