Batley & Spen: No reason for Starmer to celebrate

The narrow win for the Labour Party in the Batley & Spen by-election, held shortly after Matt Hancock’s forced resignation and amidst the general chaos of the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic, is profoundly disappointing. At such a point, the opposition should be winning resounding victories not edging past the government by a few hundred votes. A majority of just over 3,500 was reduced to just 300 votes. Such a paltry victory is largely attributable to the abject failure of Starmer’s leadership. Even Angela Rayner said (after the Hartlepool by-election) that no-one knew what Keir Starmer stood for.

Starmer has instead chosen to pursue a campaign against imaginary “antisemitism” as an excuse to purge the left. In doing so he has ignored other forms of racism, including anti-black racism (apart from an embarrassingly staged photograph with Angela Rayner). In fact Labour tried to exploit racism in Batley & Spen by distributing leaflets with photos of Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Modi of India together, in a pathetic attempt to appeal to ethnic Pakistanis within the local population.

This was in part driven by a desire to compensate for the recognised distaste within the Muslim population for Starmer’s failure to do or say anything in support of the Palestinian people and their struggle, a consequence of his submission to the Zionist lobby. Labour was thus left vulnerable to George Galloway and his strong advocacy for the Palestinian cause.

Despite the Tory Party and Boris Johnson being up to their necks in charges of corruption, incompetence and manslaughter, Starmer has been entirely incapable of convincing anybody that under his leadership, the Labour Party would do any better. The narrow Labour win in Batley & Spen should not enable Starmer to continue his slow destruction of the Labour Party.

Starmer must stand down now, allowing a new leadership contest to take place. This does not mean we want a slightly less dull centrist like Andy Burnham, Blarities like Lisa Nandy or Yvette Cooper or pseudo-leftists like Angela Rayner to become leader. But if a left-winger is prepared to stand for the leadership on the clear political basis that they would take on the right in and outside the party, this could very quickly open up things in the Labour movement once again. It could help to galvanise the tens of thousands of socialists and left-wingers who are still members of the Labour Party. However, some important lessons have to be learned by the left, chiefly that appeasing the right does not work. Had the Corbyn leadership stood up to the charges of antisemitism leveled against him and his supporters, we could be in a very different situation today.