An activist interrupted the start of Keir Starmer’s keynote speech on Tuesday 10 October, the penultimate day of the Labour Party’s annual conference.
The activist showered biodegradable glitter on the shocked Labour leader while shouting:
True democracy is citizen-led. Politics needs an update. We demand a people’s house – we are in crisis.
The demands came from the new non-violent direct action group People Demand Democracy. A spin-off from Just Stop Oil, the group’s website draws links between the multiple crises hammering the UK electorate. It states:
Crises such as cost of living and climate are related. Their roots lie in the question of power: who has it and who doesn’t. Our democracies are incomplete, undermined and broken. Those that have wealth and power have done that to prevent us, the people, from actually being in charge. If we want to deal with any of the crises we face, we will have to upgrade our democracy.
The group are calling for the two main political parties to embrace a proportional voting system and implement a permanent citizen’s assembly. Only Starmer’s Labour wouldn’t know democracy if it hit the party in the face like a glitter bomb.
Labour Party’s glaring democratic hypocrisy
After security forced the protester off stage, a bedazzled Starmer declared to the room:
If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me. Protest not power; that’s why we changed our party, conference.
Of course, the conference floor and the corporate media ate it up. And almost as quickly as Starmer brushed off the glitter along with the protesters demands, the Mirror had penned a nauseating puff piece opining in its headline that:
Glitter protest against Keir Starmer only reveals leader fit to form next Government
Cue some well-deserved eye-rolling. Ultimately, this take from the Mirror labours under the assumption that a politician’s ability to not lose face in front of an audience during a public protest enshrines them with some innate leadership quality. Instead, his quick dismissal should be seen in the context of the leadership’s consistent failure to engage with campaigners.
Because tellingly, it isn’t the first time the Labour leader has ignored activists. During the 2021 party conference, Starmer blanked a Green New Deal activist (and Labour party member, no less), as he approached to discuss Labour’s climate policies. A politician unwilling to listen to a vital part of its membership and electorate is no leader.
Incidentally, Bristol MP and shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Thangam Debbonaire has also snubbed Green New Deal protesters at this year’s conference in much the same way:
We're at Labour conference asking MPs to revoke Rosebank and back a Green New Deal.
We are scared for our futures and want answers from political leaders.
So it's disappointing when Shadow Ministers like Thangam Debbonaire refuse to stop and speak to young people. pic.twitter.com/p9MCXTPovu
— Green New Deal Rising (@GNDRising) October 9, 2023
Moreover, it’s hard to divorce these reactions from the party’s position on protest at large. In June, Labour leadership refused to get behind a fatal motion to put a stop to the Tories’ repressive Public Order Bill. It has also stated that if it wins a general election, it won’t repeal any of the Conservatives’ anti-protest legislation.
So it’s plain to see that Labour is no party of the people – it’s a party of the rich and powerful capitalist class.
Pantomime of internal democracy
Given the Labour leader’s rousing proclamation, you could almost be forgiven for thinking the party has been a shimmering beacon of democracy since Starmer took the helm. Of course, you’d be palpably wrong. As the Canary has previously documented, the party has purged left-wing members and curtailed Constituency Labour Party (CLP) debates.
Funny, too, that Starmer could champion his party’s commitment to democracy with a straight face when, as the Canary’s Steve Topple reported on Monday, the party were:
trying to remove the voting rights of minoritised officers in constituency parties
Moreover, People Demand Democracy has pointed out that Labour members and multiple Unions overwhelmingly voted for proportional representation at the previous annual conference in 2022. But since the motion was non-binding, Labour’s leadership shunned the result.
It similarly looks set to do so to a motion tabled by Unite’s Sharon Graham. On Monday, conference voted through a proposal to nationalise the energy industry and the railway system. Despite the support for public ownership, however, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds told the BBC:
We’re not going to nationalise the energy system.
So it looks like the protester who transformed Starmer into a knock-off panto villain might have had a point. Evidently, when it comes to Labour’s internal democracy, it might as well be pantomime.
Sponsored by corporate criminals Inc
What’s more, the Labour party conference highlighted, once again, that the UK itself is a sham of a democracy. Come the next election, voters realistically have the choice between two parties that are firmly in the pocket of big business.
Naturally, corporate lobbyists and industry bodies peppered the Labour fringe. Cadent Gas flogged hydrogen – a fossil fuel industry-favourite climate ‘solution’ – to a room of delegates. It also led an event at the Conservatives annual conference.
Meanwhile, the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) was another industry lobbyist playing the field at both major conferences. The body boasts a buffet of big polluters among its leadership and overall members.
⚠️Caution ⚠️the GMB are handing this flyer out to attendees of the Amazon sponsored ‘Growing Together: Unlocking Productivity Through Business Collaboration’ event at Labour Party conference pic.twitter.com/apKbR0qMck
— Polly Smythe (@pollysmythe) October 9, 2023
A leader with the ‘integrity’ to screw over everyone
Yet the presence of ecocidal and human rights violating corporations should come as no surprise either. As Topple reported for the Canary in August, Starmer’s Labour has shafted everyone, bar its rich backers.
Its abandonment of marginalised communities and the planet has only continued apace. At a fringe event hosted by a fossil fuel industry lobby, shadow decarbonisation minister Sarah Jones poured cold water on the possibility that Labour could revoke the climate-disastrous Rosebank oil field. Meanwhile, the Labour leader once again threw trans people under the bus with his response to Sunak’s latest transphobic tirade at the Conservative conference.
With no ounce of irony, in a speech to conference, shadow secretary for energy security and net zero Ed Miliband lauded the Labour leader for his “integrity” and “decency”. This about a man who has repeatedly reneged on campaign promises and screwed over multiple marginalised communities in the process? It’d be hilarious if the impacts of Labour’s about-turns weren’t so dangerous to so many.
Ultimately, Starmer’s bluff should not fool anyone. Regardless, under an undemocratic electoral system, he’ll still win power. So long as he keeps his capitalist chums rolling in it, they’ll fund the party’s sweep to victory in 2024.
One thing’s for sure: a UK under Starmer’s Labour won’t be “citizen-led” – it’ll be corporate bought and paid for.
Feature image via Channel 4 News/Youtube screengrab
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