Starmer Labour’s lurch to the right gets eviscerated on live TV

Taking the knee: Starmer and Rayner claimed it was in solidarity with victims of racist prejudice but it seems more likely they were going to follow up the gesture by drawing weapons and taking aim at the same victims.

I wonder how all those new, allegedly-genuine, Labour members feel about the policies and viewpoints they claim to adore being dissected and destroyed on live TV?

That’s what happened on Monday (February 21) on the BBC’s Politics Live. We can go through the content in a moment but let’s hear it first:

First up: Angela Rayner’s support for the murder of people accused of terrorism.

In fairness, her comment was, “Shoot terrorists and ask questions later.” It suggests she means genuine terrorists deserve to be shot, rather than people like Jean Charles de Menezes who was wrongly identified as a suspect by the Metropolitan Police – who shot him anyway.

But how do you identify who is a genuine terrorist and who is innocent – especially in an emergency?

That’s why Rayner’s comment was so dangerous, and why people like Sonali Bhattacharyya are right to be scandalised by her advocacy of it. She claimed to be “soft left” but seems to be more “hard right” as far as this is concerned.

Cressida Dick is mentioned because she was the senior Met Police officer in the operation that led to his fatal shooting.

Ms Bhattacharyya’s observation that Rayner’s words seem like posturing for the right-wing press is right on the button – especially at a time when Starmer Labour is trying hard to create a false distinction between it and the party as led by Jeremy Corbyn by saying he was (seen to be) soft on crime.

He wasn’t; Blairites such as Starmer like to make the claim, though. It harks back to Tony Blair’s attack on the Conservatives, back in the mid-1990s, and his 1993 slogan, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.”

Anyone can see that this focused on rehabilitation as much as on punishment, but Starmer’s crowd has chosen to ignore the former in order to appeal to readers of right-wing low-intelligence tabloids.

Shadow Skills Minister Toby Perkins tried to laugh it off. He pointed out that Rayner’s comments were made on Matt Forde’s political comedy podcast. But this is not a laughing matter. Is it?

It’s very telling that at one point he said, “I think what Angela Rayner was trying to get away with-” before catching himself and rephrasing. So she was trying to get away with a claim about Labour’s attitude to terrorism, was she? Moments before, she had been making a humorous comment about her own, personal, attitude. Which was it? I couldn’t be both!

The weird part of that is, Labour’s attitude to terrorism really isn’t different now from its attitude under Jeremy Corbyn. There has been no policy change.

Ms Bhattacharyya went on to point out the apparent hypocrisy of Starmer Labour’s new attitude. Having taken the knee in support of Black Lives Matter protests, Rayner is now apparently saying she would prefer it if people like George Floyd (whose death prompted them) were murdered by police as a matter of course.

She might have said it humorously on a comedy podcast but if Mr Perkins is trying to use it to justify Labour’s claim to be tougher on crime than Corbyn, then she was also putting it forward as a genuine expression of policy direction. That’s hypocritical and Starmer himself needs to straighten out this tangle.

Next, host Jo Coburn made matters worse for Starmer by pointing out that, after being elected Labour leader on a “continuity Corbyn” platform, he has ditched all the promises he made.

Ailbhe Rea of New Statesman agreed that Starmer appealed to the left to take the leadership and was now going to “run to the centre” in his bid to become prime minister – in the belief that he has to do so in order to be electable.

Her claim that Starmer and his people are comfortable with making comments like Rayner’s because they “hope their voters/members who are less comfortable with that will know that it’s not fundamentally what they mean”. So, definitely hypocrites, then. Now the claim appeared to be that they had said they want to shoot people accused of terrorism but didn’t mean it. This story twists like a snake – which is what the Labour-representing participants are starting to resemble.

Asked to comment about the new attitude to crime in relation to Labour’s 2019 manifesto, Mr Perkins dug himself deeper into a hole by referring to the election result as the worst defeat the party had suffered since the 1930s – ignoring the fact that more people voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour than for Ed Miliband in 2015, Gordon Brown in 2010 or Tony Blair in 2005. Corbyn’s 2017 vote count was larger than Blair’s in 2001. In fact, the only time a Labour leader in the last 30 years has earned more votes than Mr Corbyn was 1997.

So when we hear Starmer say “a vote for him is a change of direction”, we hear a political leader determined to haemorrhage votes.

Ms Bhattacharyya had the perfect counter for Mr Perkins, simply by pointing out that Starmer was elected leader on his 10 pledges to continue Corbyn policies – policies that Mr Perkins had just rubbished.

And Mr Perkins then claimed that Starmer’s leadership offer was to say that the Corbyn manifesto of 2019 was “unrealistic in its totality”.

So, Starmer was elected Labour leader on a promise to continue policies that he was also saying were “unrealistic” in their “totality”. Nobody should buy that.

Jo Coburn re-inserted herself to draw attention to an opinion poll that shows Labour ahead of the Tories on issues including the economy, crime and immigration – trailing only on Covid-19 (because Starmer has supported Boris Johnson to the disastrous hilt, perhaps).

Asked to comment, old Tory Ann Widdecombe agreed that Starmer is trying to get away from left-wing Corbynism but said his problem is that much of Labour membership and support is left-wing and Corbynist, and aligning with them makes him “unelectable”.

But is it?

Labour nearly lost its de facto control of Bristol City Council on February 17 when the Green Party candidate in the Southmead by-election came within a few dozen votes of taking the seat.

Turnout was just 21.2 per cent, though – in a ward with considerable poverty. And it’s not the usual by-election apathy – in the 2019 general election, 47 per cent of the poorest people didn’t vote.

So Labour’s electoral victory isn’t conditional on appealing to an ever-diminishing crowd of right-wingers.

It should be considered conditional on enticing an increasingly-disillusioned – and growing – population of the UK’s poorest citizens into voting for the party.

Starmer isn’t going to do that – ever. And certainly not by pandering to bloodthirsty fascists.