Keir Starmer is running scared after people from black and minority ethnic groups gave his credibility a double-hit.
He exposed his own staggering ignorance – as a former Director of Public Prosecutions – in rejecting the Black Lives Matter call for the police to be de-funded.
There is a serious point to it, which is that expansion of police and prison budgets have not improved public safety. Britain has the second largest policing budget per capita in Europe and has some of the most wide-reaching and intrusive public surveillance measures in the world. This includes a police programme that has spied on more than 1,000 organisations. The government announced it was spending £2.5 billion on four new prisons to incarcerate 10,000 people. The total bill for the UK criminal justice system, comprising policing, law courts and prisons in 2018-19 was £28.8 billion – more than we spend on primary education, more than we spend on social care and far more than we spend on social housing or the environment.
Black Lives Matter was saying that this approach has failed – and suggesting that social problems are better addressed through social responses.
But when Starmer spoke to BBC Breakfast News on Tuesday, he said: “Nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police. I was director of public prosecutions for five years. I’ve worked with police forces across England and Wales bringing thousands of people to court, so my support for the police is very strong.”
Worse still, in the same interview, he described Black Lives Matter as a “moment”. He said: “The Black Lives Matter movement, or moment if you like… is about reflecting on what happened dreadfully in America just a few weeks ago [the killing of George Floyd] and showing or acknowledging that as a moment across the world.”
Black Lives Matter was founded in the US in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin and has campaigned on a number of issues including the de-funding of police to provide cash for social programmes to avoid unnecessary confrontation and heal the racial divide – as Starmer would have known if only he had done a little homework.
It rose to global prominence after the killing of George Floyd, with multiple protests against racism in the UK under its banner – but campaigning about that death is just one aspect of its work – not its reason for existing.
His words show that Starmer considers the moment he “took the knee” in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was nothing more than a photo opportunity – a chance to pretend to show support without actually having to do anything. And when he was asked to back it up, he backed away.
Combine this with the very apparent racism shown by right-wing party factionalists against black female MPs in the leaked Labour report on the party’s response to anti-Semitism complaints and it has become clear to BAME party members that Labour is no longer the place for them.
This has created a huge image problem for Starmer.
From the moment he became Labour leader, he has tried to create the impression that he is strong in opposing racism – particularly with his actions on anti-Semitism*.
Now, with BAME part members leaving, he can see that the facts may soon show that Labour is haemorrhaging members under his leadership. That would create entirely the wrong impression for this image-conscious pretender.
He won’t lose his job because of this – at least, not straight away. But he isn’t as secure in his role as he wants us to think either; it is entirely possible that he may face a leadership challenge if he makes too many more mistakes, so he can’t just ignore the issue.
So he gives us this:
Labour leader Keir Starmer has appealed to Black voters not to leave the party, following backlash over an interview in which he dismissed the Black Lives Matter goal of defunding the police as “nonsense”.
The Labour leader … came under fire on Monday for describing the Black Lives Matter movement as “a moment, if you like”, with many people taking umbrage with the possible implication that the anti-racism moving is fleeting and lacking in significance.
But Starmer told HuffPost UK he meant the opposite.
“I meant ‘moment’ as in ‘a defining moment’, a turning point, and I genuinely think that reflects the sentiment that many, many Black community leaders have expressed to me in recent weeks.
“If there’s one thing that’s come through loud and clear it’s this has got to be a moment, a turning point, a defining point, moment, call it what you like. Because there’s a deep frustration […] that we’ve kind of been here before where people have said there needs to be change and there hasn’t been change.
“In that sense, I was absolutely not pandering to a racist vote. I was trying to recognise the significance of what was happening and express a determination that it should be a turning [point], and to join with those across the Black Lives Matter movement who desperately do want it to be a turning point. And I’m very, very happy to say that over and over again because I think it’s very important.”
He must think BAME people are stupid. No – he must think we’re all stupid if he thinks we’re going to swallow that.
There’s probably a word to describe what he’s trying to do, but if not I’d like to nominate “Johnsoning” – retroactively redefining earlier comments, made in ignorance of the issues involved, with an explanation that doesn’t fit.
It hasn’t worked.
So in a blatant piece of propaganda, we’re being reminded that Labour has 580,000 members – or does it?
That was the number recorded in January and we haven’t had an update since.
And it seems some of us aren’t willing to believe the claim:
Labour, trying to tell us there are 580,000 members
— Mrs Gee Ex Labour (@earthygirl011) July 1, 2020
All in all – do what he will, Starmer has created his own disaster:
Being forced to apologise to currently the biggest anti-racist campaign in Britain sums up the Labour Party this year
— Stephen Smith (@SteveNickSmith) July 2, 2020
He appears to have made it worse by cooking up this explanation for public consumption, while in private Starmer has been saying something entirely different:
He was asked to apologise in the NEC meeting and would not
Somehow I doubt this man’s sincerity https://t.co/fJn7JgAMpi
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) July 2, 2020
There is enough ambiguity to question whether Starmer had been trying to blow a dog whistle for a certain kind of voter that those of us who support traditional Labour values would find unacceptable:
Sir Keir’s USP is that he a *forensic* QC
Did he actually make a mistake or did he intend to send a not very subtle signal to certain voters and now belatedly realises he has upset many more?
You don’t get these problems if you have good principles and stick to them https://t.co/fJn7JgAMpi
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) July 2, 2020
Some have pointed out the contrast between what Starmer said in April and what he’s having to say now:
April: In a baseless swipe at Corbyn, Starmer claimed Labour had a "toxic culture that tolerates racism” and promised to "tear out this poison by its roots".
— The Agitator (@UKDemockery) July 2, 2020
Others have pointed out the contrast between the way the media would have handled this if Jeremy Corbyn had said anything as stupid as Starmer:
Imagine if this was about Corbyn when he was leader and the Jewish community, can you imagine the media meltdown? The headlines, the constant stream of MPs and pundits and the Panorama specials?
But this is about black people and we know black lives don’t matter to the media https://t.co/WxeR4WAYZ4
— Devutopia (@D_Raval) July 3, 2020
I'm just imagining the howls of anguish from all corners if Corbyn had said anything as cack-handed as Starmer's BLM comments and subsequent remarks. But the perma-outraged centre seem to have other things on their mind today. Busy, like. https://t.co/yFEKJcukYy
— simon maginn (@simonmaginn) July 2, 2020
And some have simply come to the obvious conclusion:
Let's face it.
Keir Starmer has been an absolute disaster so far.
The unity candidate my arse.
— Wolfie. 🖐 (@Tpopularfront) July 2, 2020
Seriously the labour party is dying on it feet, I voted labour all my life, never again with this line up…. Sir Starmer is a conservative party sleeper, selected to be in power like Blair also a Tory party sleeper. We have all been had for a long time this is the final
— Maureen Fitzsimmons (@mojos55) July 2, 2020
By the way, it isn’t only black people and those from minority ethnic groups who are leaving Labour. Young people are quitting the party too:
“I felt like, under Jeremy Corbyn, as a POC there was a place in the party for someone like me – but it feels like we're being thrown under the bus."
Young People Are Leaving the Labour Party Because of Keir Starmer – VICE https://t.co/ZxcmVm0uvN
— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) July 3, 2020
How humiliating for the man who presented himself to us as Labour’s Great White Hope, only to be brought low by his failure to understand that Black Lives Matter.
*Anyone with any understanding of the anti-Semitism controversy in the Labour Party knows perfectly well that his actions in that regard have been utterly wrong-headed, but that’s another story.
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