The Labour Party’s Membership Is in Revolt Against Keir Starmer

All across Britain last night, local Labour Parties passed motions opposing Keir Starmer's decision to deny Jeremy Corbyn the Labour whip — the broadest rebellion against Starmer's leadership to date. A civil war within Labour is escalating.

Keir Starmer at Westminster Cathedral Hall on January 31, 2020 in London, England. (Hollie Adams / Getty Images)

Last night, the grassroots campaign to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn’s whip reached fever pitch as Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) across Britain passed motions of support, in many cases in defiance of threats from party officials.

Liverpool Walton, the constituency with the highest Labour vote in the country, was the first to announce its results — an overwhelming majority in favor with only a single vote against. They were swiftly followed by Camberwell and Peckham CLP in London, where the chair and secretary had been subject to warnings by region over debating the motion.

As the night continued, votes rolled in from across the country: Edinburgh Central in Scotland; London constituencies Kingston and Surbiton, Dulwich and West Norwood, and Brent Central; Rushcliffe outside Nottingham; Penrith and the Border, Bristol South, Newcastle Central, and Bolton North East.

These followed a unanimous vote in Jeremy Corbyn’s home CLP of Islington North on Wednesday night in favor of his full reinstatement to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Another motion that evening had thanked the range of CLPs — from Cardiff North to Hastings, Hull, and Carlisle — which had passed Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) motions supporting Corbyn in the past ten days.

Another of those to pass a similar motion was Bristol West, where the chair and co-secretary have been suspended by the party for holding the discussion. These attacks by Southside on Labour members and their right to discuss major political developments in their party are likely to continue as a wave of constituencies defy the muzzle to table motions in every part of the country.

In a further warning to Keir Starmer and his leadership team, Richmond Park — which had been the first CLP in the country to nominate Starmer for Labour leader — also passed a motion of support for Corbyn. This demonstrated that it wasn’t just bastions of the Left where the campaign is attracting support; the meeting had one of the highest attendances of any since that leadership vote earlier this year.

Despite all of this, Jeremy Corbyn was informed last night that the suspension of his whip would last for three months — and that the Parliamentary Labour Party would be conducting an investigation into his statement. The terms of such an investigation, when all the evidence is in the public domain and has been discussed at length in both the party’s structures and the national press, remains to be seen.

This move amounts to the latest ad-lib approach from the Labour leadership to the Corbyn suspension — which was first leaked to the media before he was informed, then issued without any clear guidance as to what rule he had broken, overturned by a politically neutral disciplinary panel of the National Executive Committee (NEC) after Starmer allies had fast-tracked the case, only to then be reinstated (in the PLP at least) in a knee-jerk fashion by Starmer himself. Now, it is subject to a legal challenge.

If this all sounds like a farcical mess, that’s because it is — but Keir Starmer remains determined to dig in. And while he does, motions will continue in CLPs across the country, with every likelihood that there will be further suspensions as Starmer and his team launch a war on the membership that elected him only months ago — and which they will soon ask to help the party elect candidates in May’s local elections. Already, Unite, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) are considering whether to withhold funding support for those contests.

This situation is the inevitable consequence of a Labour leadership which has, from its beginnings in April, seemed more enthusiastic about attacking the Left than holding a catastrophically negligent Tory government to account. This might attract supportive coverage in the right-wing press — undoubtedly the point of the exercise — but it is increasingly clear that from this point onward it will also mean an escalating civil war in the party, a demoralization of its base, and a fraying of its ties to the trade union movement.

With the saga set to rumble on for a further twelve weeks, the question will surely be asked even by more middle-of-the-road sections of the Labour Party — is it worth it, Keir?