It’s pretty clear that Keir Starmer is determined not to be outflanked on the left by Rebecca Long-Bailey. That was my firm conclusion from attending one of his campaign meetings last week.
By and large, I liked what I heard - especially his answer to a question from a member of Labour Business who complained that Labour’s December manifesto had nothing to say to business.
But I came away worried – not about Starmer but for Starmer.
My concern is that control of the party is still in the hands of people strongly opposed to him, notably Karie Murphy, who ran the General election campaign, Seamus Milne, Executive Director of Strategy and Communications and Jon Lansman, NEC chair.
The allegation of a breach of data rules by the Starmer campaign have their fingerprints all over it. There’s speculation that it might be the prelude to a Stop Starmer procedural ploy. I only hope those contemplating such a move realise they’d be taking on one of the country’s top lawyers.
Key question – assuming Starmer is victorious, would he be able to sack Murphy and Milne? On the face of it, he ought to have Long-Bailey’s backing. She has pledged to "professionalise" the party. “Promotion would be based on what you know, not who you know", she says.
If Starmer needed more ammunition he would consult the thoughtful former MP Alan Simpson. I’m a fan of Simpson, who is green and a Europhile. A former flatmate of Jeremy Corbyn, he is nonetheless scathing about what he calls the “corridor cabal” of top aides who sabotaged Labour’s election campaign. He lays the blame on a small band, including Milne and Murphy for organisational chaos and for “suffocating” the leader.
In a submission to an independent review into the election disaster, Simpson says “Jeremy will inevitably carry much of the blame.
“But Labour’s deeper problems lie more in the cadre of senior advisers surrounding Corbyn. None should be allowed within a million miles of Labour’s rebuilding.
“People who’d never negotiated anything more than an extended tea-break were left in charge of the policy sifting process.”
Simpson accuses the leader’s closest aides of “catastrophic misjudgement and ill-focused organisation” and an “obsession” with controlling both the leader and his message.
A great deal will depend on the scale of a Starmer victory. The yardstick will be the Corbyn margin in 2016 when he thrashed Owen Smith by 313,000 to 193,000. But look a little closer and you find that more than 20% of the membership -- more than 100,000 -- sat out the contest, leaving Corbyn with a bare majority of eligible voters backing him.
Corbynite control actually rests on elections to the NEC where turnout was far lower. It took fewer than 70,000 to elect Jon Lansman and two other Momentum backed candidates.
NEC elections are taking place alongside the leadership elections. Starmer must hope that his campaign will create a bandwagon that carries his supporters into power at the top of the party.
By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent
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