16 Feb 2020: Written by Gareth Murphy, an Activist, member of Unite Community Camden and GC delegate to Holborn & St Pancras.
Keir Starmer was on at The Roundhouse on Sunday afternoon. I live locally, so booked a ticket.
The event was advertised for 4pm, I’d heard it was actually going to start at 5, so got there just before that.
There was a good size crowd when I arrived, which grew steadily. They’d had to open some of the upstairs area as some people weren’t able to cope with a standing only venue. At the height, maybe there were 800 people, which isn’t bad for a Sunday afternoon.
The people that were there seemed to be enjoying themselves. The bar was open, and people were in a good mood. I was surprised alcohol was being served, as I’m not used to that at political events, certainly not during them, but I suppose the organisers knew their audience.
The audience themselves weren’t very diverse, a bit like a People’s Vote march crowd. All very nice, if you like that sort of thing.
The event was introduced and compered by Sally Phillips the TV and film actor who was in Bridget Jones. She made a joke about Keir being Mark Darcy, which got a good laugh. It was very good humoured, and she was funny. To her credit, when one person shouted out ‘Thank God that Corbyn’s gone’, she didn’t rise to it, but said ‘I didn’t hear that’, and just carried on with what she was saying. Political was the one thing it absolutely wasn’t. I just remembered, I think she said ‘Keirfest’ as well, so she loses some credit for that.
Local council leader Georgia Gould was next. She spoke of how closely they’d worked, how he was a good local MP, and how he’d been involved in all the local efforts to address knife crime, and played a full part in answering to and supporting bereaved families.
As Georgia decided to mention that Keir had stood up against anti-semitism in Camden, to large cheers from a section of the crowd, it’s only fair to say that she didn’t mention how closely they’d worked on the People’s Vote campaign that was ultimately so ruinous.
Aneira Thomas, the first baby born under the NHS was on next. I’ve seen her speak before at NHS events, and she was good. She said she was supporting Keir, he was the man to take things forward, but didn’t really give any reasons why.
One of the local Youth Ambassadors spoke of how Keir was involved in the local community, which is good, but not really something to distinguish him from the other candidates.
Doreen Lawrence spoke, and it was easy to see the affection, gratitude and respect she feels towards Keir.
So then we were all set up for Keir. They got us to watch a short film of why people are phonebanking, ‘Calling For Keir’. David Lammy got the biggest cheer from the audience when his face appeared, because of his involvement in Remain campaigns I’m guessing.
So eventually Keir came out. The event was supposed to finish at 6, but he only started about 10 before that. The Roundhouse had built a special catwalk into the crowd and Keir stood at the end of that, and spoke. He spoke about social care I think, and I’m not really sure what else. It was so bland and meaningless most of it just didn’t register. His audience lapped it up, but there will be much more difficult ones if he becomes leader. Altogether he spoke for less than 15 minutes. One reason for this is his fence sitting, and way of using a lot of words to say nothing, and another is another of his problems, which is that he’s quite boring, which even his allies admit. He’s quite difficult to listen to, as he doesn’t say anything, and it isn’t like he’s passionate or anything.
Thinking about it, the setup is quite presidential, maybe a bit like Obama. People were waving 2 different placards, one said ‘unity’, the other ‘leadership’, and people from Keir’s campaign were coordinating and telling people when to wave them and hold them up. Am I the first person to call them Keirleaders?
The Obama comparison is a good one I think. Say nothing, have a couple of catchphrases or slogans, and be all things to all people. He’s a bloke in a suit, and does have good hair, so subconsciously, to a lot of people this does mean electability. If there was any political analysis today of the reasons for the election defeat I missed it. On policy, he’s a blank slate, a space where his various backers and supporters can project their own fantasies. This worked for Obama, and David Cameron, so why shouldn’t it work for Starmer?
One of the big things Starmer is being sold on is ‘electability’. Just examining this notion for one minute shows how foolish it is. A common theme from anti-Corbyn MPs after the election was the need to ‘listen to the voters’. So why doesn’t anyone listen to the redwall voters and ask them why Labour lost their vote? Fair enough if Starmer owned the 2nd ref/People’s Vote policy and the consequences of it in the 60+ leave-voting seats that Labour lost, but nobody is even asking what his strategy is to regain these voters, beyond a couple of slogans. They just ignore it. It’s almost as if his team thinks that if they say electablilty and unity enough times, they will become true.
Starmer has to remain a policy free zone as much as he can so as not to alienate any of the contradictory components in the unstable coalition that he hopes will see him elected as leader. His support ranges from misguided supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who believe what he says about retaining the 2019 manifesto policies, to people joining to push to rejoin the EU, to people like Progress and Labour First on the right of the Labour Party, deeply dedicated to top down rule, where members are essentially a PLP fan club.
Any bold policy will alienate the PLP component of this coalition. He agreed with the Nationalisation pledges a day after the other candidates, but no way would his PLP backers allow him to support Open Selection. There are the Remainers who joined to vote for him, acting as sleeper agents, planning to elect him, and dictate policy. And then there are the right of the Labour Party, who see in him somebody who will purge the left, and return ‘their party’ to them.
So his event and the blandness of it reflected the man and his policy very well. It made a lot of noise and said nothing. If he becomes leader, his electoral coalition will immediately collapse, as he won’t be needing the members any longer. Right wing commentators like Ayesha Hazarika speak openly of this being Starmer’s strategy.
The similarities to the People’s Vote campaign scream out, not surprising as some of the same people are probably involved. People’s Vote mobilised well meaning people who wanted to stay in the EU, with the real, unspoken aim of damaging Corbyn and Labour. Starmer’s campaign can’t work without him taking in similar well meaning people who think Starmer’s goal is beating the Tories, when actually it’s beating the Left.
Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.