Starmer showed he was ruthless by axeing Corbyn but Left want revenge (2023)

Sir Keir Starmer has stabbed Jeremy Corbyn in the back. And he wants everyone to know it. 'I'm prepared to be ruthless to ensure that we have a Labour Government,' he said after his party's ruling National Executive Committee voted to ban Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate at the next Election.

'I have been ruthless in the change in the Labour Party.'

But for some of his Shadow Ministers he hasn't been ruthless enough. 'He's dealt with Corbyn,' one told me, 'but he hasn't dealt with the Corbynites. They're still sitting here. And they're watching and waiting for their moment to get their man back.'

They certainly are.

Last week, the question was whether Corbyn would react to his effective expulsion by standing as an independent against the party he used to lead. But my understanding is he's being strongly advised against such a move by his allies – or erstwhile allies – within Labour's Socialist Campaign Group.

Sir Keir Starmer (left) has stabbed Jeremy Corbyn (right) in the back. And he wants everyone to know it

'Jeremy's being urged not to do it,' one said. 'It would be bad for Labour and bad for the Group. We'd be put in an impossible position of having to back him or back the party. And if we chose to support him as an independent, that would give Keir an excuse to move against us.'

Publicly, Labour's Left have been rallying to their fallen idol. Diane Abbott tweeted: 'The decision to bar Jeremy on the grounds he lost the 2019 Election is ridiculously flimsy, without logic or precedent. On that basis, many other Labour leaders would also be barred.'

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described the decision as 'unfair' and 'brutal'.

But over the past few weeks, Corbynites have quietly begun to distance themselves from Corbyn himself. McDonnell penned an article supporting the arming of Ukraine, a move that placed him at direct odds with Corbyn who said: 'Pouring arms in isn't going to bring about a solution.' McDonnell was quickly backed by high-profile Left-wing Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Nadia Whittome.

This shift is partly based on self-preservation. 'They're terrified,' one MP told me. 'They think Keir is going to come for them next. And they don't want to give him any excuse to try to deselect them.'

But it's also because Corbynites think they have spotted a political opportunity. 'The strategy's changing,' one Left-leaning MP told me. 'There's no point in charging directly at Starmer. That would just play into his hands. But now people are looking at the polls and saying, "Maybe there'll be a hung Parliament. Or a narrow Labour majority. And at that point we would be the ones holding the balance of power." '

Another Corbynite put it more starkly: 'People are thinking that if Starmer got a Commons majority of only 30, the Left would be more powerful than ever.'

This calculation is a product of a simple analysis of the make-up of the Parliamentary Labour Party. A handful of Left-wingers have been bought off by Starmer with Whips Office jobs and other minor positions. But Corbynites believe that can be offset by some of their own radicals triumphing in winnable seats, plus additional converts from the soft-Left. As a result, they reckon they can rely on between 30 and 40 MPs to defy Starmer on contentious issues such as immigration and taxation.

For their part, Starmer's supporters believe any sort of Labour majority would cement his internal reforms and provide him with a popular mandate from the voters that the Left dare not challenge – especially after Labour's 13 years in the political wilderness.

Which might be true if Starmer was actually driving through an unambiguously modernising agenda. But he's not.

Whereas Tony Blair was clear from the outset as party leader that he intended to pursue an unashamedly New Labour strategy, Starmer secured his job by embracing continuity Corbynism. And the Corbynites have no intention of letting him forget it.

'The way we'll challenge him is with his own words,' one Corbynite explained.

Referring to the socialist promises Starmer made when standing to be Labour leader in April 2020, the Corbynite added: 'We'll keep pushing on the 10 Pledges. That was the manifesto he was elected on. Will he kick people out of the party for backing the policies he was backing when he won the leadership?'

Another way they intend to launch a guerrilla war against Starmer is organisationally.

Momentum – the activist group whose infiltration helped win Corbyn the Labour leadership – has issued a call to arms in the wake of the ban on Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate. In a message to its members, it warned: 'Momentum is working to consolidate our power bases,' including training of 'socialist councillor candidates and help them get selected and elected', 'the training of socialist organisers' and a campaign to 'make socialist arguments to millions online and in the public sphere'.

Starmer's team believe this represents the defiant, but hollow, cry of a defeated Corbynite rump.

But some of his allies are less certain. They point to Neil Kinnock's move to proscribe the hard-Left Militant in the 1980s, and want Starmer to take an equally firm stance with Momentum.

In response, the Corbynites are considering turning to their allies within the unions for a 'war-chest' to fight any additional expulsions.

'If we just sit back, Starmer will find an excuse to pick us off one by one,' a Campaign Group MP explained. 'The idea is to get the unions to give necessary funds that we can use to fight any further expulsions using the law.

'We'll essentially be sending the leadership the message, "If you come for us, we're going to crash the car off the road. We'll take you on and drag you through the courts in the run-up to the Election." '

Some of Corbyn's closest allies believe this strategy is doomed to fail. As one of his friends told me: 'Starmer has too tight a grip on the party now. The only way to put pressure on him is externally. That's why a lot of us are urging Jeremy to stand for the Greens. That's where progressive efforts have to be focused.'

But inside Starmer's Shadow Cabinet team there is trepidation. They acknowledge the strides he has taken. But they look nervously at signs of Labour's narrowing poll lead, an improving Tory performance and the daunting size of the swing required for an overall majority.

Some of Corbyn's (left) closest allies believe this strategy is doomed to fail. As one of his friends told me: 'Starmer (right) has too tight a grip on the party now. The only way to put pressure on him is externally'

As one Shadow Minister said: 'Keir's done an incredible job to date. When he took over, I don't think anyone expected he'd go as far as kicking Corbyn out.

'But the question now is can we secure a big enough majority? Or are we going to end up with a situation where the remaining Corbynites are able to hold the party to ransom?'

This is the danger facing Sir Keir Starmer – and the country.

Winning is no longer enough. He has to secure victory with a sufficient buffer to ensure Jeremy Corbyn's allies don't become Labour's equivalent of the ERG – the Tories' hard-line Brexiteers – making him their impotent hostage in Downing Street.

Last week, Starmer demonstrated his ruthless streak. But his internal enemies are ruthless, too.

And they're already dreaming of their revenge.


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