The new Labour leader’s first days in post show which side he is really onby Rachel Sylvester / April 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
Keir Starmer spent the leadership contest treading carefully between left and right, revolution and evolution, trying to persuade the moderates he was one of them while also keeping the Corbynistas on side. The strategy of triangulating between the Progress and Momentum wings of the party won him a resounding victory last weekend. Now that he is leader he has quickly made clear which side he is really on.
On Monday, one shadow cabinet minister told me Starmer “has to have a visual and symbolic break with the Corbyn years.” And in his first week he has done just that. He immediately apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community for the anti-semitism that had taken hold under Jeremy Corbyn, promised in his acceptance speech to do everything in his power to “tear out this poison by its roots.” It was a critical moral as well as political statement. Jewish leaders—who were invited to a video conference with the new Labour leader—said he had achieved “in four days more than his predecessor in four years.”
Corbyn’s key lieutenants were also dispatched to the backbenches with brutal efficiency by Starmer. Some of them jumped before they were pushed but a shadow cabinet that included John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and Barry Gardiner has been replaced by one that has Anneliese Dodds, Lisa Nandy, David Lammy and Rachel Reeves in its ranks. The public face of the Labour Party has now been completely transformed in a way that goes way beyond the new man at the top.
Rebecca Long-Bailey—defeated by Starmer in the leadership contest—was the only Corbyn loyalist to survive. In fact, by appointing Ed Miliband, the new Labour leader seemed to be by-passing his immediate predecessor altogether. Charlie Falconer, Tony Blair’s former flat mate, has been brought in as shadow attorney general instead of Shami Chakrabarti, who produced a much-criticised report into anti-semitism for Corbyn.
This shadow cabinet has a very different set of values on the economy and foreign policy to Corbyn’s top team. Dodds, the new shadow chancellor, does not share McDonnell’s Marxist instincts. Instead of yearning for the overthrow of capitalism, she cited Gordon Brown as her role model this week, telling Radio 4’s Today programme that “it’s necessary to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.”
Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, was deeply critical of Corbyn’s approach to…