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Keir Starmer will regret his Corbynite purge

No dissent allowed. Credit: Getty

June 5, 2023 - 4:30pm

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.


Ethan Croft is Deputy Diary Editor at the Evening Standard.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 year ago

No he won’t.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 year ago

No he won’t.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

“British politics might soon reach a point where the Conservative Party is the natural home of intellectual energy, new ideas and dissent,”

Hilarious

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

It’s faint praise.
Of course it’s alreay happened.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

The right is far less creedal than the current ”liberal” left. Hence, you’re not going to get any new ideas from the current left

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

It’s faint praise.
Of course it’s alreay happened.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

The right is far less creedal than the current ”liberal” left. Hence, you’re not going to get any new ideas from the current left

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

“British politics might soon reach a point where the Conservative Party is the natural home of intellectual energy, new ideas and dissent,”

Hilarious

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
1 year ago

The Labour Party has been treading water in the Welsh Assembly for over 20 years. Basically, it asks the UK for more money and gives that away to the ‘poor’ (defined as real poor, potential students, increasing numbers of Assembly employees).

Driscoll sounds like a breath of fresh air – stale air in a modern setting. It should appeal to many new voters.

Last edited 1 year ago by Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
1 year ago

The Labour Party has been treading water in the Welsh Assembly for over 20 years. Basically, it asks the UK for more money and gives that away to the ‘poor’ (defined as real poor, potential students, increasing numbers of Assembly employees).

Driscoll sounds like a breath of fresh air – stale air in a modern setting. It should appeal to many new voters.

Last edited 1 year ago by Caradog Wiliams
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

Much that is sensible here. But it misses a fairly big point: Labour was last kicked (not ‘out’) by the voters when it ran Corbyn – and refused to take a decision on – or be honest about – or even engage with – the biggest political issue of the day: Brexit. Corbynite Labour was not a shining beacon of openness, honesty, clear talking, or pluralism. There may well be a lot wrong with Starmers approach in general, or the ousting of Jamie Driscoll in particular. But giving more space to the Corbyn wing is not any kind of solution.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago

Much that is sensible here. But it misses a fairly big point: Labour was last kicked (not ‘out’) by the voters when it ran Corbyn – and refused to take a decision on – or be honest about – or even engage with – the biggest political issue of the day: Brexit. Corbynite Labour was not a shining beacon of openness, honesty, clear talking, or pluralism. There may well be a lot wrong with Starmers approach in general, or the ousting of Jamie Driscoll in particular. But giving more space to the Corbyn wing is not any kind of solution.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

…urn of dead assumptions.
Dead? They assume the working class are their core vote while pursuing student trendy progressive nonsense. Remember the Arab Spring? ‘Useful’ students ferried about by taxi drivers. That went well for them eh?
If only Corbyn had beaten May in 2017. There’d have been a general election, probably delayed by Covid, and Labour would have been reduced to the state the Tories are likely going to be in soon.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Kirk
James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

…urn of dead assumptions.
Dead? They assume the working class are their core vote while pursuing student trendy progressive nonsense. Remember the Arab Spring? ‘Useful’ students ferried about by taxi drivers. That went well for them eh?
If only Corbyn had beaten May in 2017. There’d have been a general election, probably delayed by Covid, and Labour would have been reduced to the state the Tories are likely going to be in soon.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Kirk
j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Starmer knows the core of the country is the moderate-centrist and Lab can only win from there. People want competency and bit less ideology right now too. So this won’t do him any harm.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

You are a truly uninspiring apologist.
To be fair this is probably to your credit.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

‘Boring’ competency rules PR, for now at least.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Is it though? You forget Corbyn ran the Tories very close during the 2017 election, despite the leader himself being fairly unpopular some his policies actually proved to be vote winners. It only fell apart at the subsequent election when he decided to use Starmers blueprint for Brexit which cost him vast numbers of Leave voting seats in Labours strongholds

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Not really. Labour did not go with Starmer on Brexit – that would have been a clear remainer stance. Nor did they come out for a soft Brexit, or a hard Brexit, or any other Brexit. They refused to take a stand, said they would negotiate a better deal (how?) and also promote a referendum to overturn it, and just scolded the Tories without saying what they actually intended to do. Their only line was “let us talk about something else, and just get JC in power – whatever he does will be great.” It does not help to have some popular policies – mixed in with a smorgasbord of less popular policies. – if it is totally unclear what your priorities are, what you actually want to do, or whether you can deliver it.

And, anyway, if Labour had gone for hard Brexit – like the Tories – they would have lost vast numbers of votes to the Lib Dems running for remain. A clear choice for a soft Brexit might have carried them through, but that was never possible with a woolly brexiteer like Corbyn in charge.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Not really. Labour did not go with Starmer on Brexit – that would have been a clear remainer stance. Nor did they come out for a soft Brexit, or a hard Brexit, or any other Brexit. They refused to take a stand, said they would negotiate a better deal (how?) and also promote a referendum to overturn it, and just scolded the Tories without saying what they actually intended to do. Their only line was “let us talk about something else, and just get JC in power – whatever he does will be great.” It does not help to have some popular policies – mixed in with a smorgasbord of less popular policies. – if it is totally unclear what your priorities are, what you actually want to do, or whether you can deliver it.

