Keir Starmer has shut down 11 MPs who signed a Stop the War Coalition (STWC) statement on Ukraine. It’s divided opinion and caused controversy. Now, he’s also taken action against Young Labour, too. And his timing with all of this couldn’t have been worse.
The STWC statement
PA reported that STWC issued the statement earlier in February on Ukraine. The group accused the UK government of “aggressive posturing”. It also said that NATO “should call a halt to its eastward expansion”. The Labour MPs who signed the statement were:
- Diane Abbott.
- John McDonnell.
- Richard Burgon.
- Ian Lavery.
- Beth Winter.
- Zarah Sultana.
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
- Apsana Begum.
- Mick Whitley.
- Tahir Ali.
- Ian Mearns.
As PA reported, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also signed the letter, as did MP Claudia Webbe, both of whom now sit as independents.
NATO: not a “defensive alliance”
You can read STWC’s full statement here. The part of it that caused controversy was that STWC:
believes NATO should call a halt to its eastward expansion and commit to a new security deal for Europe which meets the needs of all states and peoples.
We refute the idea that NATO is a defensive alliance, and believe its record in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Libya over the last generation, not to mention the US-British attack on Iraq, clearly proves otherwise.
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When the media picked up the story on Thursday 24 February, Labour quickly acted. The shadow chief whip wrote to the MPs, telling them the party would remove the whip from them if they did not retract their support for the letter.
So, all the Labour MPs removed their names from the STWC statement.
Starmer and Young Labour
Then on Friday 25 February, the Mirror reported that Starmer:
has cut funding for Young Labour and scrapped its annual conference after the youth wing accused the leader of “backing Nato aggression” over the Ukraine crisis.
The dramatic clampdown is the latest clash between the leader and left-wing activists and comes after Young Labour’s Twitter account was restricted “until further notice” by party chiefs
It appears that the STWC and Young Labour situation are linked. The Mirror said that after the party threatened the 11 MPs who signed the STWC statement:
Young Labour later lashed out at… Keir and declared its support for Stop The War “and other pro-peace activists”.
People have had divided opinions on this. Leader of the Northern Independence Party Philip Proudfoot tweeted:
As Russia takes control of Chernobyl, Keir Starmer has used the greatest threat to peace in Europe for a generation to wage his pathetic war against tiny anti-war left in his party.
Absolute clown of a man. He is not fit to lead the Labour movement.
— Philip Proudfoot 🟨🟥 (@PhilipProudfoot) February 24, 2022
Momentum tweeted about the Young Labour situation:
This is a desperate, anti-democratic move by Starmer that will further weaken the Party and alienate a generation of voters Labour needs to win an election. https://t.co/Qa8RW6oIpy
— Momentum 🌹 (@PeoplesMomentum) February 25, 2022
Others were critical of STWC’s position:
As someone who once had pieces published on Stop the War’s website, who defended the coalition against media attacks, who participated in marches against the Iraq & Afghan wars & Israel’s wars in Gaza, today’s statement on Putin’s war is sickeningly mealy-mouthed & disingenuous.
— Matt Carr (@MattCarr55) February 24, 2022
Some people were unhappy with the 11 MPs:
11 MPs who signed the Stop The War Coalition letter were threatened wth having whip withdrawn if they didn't cancel their signatures. They all capitulated within an hour.
— MsAlfieB 🇵🇸 #ItWasAScam #David Miller (@duduschka) February 25, 2022
Presumably those 11 MPs who have now withdrawn their signature from the Stop The War statement didn’t really believe in what they were signing
— Mo' (@mocent0) February 24, 2022
While other people noted Starmer’s timing:
Even facing World War III, Keir Starmer decides to split the Labour party again by trying to purge 11 of his own MPs.
— Daniel Grigg (@Daniel_Grigg) February 24, 2022
What a mess
In reality, this story is reflective of the current mess within the Labour Party. It seems to be another clear attempt by Starmer to continue with his purge of left-wingers. But there are several other problems with what’s gone on.
His timing, in the middle of a global crisis, was dire. He managed to get headlines and column inches dedicated to internal divisions in Labour while the situation in Ukraine worsened. His clampdown also reeks of an anti-democratic approach to internal divisions. This is despite Starmer saying as recently as September 2021 that the party was a “broad church”. There are also questions to be asked over why these 11 MPs chose to back down. Was it because they agree with Starmer’s position? Did they not want to lose the whip? Or did they think it was better not to make the story about Labour at this time? Currently, this isn’t clear.
Whatever the logic behind all these decisions, several things are clear. Starmer’s clampdown on both left-wing MPs and Young Labour shows a cementing of the party’s now right-wing position. Domestically, that isn’t good for democracy nor the public.
But moreover, the UK government is making decisions that will affect people around the world for years to come. Labour’s role should be as an opposition. For a functioning domestic democracy, it needs to be questioning what the Conservative leadership is doing. But that’s not what’s currently happening. Stifling internal party debate compounds this, and it’s bad for all of us.
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