Neither Boris Johnson nor Keir Starmer took centre stage during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 18 November. Because a newly-independent MP unintentionally took the limelight.
Starmer: the backlash intensifies
Talk about a misstep by Starmer. Because he decided to come out and say that he wasn’t giving Jeremy Corbyn the whip back right before PMQs. This came after Corbyn was first suspended, and then reinstated, by the party machinery over comments he made about the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)’s investigation into alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Firstly, Starmer not giving Corbyn the whip back prompted a furious backlash from the latter’s supporters on social media. Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell was not happy:
Andrew Feinstein called the situation “farcical”:
Momentum has launched a petition:
The Canary‘s editor-at-large Kerry-Anne Mendoza made an important point:
But it was Rachael Swindon who hit the nail on the head best:
Making it up as he goes along?
Secondly, there are procedural problems that Starmer may have caused. Momentum founder Jon Lansman pointed out on Twitter that:
The decision not to restore the whip to Corbyn just announced has driven a coach and horses through the party’s disciplinary process, making it subservient to the parliamentary party and embedding ‘political interference’. The whip was only removed because he had been suspended!
In other words, the NEC found that Corbyn had not breached party rules. So, Starmer technically may not have a right not to restore the whip to him. Or if he does, it raises serious questions about how the leader can override official party procedure.
Sowing seeds of division
Thirdly, many people are pointing out that this will create further division in the Labour Party. Red Labour tweeted that (edited for ease of reading):
Starmer’s decision not to restore the whip to Corbyn is vengeful, divisive and provocative. It is designed to put a wedge between socialists in the party and the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and pick us off, one by one. Well, we have one message for Sir Keir: you have a fight on your hands.
Moreover, Starmer’s decision to announce he would not give the whip back to Corbyn raises serious questions about his leadership.
Opportunism or appalling leadership?
Media-wise, it reeks of opportunism and intentional bad timing. Starmer must have known that his decision would dominate social media across the entire day. He also must have known it would make the headlines. The Tory government has been repeatedly exposed as utterly (and maybe intentionally) negligent over the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. So, you’d think the Labour Party would want that as its focus. But instead, Starmer has allowed a subservient Tory media to make the headlines about Corbyn.
Why would he do this? It could be appalling leadership. But Starmer surely isn’t that useless.
Maybe it’s because, as Robert Peston pointed out, Starmer is trying to embed his vision of the party:
Yet in reality, all Starmer has done is to further split the party into its various factions; alienate supporters, and give the media a feeding-frenzy. Meanwhile, the Tory government is presiding over the gradual breakdown of UK society. Starmer’s priorities, and leadership, are wrong in so many ways.
Featured image via Guardian News – YouTube and This Morning – YouTube