Book Review Enter Sir Keir, the consumate conformist

The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right
by Oliver Eagleton
Verso £ 12.99

FINISHING this review in the week that Starmer sacked his shadow transport secretary for having the temerity to attend an RMT picket line was quite fitting in that this hard-hitting text demonstrates beyond the increasingly right-wing trajectory of an unscrupulous and career-minded politician .

Often referring to the fact that he was named after the monumental socialist Keir Hardie, the younger Starmer was happy to associate with the left, briefly flirted with a small Trotskyist sect and made a progressive name for himself in legal circles and beyond for his work on behalf of the McLibel two.

Quickly ditching human rights-focused barrister work to become head of the Crown Prosecution Services saw the end of such tendencies.

Standing in a long and uninterrupted line of siding with the powerful against the powerless, Starmer stopped the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of Big Issue seller Iain Tomlinson, Brazilian worker Jean Charles de Menezes and Angolan migrant Jimmy Mubenga and during the urban uprisings of 2011.

He used his position to railroad arrested teenagers through the courts in a fashion that even liberals baulked at.

Starmers silence as regards recent anti-democratic, illegal and abusive behavior by the police is all the more understandable when Eagleton reminds us that it was the man himself who granted immunity to a whole number of spy cops and who helpfully drew up a series of guidelines to make it easier for the CPS to prosecute peaceful protesters

Feminist groups, too, were to watch in horror as Starmer devoted his legal skills to prosecuting those women who were deemed to have made unfounded accusations of rape.

Internationally, he has sided with US imperial interests by supporting the extradition of autistic IT expert Gary McKinnon and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Eagleton notes an apparent agreement to not contest in any way US security operations.

Likewise, on the day of international solidarity with the Palestinian people – a central event in the Palestinian calendar dating back to 1977 – he pointedly attended an event hosted by the Jewish Labor Movement and Labor Friends of Israel.

Interestingly, Sir Keir’s work in the CPS was marked by a micro-managerialist approach that sometimes confounded even the most loyal of colleagues, an approach which continued to the present as his criticisms in the Commons of the Johnson regime took on an increasingly personal rather than political note.

What’s most amazing, is that at a juncture when Tory politics have miserably failed and, in a period, when their popularity has sunk to an all-time low, the Labor Party has largely failed to capitalise on this. So much for those who reluctantly supported Starmer’s stance rather than that of Jeremy Corbyn’s on the allegedly pragmatic basis that the former would be far more electable.

Given Labor’s support for continued EU membership and its wavering on the issue of a second referendum were key factors in the collapse of the so-called Red Wall in the last general election, it’s shocking that Starmer has continued to back the neoliberal prison house at every opportunity and was busy undermining Corbyn’s leadership in the run-up to the vote on this very question.

And the path forward from this? Interestingly Eagleton doesn’t argue that the solution should simply be ditching Starmer and electing a more left-wing leader and not just because he doesn’t see this as a likely option.

Although remaining open to the possibility of establishing some type of new socialist party, what he does concentrate on is the importance of building new social movements as essential to the development of socialism, irrespective of whether this is intimately linked to any one group.

Related to this is a Gramscian emphasis on the need for political and cultural hegemony in the overall battle for ideas, locating this in a number of socialist websites, news feeds and discussions.

There are obvious recent templates for such a perspective. The strength of the Latin American left was, for example, founded upon everything from indigenous people’s struggles to campaigns around gas, water and electricity.

Parallel to this being a widely shared belief in the importance of ideological debate and renewal, Hugo Chavez’s comments around establishing a socialism of the 21st century remaining the best and most memorable formulation of this.

On balance, despite its relative brevity, this is a timely and well-written book which not only exposes Starmer for the right-wing opportunist that he is but also surprisingly provides much food for thought for anyone keen to build a socialist alternative that is open , democratic, and relevant and not wholly focused on the machinations of parliamentary politics.


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