News

Young People Are Leaving the Labour Party Because of Keir Starmer

"I felt like, under Jeremy Corbyn, as a POC there was a place in the party for someone like me – but it feels like we're being thrown under the bus."
30 June 2020, 1:21pm
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Photo via Good Morning Britain / Twitter. 

Depending on your political inclination, this month has either been a triumph for Labour's Keir Starmer, or a total disaster.

Last week, the new Leader of the Opposition caused a stir when he fired Momentum darling Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Long-Bailey had shared an interview with the actor Maxine Peake, who at one point said, baselessly, "The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd's neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services." Announcing Long-Bailey's dismissal, Starmer called this "an anti-semitic conspiracy theory".

Critics were upset with Starmer's decision, dubbing it a performative act to rid the cabinet of its far-left faction, rather than take any meaningful action on the documented racism and anti-Semitismwithin the party. Others congratulated Starmer on his speedy response and strong leadership.

This week, Starmer made clear his stance on the Black Lives Matter movement – or "moment", as he referred to it – and its position on defunding the police. "That's nonsense, and nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police," Starmer said on BBC Breakfast. "I worked with police forces across England and Wales, bringing thousands of people to court. So my support for the police is very, very strong, and evidenced in the joint actions I've done with the police."

Later that day, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage retweeted Starmer's interview, expressing support for his position.

And just like that, internal conflicts within the Labour party were reignited. After former leader Jeremy Corbyn's departure, many feared the party's return to centrist politics – something they believe has been cemented with the sacking of Long-Bailey and Starmer's police statement. After the BBC interview, many took to social media to publicise the cancellation of their Labour Party membership (under Corbyn, the party reached a record 500,000 members), while left-wing figures like Owen Jones implored people to stay, claiming their action would "delight the right and disenfranchise [them]".

Nonetheless, many have still decided to part ways with Labour. VICE News spoke to a number of young people about why Keir Starmer's actions had moved them to leave.

'I felt like, under Jeremy Corbyn, as a POC, there was a place in the party for someone like me'

"I voted for [Starmer] in the leadership contest and genuinely thought he was interested in bringing all sides of Labour together, but he's been massively disappointing. As Leader of the Opposition, I expected him to be more vocal when the government was making such bad decisions – and being of Kashmiri heritage, his comments on Kashmir are very worrying and frustrating.

"I don't see any cause for optimism anymore under him. There's no hope for a better Britain. It feels more and more like he wants to protect the status quo – which is his right as leader, but I feel a bit conned. So many promises about keeping to previous political pledges and there's no mention of this.

"I felt like, under Jeremy Corbyn, as a POC, there was a place in the party for someone like me, but I feel like we're being thrown under the bus."

- Irfan Khan, 28

'I believed specifically in Corbyn's vision'

"I only really joined Labour because I really believed in Corbyn's message specifically – I don't really feel like I have any particular party loyalty. I was fully expecting Corbyn to lose badly in 2017 and resign, and ready to cancel my membership when that happened. Of course, that didn’t happen, so I just let my membership roll on for the next couple years.

"When Corbyn did resign in 2019, I stayed in to vote for Long-Bailey for leader, but I was honestly going to leave no matter who won that contest. I believed specifically in Corbyn's vision, and didn’t see anyone who could immediately replace him.

"I only stayed for the first couple weeks of Starmer's leadership because I liked my local Labour MP [Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West], but Starmer's lack of response to the leaked Labour report a recently was the straw the broke the camel's back."

- Charlie, 22

'It's come because of a weekend of him showing himself to be [a] cowardly centrist'

"I've cancelled my Labour Party membership because of Keir Starmer. It's come because of a weekend of him showing himself to be the cowardly centrist everyone was afraid he would be. First, by Montreal-screwjob-ing Rebecca Long-Bailey, then by playing both sides in the gender 'debate', and lastly by acting like the CEO of Black Lives Matter and telling us what it's really about, and then proceeding to denounce Black Lives Matter as an organisation on the BBC."

- Ed Mitchell, 26

'So far, Marcus Rashford has done a better job'

"I voted for RLB, but was happy to give Starmer a chance, as you sensibly would. He has since shown a massive diversion back to centre-right New Labour ideals, rather than the policies that brought so many to the party. He seems to have no plan for his platform and is spineless in standing up against the government. It's such an important time to hold the government to account and force U-turns in their bad choices. So far, Marcus Rashford has done a better job at this.

"Starmer only seems interested in headlines for his jibes rather than instigating any challenges to the government's poor handling of COVID. This week's announcement – that he agrees with the BLM movement, except for everything that it stands for – is just another in a parade of empty statements to the media."

- Tom Hornby, 25

'I see nothing that inspires me'

"I joined under [Ed] Miliband as a naïve 16-year-old kid who wanted to see the party become a real vehicle for socialism, with the goal of empowering the working class in this country. I watched Jeremy Corbyn inspire hope among hundreds of communities and millions of young people with his unflinching principles of kindness and solidarity. People were proud to be in his Labour Party because we stood together and cared for each other. He led by example.

"Now, as a cynic with a masters in Political Communication, I see nothing that inspires me. The establishment – including the PLP – succeeded in tearing down everything we built and demonising not just Corbyn himself, but the socialist values we all held. The media are already manufacturing consent for Starmer to be the next Tony Blair and clear up the catastrophic mess that the post-COVID/no-deal Brexit disaster-piece will inflict on this country. I want no part of it. Labour will still have my vote, owing only to the fact that I despise the Tories with every fibre of my being. Our duty now is to organise and unionise workers across the country to protect our class interests by another means, seeing as the Party proves itself to be increasingly obsolete."

- Alex White, 22

'The breaking point was the Labour leaks'

"I joined Labour during university. I wanted to stand for my grandfather's values, who sadly passed away. The whole thing was over before it started, when I started to see the early stages of Starmer's – ironic – red flags.

"The breaking point was the Labour leaks around April. The immediate response – and lack thereof – made me conceptualise just how lacking in direct action this country's leaders will always be. The abuse that individuals, such as Dianne Abbot, took should have been met with extreme discipline and outrage. Things were ignored or downright removed from the public eye for good measure. That doesn't tell me that Keir stands against anything. It's faux-revolutionary politics.

"I want to see everyone on an equal playing field, but if the leader of the party isn't able to deliver this in his own circle, then I immediately thought... 'Well, how the fuck is he going to manage on a National level?'"

- Brogan, 20

'To side with the police was such a spineless act, I lost all respect for him'

"I've been a member since I was 18, mainly because both my parents are Labour, I grew up in a pretty working-class area and I was a big fan of Corbyn's policies – nationalisation of public services, tax reform, etc.

"I flirted with the idea of cancelling after Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked for retweeting the Maxine Peake interview in The Independent. I, of course, am completely against anti-semitism, but the idea that you can't critique Israel and its practices, even indirectly, is absurd – especially when there are sources that cite the fact that American police have been trained in Israel. Starmer, in my opinion, threw her under the bus, rather than fighting to prove that Labour isn't anti-Semitic.

"Then, after Starmer's statement on the BLM 'moment', as he incorrectly called it, I decided to cancel my membership. The fact that he doesn't understand the Defund The Police message – what BLM, at its core, stands for – shows he's completely out of the loop with the current situation in the UK. To side with the police was such a spineless act – I lost all respect for him.

"I'll still be voting in general and council elections, but can no longer support the party monetarily."

- Ethan Beer, 21