Exciting left-wing candidates like Emma Dent Coad & Jamie Driscoll fill a Starmer-shaped political vacuum

Emma Dent Coad and Jamie Driscoll Labour Starmer
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The longer Labour has enjoyed a poll lead over the Tories, the more Keir Starmer has lurched to the right. So, enter Emma Dent Coad as the latest (former) Labour politician to say she’ll stand as an independent at the next general election – challenging her old party, and exposing its creeping rightward shift at the same time.

Lurching to the right: not clever, and not big

People will tell you swinging right is a clever political tactic and that Starmer will actually enact a left-wing policy platform when in office – specifically the sort of people who couldn’t identify a clever political tactic if it was written on the side of a double-decker bus.

Obviously, what we’re witnessing is Starmer using Labour’s polling majority to test how Tory-like he can go before voters get turned off. So far, Labour has retained its lead despite Starmer U-turning on the majority of the policy platform which saw him win the leadership. This means the party is rapidly moving from Tory-lite to Tory-full-fat-with-a-side-of-gammon.

For those of us who couldn’t stomach voting for New Labour, this obviously leaves the question: will there be anyone worth voting for in the next election?

There may not be a political party which can threaten Labour or the Tories on a national scale, but we are seeing a host of independent candidates rising to the challenge on a local level. Because – as it turns out – nature hates a vacuum even more than it hates Labour’s environmental U-turns:

‘The hunger’

Dent Coad is a former Labour MP – and current independent councillor – who’s been vocal about the party’s shift to the right. After leaving Labour in April this year, she told Socialist Worker:

It’s been brewing for quite a long time. It’s been more and more difficult to be in the party. We were given a list of things from the local Constituency Labour Party of what we can and can’t talk about and affiliate to.

It includes Stop the War, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Republic, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and various other groups that mean a lot to local people.

Dent Coad became the Labour MP four days before a fire devastated Grenfell Tower in her seat of Kensington. In a conversation with the Canary six months after the fire, she was critical of councils – including Labour-run councils – okaying regeneration plans that compelled social tenants and leaseholders to move out of their areas:

It’s a huge shame that we have this legacy of Labour policy that has allowed these massive developments in some areas of London… I don’t see any social message there at all. And it’s attracted developers who are very greedy.

Speaking to Socialist Worker after she left Labour, she said:

What tipped me this week was that, with the six-year Grenfell anniversary coming up, we found out the Labour leader had accepted hospitality from a contractor. It was involved in mass Grenfell-style refurbishment of buildings in Portsmouth.

The contractor broke every rule and breached every contract and was forced to pay out £10.8 million. Starmer accepted £1,000 of hospitality for football tickets. I was really shocked.

Socialist Worker noted that she “prepared a statement with councillors in the Notting Dale ward where Grenfell is” to criticise Starmer for accepting the money. However, Dent Coad said:

But there was outcry from the Labour group who believed we’d all be suspended or thrown out for criticising the leader.

I thought that is probably exactly what would happen, but I had to stand up for my residents who were appalled. That was the final straw—the idea that I can’t even criticise or challenge the leader at a time like that.

She added:

Labour is a scary place for a lot of people.

She also said that Labour:

has no vision or hope. We have nurses coming to food banks in tears, humiliated because they can’t feed themselves. The shadow cabinet isn’t providing positive, inspirational leadership—we’re going backwards and more rightwards and turning our back on people who need us.

Fighting back

Despite Labour’s lack of “hope”, Dent Coad has not lost hope herself. Instead, she’s announced plans to stand as an independent in her old seat of Kensington:

The text on her crowdfunder page is written by activist Walter Menteth, and it reads:

We need people like Emma in Westminster, her understanding of the built environment is more important than ever at a time of climate change, housing crises and high air pollution. She is well known and trusted in Kensington, has pledged to work beyond party politics with all communities and has proven experience, commitment, and diligence in the service of the people of the borough.

A video from Dent Coad accompanies it:

It opens with her saying:

Kensington is a place of fabulous wealth and of grinding poverty. In between there are people of different income levels; ages; aspirations; politics; values, and beliefs. They should all be represented. But I can’t see any evidence that either major political party is up to the challenge, or – indeed – cares.

Her crowdfunding efforts are so far developing at a pace:

Standing together

Dent Coad isn’t the only political figure going independent. The sitting mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll quit the party earlier this month after being blocked from representing the party in future. The Guardian wrote at the time that Driscoll:

was excluded from the race in a move linked to an onstage appearance with Ken Loach, the film director and expelled Labour member.

A letter published in the Canary from reader Alan Marsden said of the matter:

The justification for barring Jamie Driscoll from Tyneside’s mayoral election is so bananas that it would only evoke hysterical laughter if it wasn’t so disturbing. He shared a platform with Ken Loach who has made numerous films on Tyneside, the area of which Driscoll is presently a highly successful and admired mayor.

Simultaneously with this Loach received a 15-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. The Labour Party has not stated clearly what is so heinous about sharing a discussion about British film with the UK’s foremost film director. They have lost all sense of proportion. They owe all fair-minded electors a full, smear-free explanation.

Following his expulsion, Driscoll tweeted:

Driscoll’s crowdfunding efforts have also proven incredibly successful, as he’s currently overshot his initial target by £100k.

Endless headaches for Labour

Starmer could have ran on the 10 Pledges he made during his leadership bid. He could have used it to keep a broad coalition of voters and activists on the same side. In reality, there was nothing particularly radical in those 10 Pledges – especially not given the state of how bad things have gotten since then. Starmer’s new platform, however, is so unambitious – so dreary – so absolutely fucking useless that even the dullest Guardian columnists are calling for something a bit more radical:

The Tories have fucked things up so badly there’s every chance it becomes impossible for Labour to lose the next election. This is despite Starmer remaining a deeply unpopular politician:

Given this, Labour is going to start its next run at power as a well-deservedly unpopular party. That’s before it attempts to solve our many ongoing crises with a big old heap of ‘fuck all’.

Among the problems Labour will have are independent candidates like Dent Coad and Driscoll standing up, capturing the public attention, and explaining in clear detail where Starmer is failing. It’s a problem that Labour could have easily avoided by simply not being a total vacuum of a political project.

Featured image via BBC – YouTube / Emma Dent Coad – YouTube

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Get involved

  • Donate to Dent Coad’s crowdfunder here, and Driscoll’s crowdfunder here.

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