There’s no room for anybody in the Labour Party who isn’t fully behind Nato, the West, and its role in driving towards war in Ukraine. That’s the message Labour leader Keir Starmer sent after threatening to expel anti-war MPs, before staging a takeover of the party’s youth wing.
For Starmer, the war in Ukraine has been an opportunity to show how fervently the Labour Party supports Nato and its role in eastern Europe. At every moment he has galloped to make sure Labour stays to the right of the Tories.
Boris Johnson announced sanctions on Russia on Tuesday—so Starmer demanded those sanctions be tougher. Johnson announced tougher sanctions, so now Starmer calls on him to flood Ukraine with weapons and ban the Russian state-owned RT news network.
Labour’s role at every step has been to fuel the sort of escalation that can only lead to more fighting—and more misery for ordinary people in Ukraine.
Dissent is not allowed. Only 11 Labour Party MPs signed a Stop The War Coalition statement criticising Nato for its role in driving towards war. The statement began by condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it also—correctly—pointed out that the war was a product of Nato’s expansion into eastern Europe.
The most it calls for is no eastward expansion of Nato and a “return to diplomacy.” That’s something that anyone who doesn’t want more war and aggression should surely support.
But it was too much for Starmer—in his Labour Party, you either back Nato all the way or you’re out. As an official Labour spokesperson said, “With Keir Starmer’s leadership there will never be any confusion about whose side Labour is on—Britain, Nato, freedom and democracy—and every Labour MP now understands that.”
So Starmer demanded all 11 take their names off the statement or would no longer be allowed to sit in parliament as Labour MPs. Within one hour, every single one of them had done as they were told.
Their names are John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, Ian Lavery, Beth Winter, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum, Mick Whitley, Tahir Ali and Ian Mearns. Their retreat is a defining moment for the Labour left.
Ever since the right retook control of Labour after Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as leader, those MPs have called on their members to stay in. They said that was the only way to fight the Labour right. They promised to be a beacon for left wing politics inside Labour—but that they needed party members’ support. As it turns out, staying in Labour actually means surrendering at the first sign of confrontation—and over one of the most crucial issues.
Rather than lead Labour members in fighting for left wing politics, those MPs have shown they will abandon them instead. In the wake of their surrender, the Labour Party took over the Twitter account of Young Labour, which had criticised Nato.
Labour members in local party organisations can likely expect similar treatment if they dare raise anti-war politics in their meetings.
The surrender is also a sign of things to come. Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended as a Labour MP—and the party will likely try to stand a candidate against him at the next general election. Will the left MPs stand with him—or back the right wing Labour candidate?
The Labour left’s answer to every question is that the most important thing is to stay inside Labour. But if that means staying silent over war in order to remain in a party committed to Nato, it’s surely better to leave.
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