Congratulations Keir Starmer – we have our Party back

So the bright confident morning finally arrived and Keir Starmer is elected Labour leader on the first ballot with 56% of the vote and a mandate from every section of the Party. The accidental leader at long last shuffles off to the allotment. After five years of catastrophe, it feels good.

Given the clarity of Keir Starmer’s mandate, Jerremy Corbyn will now appear occasionally to sit loyally on the back benches, meanwhile touring the circuit of eccentric lost causes to make the occasional vegetable related joke. He will leave the field clear for Keir Starmer to return Labour to electability. His former followers will either, honourably, absent themselves from serving under Keir, making the case for a Labour Government from the back benches or undergo Damascene conversion hoping for a slot in a Starmer Government.

Except he won’t and neither will they.

The unity which Keir Starmer espoused during the leadership campaign is an illusion that the Corbynite left will simply not allow.

Since, in the aftermath of the General Election Corbyn announced that he would stay on during the absurdly long election campaign, it has been clear that the minority faction is the same as it ever was. Momentum immediately declared their intent to “hold the leader to account”. Keir Starmer can expect and will get no loyalty from Corbyn. He will return to the backbenches to do what he has always done – believe in his own correctness and vote against the Labour whip. Starmer can expect the same loyalty from Corbyn that was shown to Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband.

Far from following the convention that former Leaders have had their time and maintaining a dignified silence during the election of their successor, Corbyn in a procession of interviews has let it be known he would wish to serve in a Shadow Cabinet, would speak up, would generally fail to understand that his form of politics has proved catastrophic for the Party and the country. Staying on was not just narcissism, it was an exercise of positioning the remainder of the paleoleftists for their rearguard action.

Keir Starmer now has to deal with the far from ideal situation that confronts him. His choice is simple he has the battle now and wins while his stock is high then moves on with a viable Labour coalition, or he puts it off and has the battle closer to an election when the image of Labour disunity will do most damage. He cannot hope to straddle an impossible divide and neither should he. Unity will be based not upon changing the minds of those who have not changed their minds on anything at any time in their political lives and whose loyalties are determined by dogma.

I have little doubt of his determination to tackle the disgraceful situation over antisemitism, the perpetrators of which are members Labour doesn’t need, just as it does not need those joined from fringe parties with ideologies that were never part of Labour’s spectrum. In doing so he must be ruthless - the limits of unity are easily defined.

The NEC election results and that for the Deputy Leadership of Scottish Labour confirm the rejection of Corbynism. The two NEC gains and the three shadow cabinet NEC members should make it possible for Starmer to act decisively, beginning by showing the door to fellow travelers and enablers such as Murphy and Formby. I have pointed out before that it is a major mistake to assume that Corbyn was elected on the back of the votes of entryists alone. Far from it. ‘Soft left’ members, those simply unconvinced by the others on offer and disappointed by Ed Miliband’s disastrous tenure backed Corbyn - many should have known better. Those same people have now voted for Keir Starmer. The minority rump of paleoleftists is defined by the 17% vote for the hapless Richard Burgeon who must be quickly joined on the back benches by the vanquished Long-Bailey and a few more. Labour voters and those who want to identify that way need to see the signal of change.

Those who want to vote Labour also need to see an effective, responsible opposition, working both constructively with Government for the public good at a time of crisis and holding that Government to account when it is lacking. Keir Starmer has the unique opportunity of a ‘soft launch’ – his video statement set the right note which fighting a difficult format to carry off – the Government has more pressing things to do than go after the Leader of the Opposition who’s help they badly need.

But there can be complacency – it will be a tough road whenever a semblance of normality resumes. Labour has no right to exist. It has diced with death more often than I care to think. Rarely has it shown the determination to win and the ability to re-invent itself that has made the Conservatives the dominant party of British politics for the past two centuries. Labour will need new ideas, and a new clarity of purpose. That will not succeed based on attempting to recapture a past  long gone but by building a new coalition of support and a clarity of values fit for the modern world. It is not 1945, 1964 or 1997 - there is a world beyond Coronavirus where new social tensions and extensive technological challenges will require an approach that rejects the baggage and accepts that they are enemies on the left, that we are not all ‘basically on the same side’. Labour must become the champion of a free society of individual rights, collective solutions based on the contributory principle and for an economy where the injustices of unregulated markets are redressed.

I see no sign of this as yet but I live in hope - Keir is a fast learner. Today, I’m happy - for now, I have my Party back.