The resignation of Labour’s general secretary completes the break with Corbynism. It is Starmer’s choice what to do nextby Peter Kellner / May 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
It is hard to overstate the significance of Jennie Formby’s departure as the Labour Party’s general secretary. She was the last important survivor of the Corbyn era. Keir Starmer has taken just one month to dismantle the ancient regime and establish complete control over the party. He now has the power to set its course for the rest of this parliament. He must decide how to use it.
The speed with which he has acted so far has been as admirable as it has been brutal. On the day of his election as party leader, three pro-Corbynites were voted off the national executive and replaced by Starmer loyalists. This gave him a majority on the national executive committee. During the first week, he sacked prominent Corbynites such as Ian Lavery, John Trickett and Shami Chakrabarti from the shadow cabinet. With others choosing to stand down, such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, the ideological makeover was made complete. Of those close to Corbyn, only Rebecca Long-Bailey remains at Labour’s top table, and she has been demoted from the business and energy portfolio to education.
However, while Formby remained in office, Starmer did not fully have control of the party organisation. Now, in the wake of her resignation, he has. He can count on the loyalty of all three of Labour’s pillars—shadow cabinet, national executive and party machine. It is an important moment in Labour’s history; and if the Johnson administration stumbles, it could prove to be an important moment for British politics as a whole.
What now? Starmer won the leadership by avoiding direct criticism of the regime he has since despatched into the darkness. Asked which Labour leader of the past half century he most admired, he said neither Corbyn, the Left’s hero, nor Tony Blair, by far Labour’s most successful election-winner (nor, for that matter, Neil Kinnock, whose challenges on becoming leader in 1983 closely resembled those that Starmer faces today). Instead, he said Harold Wilson. It was a cautious choice, which allowed Starmer once again to keep his ideological cards close to his chest.
Starmer needs to be coy no longer. He now has the opportunity to set out his political stall. That is not to say he must do so immediately: he has time. In…