Tom Barker, Socialist Alternative National Committee
In the midst of a crisis unprecedented in modern times, Keir Starmer is now the leader of the Labour Party. Elected with more than 56% of the 490,731 votes cast, Starmer beat his main rival Rebecca Long Bailey, described as the Corbyn “continuity candidate”, into a distant second, receiving double the votes. (See our analysis of the election result here).
Throughout the leadership election, Starmer attempted to present himself as being on the left, claiming that he would maintain many of the radical anti-austerity policies positions won under Jeremy Corbyn.
But many, including some who voted for Starmer, are now livid at the Shadow Cabinet appointments. After emphasising the need for party unity throughout his campaign, Starmer promised that his shadow cabinet would be “balanced across the party”. But the pro-capitalist, pro-austerity right wing of the Labour Party was never going to be satisfied with anything other than the total defeat of the Corbyn project. Even a cursory examination of the new shadow cabinet reveals Starmer’s claims of seeking ‘balance’ to be completely false.
Out of 29 appointments made by Keir Starmer, there are just four who supported Jeremy Corbyn against Owen Smith in the 2016 leadership election. By contrast there are 17 who backed the Chicken Coup or who voted for Owen Smith in 2016.
This means that, of all those appointed to Labour’s Shadow Cabinet who were also MPs during the 2016 leadership election, 68% (or 17 out of 25) played a direct role in overturning basic democracy in the party, supporting a vote of no confidence in Corbyn less than a year after he received a decisive democratic mandate from members.
Just three MPs – Cat Smith, Andy McDonald and Rebecca Long Bailey (RLB) herself – backed RLB, the Corbyn ‘continuity’ candidate, in 2020. All apart from RLB have very junior positions within the Shadow Cabinet. (The Labourlist website says 4 MPs who supported RLB were appointed to Shadow Cabinet, but they appear to be including Angela Rayner who, of course, was not appointed by Keir Starmer but elected by members.)
What’s more, not is this a cabinet made up primarily of MPs from Labour’s right, it also includes some especially committed Blairites – often with particularly unsavoury histories. Among them is Rachel Reeves, who is most famous for declaring that ‘Labour is not the party for people out of work and on benefits’. Her appointment is particularly pertinent at a time when hundreds of thousands have faced lay-offs and redundancies. Charles Falconer, previously a boot boy for Tony Blair, especially over the Iraq war, is also making a political come back under Starmer’s reign.
Is this “balance across the party”? It is not even balance amongst Labour MPs who, as we all know, do not represent the views of the membership: MPs who support RLB make up just 10% of the Shadow Cabinet whereas across all 243 MPs 33 (or 13%) voted for Rebecca Long Bailey. Across the wider members, however, Long Bailey received the support of 27.6% of first preference votes. A balanced shadow cabinet would therefore consist of around almost three times the current number of Long Bailey supporters. What’s more, Starmer was only able to secure a victory in this election by falsely donning the clothes of Corbynism, pledging to maintain many of the popular policies in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos, for example.
Of course, even were a strict ratio of support for Long Bailey to shadow cabinet members to be maintained, it would hardly be the point. There is no ‘balance’ that can be struck between the interests of the working-class majority and those of the capitalist class – whose profits stem from the exploitation of labour. Under Corbyn, the possibilities for the Labour Party becoming a vehicle to advance workers’ interests and mobilise struggle were opened up. Starmer’s aim, in standing for the leadership, was to close down these possibilities and ensure that Labour could once again act as a safe ‘second eleven’ through which the capitalist class could rule. The make up of his shadow cabinet only confirms this.
This is not balance. This is an anti-Corbyn and anti-member, and most importantly, right-wing and pro-capitalist cabinet.