November 16, 2023 - 7:30am

In the final year of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, a common refrain from those who claimed to care about progressive causes — but who could not support Labour — was that the party needed “Corbynism without Corbyn”. The problem was not the legislative agenda, or even contentious internal reforms such as mandatory re-selection, but simply the man himself. 

Yet the notion Starmer could offer any kind of continuity was always absurd — not least on foreign policy. The Labour leader’s decision not to back a ceasefire in Gaza yesterday should come as no surprise. After all, as Director of Public Prosecutions he was allegedly furious when Theresa May, then Home Secretary, blocked the extradition of autistic hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States. Such was Starmer’s sense of obligation to Washington that he boarded a plane the very next day to meet with the deputies of Eric Holder, then US attorney general, to make amends. In a similar vein, Starmer fought tooth and nail for the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States. Not only have the records of all four meetings Starmer attended in Washington since been destroyed, but so too have sensitive CPS files on the Assange case during his tenure.

Then there is the fact Starmer is a member of the Trilateral Commission. This is less the perfidious cabal of conspiratorial cliché, and more the standard influencer-network which has become the default of Western politics as the powerful seek to insulate themselves from democratic scrutiny. The Labour leader is the only serving MP to be associated with the Commission, whose other members include Mario Monti (who led an unelected “technocratic” government in Italy between 2011 and 2013), Larry Fink (the godfather of ESG) and Henry Kissinger. To compound all this, Starmer has himself admitted he prefers Davos to Westminster. In other words, he is a committed Atlanticist and the last person one should expect to break with its political injunctions. 

If one wasn’t aware of Starmer’s biographical particulars, this would seem inexplicable. After all, 76% of the British public supports a ceasefire — a figure which rises to 89% among Labour voters. They are joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, and 250 eminent British lawyers. Other polling finds that Brits are equally sympathetic to the plights of the Palestinians and the Israelis. Fundamentally, support for a ceasefire is politically expedient — a concept which for Starmer is usually sacrosanct. And yet here that is not the case.

Expediency does, however, explain why 56 Labour MPs defied the whip last night — including 10 members of the shadow front bench. Because of Labour’s relative size that means 28% of the party’s MPs defied their leader over a ceasefire, just 1% less than in the vote to invade Iraq in 2003. Rather than imposing his authority, Starmer’s red line invited needless confrontation.

As the Tories crumble into seeming oblivion this is all — barring several seats — of little electoral consequence. But a rebellion of this size, while some polls have Labour leading the Tories by 30 points, underscores how 2024 is not simply 1997 redux. The majority could be even bigger, but the vote behind the next Labour government will be far more soft. 

When asked in 2020 which former party leader most inspired him, Starmer responded with Harold Wilson. Yet Wilson’s supreme pragmatism kept Britain out of the Vietnam War — one of the country’s few acts of insubordination towards Washington since 1940. Such independence of mind today, let alone national self-confidence, feels implausible from either party.

This is perhaps the strangest, and most interesting, aspect of Starmer’s own project. Not only because foreign policy is the part of their legacy Blairites would sooner forget, but because their instincts are historically unpopular with the public, and US hegemony is in rapid decline. Forever wars were evidently a foolish strategy by 2007. Yet in 2023, as potentially millions of Gazans look set to be displaced to first Egypt and then Europe, Starmer is uncritically taking up the baton. 

If Gaza really is to endure a second Nakba, with many more set to die and potentially hundreds of thousands displaced, anyone voting against a ceasefire will come to be viewed with scorn by the Labour membership in future internal elections. Voting against the 2015 Welfare Bill sealed the deal for Jeremy Corbyn in his own tilt for the leadership. Similarly, the likes of Wes Streeting and Angela Rayner may just have grounded their future ambitions on the rocks of unpopular Atlanticist policy. Blindly partnering such a volatile, if still mighty, empire comes at a cost. Sir Keir may be the last Labour leader who has the luxury to blindly follow Washington and not have to think for himself.

Aaron Bastani is the co-founder of Novara Media, and the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism.