Of those still in parliament after December 2019 none of Jeremy Corbyn’s loudest critics chose to be nominated in the party’s leadership election earlier this year. Streeting, Kinnock, Hodge, Jarvis, Coyle, Phillips, Perkins, Kyle, Benn, Eagle, Creasy, McGovern and others opted out of an examination by MPs, CLPs, unions and party members. Laziness, cowardice and diametric opportunism motivated their absences. Diametric opportunism is a strategy whereby an opportunistic event occurs that requires avoidance. The aforementioned disruptors took the opportunity to avoid five years as leader of the opposition.
Obvious from the outset, the leadership campaign became a binary choice between Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey. Enough Corbyn supporters, disillusioned by the extent of the general election defeat, chose to create a scenario in their heads whereby a “unity” candidate would be preferable to a successor to Corbyn. That creation was more than a political error; it was a failure of cognizance: It was (perhaps subconsciously) a retreat from the effort of continuing a difficult battle by inventing a palatable alternative that didn’t exist. It was a comfort-blanket decision but the blanket dissolved when touched. Keir Starmer was elected leader of Labour.
Starmer perfected the art of saying nothing and doing nothing. His artistry includes being quotable when he said nothing and prompting the willingness of observers and commentators to opine on his plans and policy when none were present. He is an anti-chameleon: He is absent but, for some reason, many people think he is there.
His strategy is hollowness of his philosophy. He chooses to present Labour as an antidote to chaos, indecision and carelessness of the Tory government. This presentation means he and his colleagues must avoid grand policy proposals and cohesive opinions.
Boris Johnson is an easy target for Starmer’s famed “forensic” questioning. At a recent Prime Minister’s Questions Starmer asked Johnson repeatedly to admit his failures and mistakes followed by Johnson’s predictable evasion; the Starmer fan club danced joyfully in appreciation of their leader’s success but no victory occurred because Johnson’s waffles, dodges and lies didn’t harm him and, so, the exchange was pointless and fruitless.
Starmer’s speeches and statements are excruciatingly circumspect. On September 1st (2020) he released a statement ahead of the reopening of state schools in England.
“For millions of families across England, this week will be a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Excitement for children who will be back in the classroom for the first time in months. But anxiety for teachers and parents about a year ahead that is full of uncertainty. I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication of our teachers and school staff who have worked tirelessly over the summer to make sure schools can reopen safely. Labour want and expect children to be back at school. Every day that schools were closed was a day of opportunity, learning and support lost. This situation was worsened by the exams fiasco and the Government’s chaotic approach to education. We cannot keep repeating those same mistakes. Young people’s futures cannot be held back by the Conservatives’ incompetence. That is why the Education Secretary must come to Parliament to tell us how he will protect our children’s futures. He needs to explain how he will make up for the damage already done, bring pupils up to speed and mitigate against the ongoing risk from the pandemic.”
Opposition to the reopening of state schools, from parents and from teachers’ unions, was informed by statistics of current Covid-19 infections and by scientific analysis and facts. Observational knowledge of the Tories’ incompetence and ideological lack of care enhanced the worries that parents and teachers had. But, Starmer “wants and expects children to be back at school.” He provided no justification – scientific or ideological – for his demand and he had no contact with teachers’ union representatives. He sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey as Labour’s education shadow minister because she opposed reopening of schools.
Other than a demand for schools to reopen, Starmer’s statement was condescending and vacuous. He was supposedly writing about the health (and mortality) of millions of children, their parents and their teachers but he wanted to sound so undemonstrative that he might as well have been discussing what colour to paint a school’s corridors.
In the statement Starmer criticised the Tories’ “chaos,” “mistakes” and “incompetence” rather than disagreeing with Tory policy. He asked corrupt Gavin Williamson to provide assurances that the latter will do the job an Education Secretary is supposed to do but Starmer knew there was no point to that request to Williamson.
Starmer’s art of saying nothing should have its own room in the Cameron Gallery Of Guff.
Two ongoing unusual processes are dominating life and politics in Britain.
Brexit will become more chaotic and destructive. Johnson and his gang are determined to avoid applying any dampeners on the descent into mayhem because mayhem and disaster will provide a ginormous payday for gamblers and racketeers for whom the Tories work.
Covid-19 is likely to reaffirm its fatal effects before any vaccine can be developed; Tories’ actions will hasten a second wave of infections. The only policy of the government since the disease arrived is the issuing of gifts of billions of pounds to made-up businesses for alleged support in tackling Covid-19; all such concocted businesses have direct links to Tory MPs or to donors to the Tory party.
Tories’ reckless approach to both Brexit and Covid-19 allows Starmer to stand by stoically with a gently-wagging finger accompanied occasionally by the mildest of rebukes. Starmer knows he cannot affect the Tories’ behaviour – they are utterly immoral and indifferent to consequences – and he doesn’t want to attempt to stop them.
Starmer cultivates his image, and his legacy, to be a calm but displeased forensic critic, an observer of ineptitude and ungovernance. Due to the impossibility of the Tories to do anything other than fail in how they deal with Brexit and Covid-19, Starmer’s self-assigned role is easy. He does not need to provide a thorough alternative plan, there is no necessity for him to take any risks with what he says, and he does not need to provide evidence of how sensible or competent he is. He can just stand by and that fits entirely the image he desires: The Bystander.
The Bystander never commits himself, he never exposes himself, he never offers himself as a catalyst to a debate; he observes, he comments, he makes requests he knows will be ignored; he doesn’t oppose; he is a mild critic.
The Bystander waits. Oppositional but entwined consequences of Covid-19 – illness and death versus collapsing economy – are rampaging in front of him, climate change is escalating and assisted by reckless governments, public services are being stripped ready for a Brexit to suit disaster capitalists, the government is determined to have the sharpest cliff-fall no deal Brexit, and The Bystander waits.
Starmer’s creation of himself as The Bystander is a policy decision driven by
- Fear of being seen to be radical
- Fear of Labour being committed to anything it cannot maintain until the next election
- Lack of any cohesive alternative policies to the government’s
- Obedience to the same corporate masters who direct the Tories
- Indifference to the devastation caused by Brexit, by Covid-19 and by Tory economic policies
Starmer wants to attain the accolade of The Bystander. He is willing, although unlikely to be able, to stand by for four more years. He is playing the long game but he is also making sure that any radicalism and desire for fundamental change encouraged by his predecessor is snuffed out and suffocated.
The Bystander is the enemy of opposition. He is worse than useless. He is entirely complicit.
Rachael Cousins et al
Matt Kennard for The Gray Zone
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