Since taking charge of the Labour Party, new leader Keir Starmer has not focussed on making public statements about the coronavirus crisis and the government’s handling of it. He hinted that this would be the case in his acceptance speech, which warned against “opposition for opposition’s sake” and “making impossible demands”. The question is what you deem to be impossible, of course. A job retention scheme totalling tens of billions was considered impossible until it wasn’t.
Some would say this caution is for the best, particularly when the Prime Minister is in intensive care and the government is figuring out who exactly holds which powers. And Starmer has used his first days as leader to set in motion internal party reforms. He held a video meeting with Jewish community representatives yesterday, in which he apologised again and vowed to begin work on the introduction of an independent complaints system. This was very well received, and the Jewish Labour Movement’s Mike Katz wrote for LabourList afterwards asserting that the new leader had the “political will” to tackle antisemitism in Labour.
Others, largely on the left of Labour, have criticised Starmer’s approach to Covid-19 – including London Young Labour, which accused him of being “dangerously close to sounding concessionary” as it announced the launch of its own personal protective equipment drive in the capital. Others still, while not being openly critical, have gone further than Starmer in their calls for the introduction of measures prompted by coronavirus. Olivia Blake MP reiterated Rebecca Long-Bailey’s leadership campaign demand of a National Food Service in a piece for LabourList, which was then shared by many Labour MPs including Richard Burgon, Sam Tarry, John McDonnell and Clive Lewis.
How the Labour left interacts with the new leadership after losing the recent internal elections is ripe for debate. And that conversation has now started in earnest, albeit with a juddering start. Tribune published an editorial setting out criticisms of Momentum that were strong but not existential: primarily that the group had leaned into Corbynism’s strengths among young activists in large cities, rather than develop in working-class communities. It also found fault with the “unelected office in London”. Momentum then tweeted a statement from its national coordinating group, which was bold and made similar points. This was later deleted, before being reposted with the clarification that the statement was actually by Momentum’s NCG’s officers group.
This self-reflection came just ahead of the launch of Forward Momentum, which LabourList has exclusively revealed this morning. These activists want to “refound” Momentum via an inclusive and democratic process to become more internationalist and member-led. James McAsh and Harriet Protheroe Davis have written a piece explaining their vision in detail. It is certain to be met with resistance by those who believe the proposals could lead to a ‘purist’ left organisation at a time when they say Momentum should ally itself with the soft left. There is optimism about the possibility of a Momentum slate winning the summer Labour national executive committee elections, but there is also a conversation to be had about how the group improves its culture and strategy before it can do that. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.