And, anyway, if Labour had gone for hard Brexit – like the Tories – they would have lost vast numbers of votes to the Lib Dems running for remain. A clear choice for a soft Brexit might have carried them through, but that was never possible with a woolly brexiteer like Corbyn in charge.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rasmus Fogh
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Is it though? You forget Corbyn ran the Tories very close during the 2017 election, despite the leader himself being fairly unpopular some his policies actually proved to be vote winners. It only fell apart at the subsequent election when he decided to use Starmers blueprint for Brexit which cost him vast numbers of Leave voting seats in Labours strongholds

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

‘Boring’ competency rules PR, for now at least.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I rarely agree with you but you are right re Starmer approach.
I still hate Starmer though for trying to stop Brexit and then promoting traitor like Corbyn as a suitable candidate for PM.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

You are a truly uninspiring apologist.
To be fair this is probably to your credit.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I rarely agree with you but you are right re Starmer approach.
I still hate Starmer though for trying to stop Brexit and then promoting traitor like Corbyn as a suitable candidate for PM.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

Starmer knows the core of the country is the moderate-centrist and Lab can only win from there. People want competency and bit less ideology right now too. So this won’t do him any harm.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago


urn of dead assumptions.
Dead? They assume the working class are their core vote while pursuing student trendy progressive nonsense. Remember the Arab Spring? ‘Useful’ students ferried about by taxi drivers. That went well for them eh?
If only Corbyn had beaten May in 2017. There’d have been a general election, probably delayed by Covid, and Labour would have been reduced to the state the Tories are likely going to be in soon.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago

I don’t particularly care for Labour Party but surely any party leadership has a right to choose candidates to their liking.
Reality is that candidates win mostly due to party machine support first, voters herd instinct second and personal quality distant last (10% max).
There are outliers like Johnson but general trend is as described.
If this guy doesn’t like it he can stand as independent and let see how many votes he gets.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

“Clearly incompatible with our promise to have zero tolerance,” you say? Has Jamie Driscoll been expelled from the Labour Party, then? Have the Labour members of his Cabinet been expelled from the Labour Party? Have the Conservative members of his Cabinet been expelled from the Conservative Party?

How come none of them, nor Simon Clarke, nor Nadhim Zahawi, nor Ben Bradley, has ever noticed that Jamie was a “Trot”, or an anti-Semite, or whatever? Is Kim McGuinness likely to be so “refreshingly non-partisan”, so “professional”, and so noted for “not playing politics”? Are such traits generally observed in the right-wing Labour machine, or specifically in the right-wing Labour machine in the North East?

Simply as a matter of fact, Ken Loach was not expelled from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism. And he can afford to sue. The Blairites have never otherwise heard of him, of course. They have certainly never seen any of his films. One could never encounter a more aggressively uncultured subculture. They rank with the Thatcherites, and they are as rank as the Thatcherites.

Now that they have come out in support of Jamie, will Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram be, well, what, exactly? Jamie has not been expelled from the Labour Party. He has not been suspended. He has not been anything apart from kept off a longlist. Yet if the grounds for that were sound, then neither he, nor anyone who supported him, could possibly be permitted to retain membership of any respectable organisation, or even of the Labour Party.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

“Clearly incompatible with our promise to have zero tolerance,” you say? Has Jamie Driscoll been expelled from the Labour Party, then? Have the Labour members of his Cabinet been expelled from the Labour Party? Have the Conservative members of his Cabinet been expelled from the Conservative Party?

How come none of them, nor Simon Clarke, nor Nadhim Zahawi, nor Ben Bradley, has ever noticed that Jamie was a “Trot”, or an anti-Semite, or whatever? Is Kim McGuinness likely to be so “refreshingly non-partisan”, so “professional”, and so noted for “not playing politics”? Are such traits generally observed in the right-wing Labour machine, or specifically in the right-wing Labour machine in the North East?

Simply as a matter of fact, Ken Loach was not expelled from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism. And he can afford to sue. The Blairites have never otherwise heard of him, of course. They have certainly never seen any of his films. One could never encounter a more aggressively uncultured subculture. They rank with the Thatcherites, and they are as rank as the Thatcherites.

Now that they have come out in support of Jamie, will Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram be, well, what, exactly? Jamie has not been expelled from the Labour Party. He has not been suspended. He has not been anything apart from kept off a longlist. Yet if the grounds for that were sound, then neither he, nor anyone who supported him, could possibly be permitted to retain membership of any respectable organisation, or even of the Labour Party.