The strangest allegation in Keir Starmer’s gratuitous and false attack on the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) in the Guardian was the one of ‘virtue-signalling’ in relation to our campaign for a peaceful solution to the confrontation around Ukraine.
At the very least, it showed a developed lack of self-awareness, since Starmer’s leadership has amounted to little other than ‘virtue signalling’ to every bulwark of power in society.
The Spycops legislation. The Overseas Operations Bill. Labour Friends of Israel. The private utilities. Minimising Black Lives Matter. Keir’s determination to indicate Labour’s reconciliation with the establishment after the deplorable Corbyn (indeed, Corbyn/Miliband) interlude is the most consistent quality he has displayed, and is certainly proving more enduring than the ten policy pledges on which he ran for the leadership.
His attack on Stop the War only makes sense in that light, as a further demarcation from the Corbynite past and a fresh front in his unceasing war on the Left in his party and outside it. It is all about his key motifs of trashing the Left, distancing from Jeremy Corbyn—incidentally a Deputy President of StWC—and embracing the institutions of the state.
Doubtless StWC will be making its way towards the proscribed list of organisations that Starmerite officials are brandishing with such ruthlessness.
His article certainly served no purpose at all in terms of elucidating Labour’s view on how the Ukraine-Russia conflict could be resolved or of the ‘ethical foreign policy’ a Starmer government would purportedly champion. It was an exercise in witless bipartisanship when scrutiny is called for, by a leader who prefers Boris Johnson’s diplomacy to that of France’s Macron or Germany’s Scholz.
It will not bother him that in a survey of Labour Party members around the time of his successful leadership campaign Stop the War proved to be the most popular campaigning organisation. The least popular? Labour Friends of Israel, since you ask.
Yet Starmer has given a warm address to LFI, in the presence of Israel’s far-right ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, while denouncing Stop the War. All that indicates is that Starmer, as Tony Blair before him, doesn’t like the party he leads very much and regards its members as a nuisance. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves recently told the Financial Times that it is a good thing that so many members are leaving, and that appears to be the party line.
The rhetoric is certainly straight out of the Blairite playbook. I recall all the tired lies of his 2003 epigones, asserting that the mass movement against the invasion of Iraq was motivated by support for Saddam’s dictatorship. It didn’t work then and won’t today. Stop the War has been right on every major conflict in our twenty-year history, when Labour leaders have been wrong.
Starmer trumpets Labour’s role in the formation of NATO, exalting Denis Healey’s role in particular, without acknowledging that much later in life Healey admitted that it had all been based on a misreading of Soviet intentions, or that the same Labour government was fighting to hang on to as much of the British Empire as possible at the time.
The neglect of history doesn’t stop there. Anything that might reasonably make NATO expansion appear threatening is simply whitewashed—like the attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, the disastrous twenty-year occupation of Afghanistan, and the 2011 intervention in Libya with miserable consequences that still resonate.
This bad history, scrubbed down and sanitised for purposes of, yes, virtue signalling, and in the service of bad politics. Unable to offer a single constructive proposal for helping resolve the Ukraine-Russia crisis, incapable even of offering support to the French or German governments in their pursuit of peace, the Labour Leader is left with falsifying Stop the War’s position on Ukraine.
StWC has been clear that we oppose any military action in or against Ukraine and we are for a diplomatic resolution. The self-determination of the Ukrainian people is an important principle, as is recognition of the rights of that very large minority in Ukraine that have a Russian identity and background.
But we also acknowledge that the Russian government, oligarchic autocracy as it is, is right to say that endless NATO expansion, for which read extended US hegemony, is not the security structure Europe needs. The chance was missed to abolish NATO when the Warsaw Pact went out of business more than thirty years ago; instead we are left with the consequences of broken US promises not to extend the alliance eastwards.
We make no apology for saying that our campaigning focus is on the British government. Commentators like Paul Mason are happy to cheer the idea that ‘the enemy is at home’ provided only that the principle is applied in another country and another century. Karl Liebknecht had the courage to take that message to the German Reichstag when the rest of the SPD was obsessing about the Russian Tsarist threat.
It remains a relevant principle. The Left in Britain has an international obligation to challenge the British government, rather than declaring that the enemy is in Beijing, Moscow, Minsk, or wherever the government tells us that it is. No-one around the world would ever damn the British left for an excess of anti-imperialism.
So Stop the War aims to provide the opposition that the Labour front bench seemingly won’t. The Tories have taken the lead internationally in talking up the crisis, announcing imminent coups, false-flag incidents or invasions almost every day, to the point where even the government in Kiev has asked them to tone it down a bit.
More substantively, they have sent fresh arms to Ukraine and deployed more British forces into Eastern Europe—all the very things which Russia has said it finds most menacing. All this pointless provocation seems to speak of a government which would actually quite like a war to break out, for strategic and doubtless domestic political reasons, particularly since it will not involve any British forces fighting.
At any event, there is plenty of scope for a Leader of the Opposition to oppose. If he is unwilling to meet the obligations of his job description, then there is a vacancy at the head of the Metropolitan Police to consider, something for which Sir Keir would seem admirably suited.