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Starmer’s Purge: Dishonest, Undemocratic, Unwise

Keir Starmer’s decision to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour MP isn’t only an attack on the Left – it is an enforced erosion of the dissent that is vital for a healthy party and democratic society.

(Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

On Tuesday this week, just 24 hours before a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), committee members received a motion tabled by the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, proposing the withdrawal of Labour’s endorsement of the Member of Parliament for Islington North, and Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.  

The tabling of the motion confirmed the leadership’s thinly veiled plans to remove Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP. This marks the culmination of Starmer’s all-out assault on the left of the party undertaken since he was elected in April 2020 on a platform espousing party unity and left-wing policy commitments.

This move was made not with the intention of attracting the approval of Labour members, or in the interests of Labour’s electoral chances, as was claimed, but for the approval of a narrow audience of assorted right-wing journalists, CEOs, lobbyists and media barons who want constant reassurance that His Majesty’s Opposition no longer poses a threat to their interests.

From its inception, the Labour Party has prided itself on being a broad church, encompassing members from a range of socialist and social democratic traditions who have found a home in the only political party able to meaningfully represent working people and challenge Conservative governments. 

During my time in the party, this has always been on display at a local level, where members with differing views have been able to unite around candidates from all factions of the party. Labour’s current leadership appears to reject our party’s historical tradition and seeks to turn what should be the home of progressives and socialists into a narrow faction. 

The move to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate in a constituency that has returned him to parliament on no less than ten occasions is both deeply undemocratic and poses a serious threat to the future of all socialist members and MPs in the party. We should not consider this a one-off or dismiss its significance. 

The motion justified preventing Corbyn’s candidacy by referencing the party’s poor performance in the 2019 general election and asserting that allowing him to stand would diminish the party’s electoral prospects, a standard that has never before been applied to previous Labour leaders. This sets a precedent to prevent any current Labour MP from re-standing on the flimsiest of pretexts. 

Rather than a broad church, Starmer and his allies now want to run the party as a narrow factional sect, where debate and dissent are not tolerated.

This week’s motion provoked an outpouring of support from Labour members who reached out to me, urging me to oppose it. Many of them have similar working-class backgrounds to my own, not Oxbridge-educated lawyers, but community activists, teachers, nurses, and delivery drivers who were encouraged to participate in politics for the first time by Jeremy’s leadership. They demanded we vote it down and pleaded with Starmer to end his attacks on his own party.

Their pleas were lost on Starmer. He and his acolytes engineered this motion with the explicit aim of forcing out Labour members who supported Jeremy Corbyn, who would be at risk of expulsion if display solidarity with or campaign for him. 

Starmer and his team appear to envision a party model similar to that of the US Democrats. They would rather transform a ‘powered by people’ into a party bankrolled by millionaires where decision-making is centralised in HQ rather than in our CLPs or at party conferences.

This is part of a wider pattern of excluding left-wing politics from the party, evidenced by the candidates selected to fight the next election, who are almost exclusively from the party’s right. If allowed to continue, the ramifications of this campaign to stamp out the Left will be to create a toxic political culture and produce a Labour Party that is ill-equipped to meet the challenges facing the country. 

Removing the Left from the Labour Party means removing from political life advocates for redistributing wealth, strengthening the role of trade unions and nationalising public utilities, and excluding wider debates around how and in whose interests the economy should be run—vital if we are to address Britain’s deep inequalities but at risk of effectively being ruled out of political discourse.

At a time of increasing authoritarianism, with the right to strike and protest under attack, it also means losing the most committed defenders of civil liberties from Parliament and wider mainstream political life. It means excluding from politics the only consistent anti-war voices, who have been vindicated in their opposition to Britain’s often disastrous foreign policy interventions, such as in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

All polls indicate that Labour will win the next election and that Keir Starmer will be Britain’s next prime minister. The behaviour of the party’s leadership towards its own members and MPs should not only concern socialists; it matters to everyone who recognises the importance of pluralism to a healthy democracy.