As if coronavirus weren’t enough to worry about. (Especially for us oldies, who are so much more vulnerable to it. I’m half-expecting to be struck down at any moment; and even if not, my generation looks like having to endure self-isolation for far longer than anyone else – another four months at least, and possibly to the end of the year. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51895873.)
On top of that, however, comes disturbing intelligence about the Labour Party; on which Lefties like me would ordinarily be relying for some measure of salvation in the present situation, but whose upper echelons are currently wracked with internal divisions, and with evidence of some quite despicable right-wing (or ‘Blairite’) plots against its leadership – including that ‘anti-semitism’ canard – during the last election. Not only that, but its new leader appears to have abjectly surrendered to the Jewish Board of Deputies on that last question, which some of us, from a socialist-internationalist and pro-Israel but also pro-Palestinian and anti-‘Zionist’ perspective, feel is pretty important, to say the least. (See https://www.timesofisrael.com/keir-starmer-elected-uk-labour-chief-apologizes-to-jews-for-party-anti-semitism/. )
I voted for Starmer in the leadership election, and am sticking by that – for the time being; but only because I’m convinced of his socialist instincts in other matters; impressed by his previous career in the public service, as a human rights lawyer and Director of Public Prosecutions, no less (which is why he’s a ‘Sir’ now); and believe he may have the kind of ‘gravitas’ that will impress voters the next time around. It’s going to be difficult for the Tory press to paint him as a traitor, a Soviet spy, a terrorist sympathiser, and a poor dresser. Which is not to say that it won’t dredge up something unflattering from his past. Perhaps as DPP he let off a murderer or two, on good legal grounds but against the lynching instincts of the mob? And after all, aren’t the judiciary ‘enemies of the people’? But we’ll see.
Some left-leaning socialists – a few, I hope – are already threatening to leave the party because of him. These are the purists, who won’t settle for anything less than ideological perfection, and who in the past have often been accused of preferring to be right and forever in opposition, rather than to sully themselves and win. I’ve never been one of those, always opting for the prospect of half a loaf rather than none. It might be different if there were another radical party one could jump over to. (I once foolishly thought the Liberal Democrats might fulfil that role, on the only occasion when I forsook Labour, under Blair.) But there isn’t.
That’s basically because our electoral system makes it almost impossible for our politics to adjust to new movements of opinion, by spawning and nurturing new parties that properly reflect these views. Compare Sweden’s ‘proportional’ system, for example, which is far more flexible. (I’ve blogged on this before: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) I know it would be a wrench, especially to politicians who have done well out of the existing system; but abandoning – or at least modifying, as I propose there – our ‘first-past-the post’ model might have gone a long way to solving many of the Left’s political problems over the last few years. But that’s in the future, hopefully.
In the meantime we socialists will have to stick with Starmer. You never know: circumstances – like the coronavirus – might push him and the entire country to the Left; just as our last great national crisis, World War II, did. Just now we’re in an unprecedentedly dirty political world, with Murdoch, the Daily Mail, the ‘Israel Lobby’, Machiavels like Cummings (where’s he hiding just now?), and congenital liars like Johnson manipulating us all. You can’t overcome all this, without becoming just a little besmirched. Starmer’s stance on Israel might be a necessary smudge. At the very least it should keep the anti-anti-semites off our backs.
On the other side of the pond Bernie Sanders, my American political hero, and a soul-mate of the sainted Jeremy Corbyn, is clearly thinking along the same lines; as is shown by his recent exit from the Democratic race and backing for the centrist Joe Biden instead. But then American radical Democrats have nowhere else to go, either. It’s that bloody ‘First Past the Post’, again. (In their case, of course, it resulted in the election of a rogue President on a minority of votes.)