Out and About 14/02/20

by Cary Gee

With his dashing good looks, confident swagger and self-conscious rectitude Keir Starmer wouldn't look out of place handing out rosettes in the Sandhurst parade ground. In fact Starmer is the embodiment of the military academy's motto Serve to Lead. But in times of peace and relative prosperity, at least for those people unaffected by swingeing Tory austerity, and the still to come end-of-days end of Brexit transition period, people do not necessarily want to be led. They would rather be left alone. To muddle through another day without hearing incessant rebukes that in voting for Brexit in the first place they made a mistake that will ruin their lives and make wretched their destiny.

Of course with the reality of post-brexit Britain to look forward to next year there is no guarantee that any degree of peace and prosperity will survive. But if it doesn't, I can't help thinking that Starmer may not be best-placed to lead us out of the mire to higher ground. So what if he was right all along? Telling people in Labour's former heartlands that they are entirely responsible for whatever fresh hell awaits them is unlikely to make them feel any better about falling for Johnson's con-trick.

Tory strategists are already changing tack. The blame for Labour's inexplicable stance on Brexit, and conversely the credit for Johnson's stonking majority, is shifting from Corbyn to Keir Starmer, as he looks increasingly likely to take over the reins of the Labour party. (A recent IpsosMori poll showed that of those surveyed who had heard of all four candidates 61 % favoured Keir Starmer as Labour leader compared to just 35% for Rebecca Long-Bailey).

Tories are no longer concerned with ridiculing Corbyn's vacillation - he is yesterday's man - but are instead preparing to remind first-time Tory voters of Starmer's (heroic) attempts to explain the unexplainable while allowing the unexplainable to remain unexplained.

Which is why a vote for Lisa Nandy, who adopted an unwaveringly irreproachable stance, making clear her antipathy to Brexit while at the same time ruling out any attempt to re-run the referendum, would not only rip the rug out from beneath the Tories but inject a much-needed dose of reality into a party that gave every impression, and not just to Leave voters, in its last manifesto, of desiring to build air-castles in a fools paradise.

After much soul-searching I voted for Lisa Nandy to be my CLPs nomination for party leader at our nomination meeting last week, not least because she is the only candidate who seems to grasp why it is we lost the election so badly, let alone convinces me she has the beginnings of a plan to turn things around. I was in a minority and the nomination, predictably enough, went to Starmer. That's ok. We want to win and I can live with that. I also, and somewhat reluctantly voted for Dawn Butler as deputy leader, but was nonetheless thrilled, that as a BAME member and staunch defender and enthusiastic supporter of my rights as an LGBT man she received our nomination. So why my reluctance? Because I have long-believed that the elections of a leader and a deputy should not be held concurrently. Until I know who our next leader is going to be I feel completely unqualified to vote for a deputy. In the last deputy leadership election I voted for Tom Watson. Had I known Jeremy Corbyn would win the leadership, which at the time seemed as likely as three-legged Bob winning the 4.30 at Epsom, I might very well have voted for someone who could at least bear to sit on the same bench as him.

'But we can't possibly have two women in charge of the party', say some. Why ever not? Perhaps the naysayers worry that two women can't possibly match the electoral success of our most recent all-male leadership. Which is as good a reason to support them both as I can think of.

Meanwhile, and talking of women, the redoubtable and extremely capable Emily Thornberry, whom I have long-admired as a straight-talking champion of commonsense, remains six CLP nominations short of securing her name on the final ballot paper. That is a shame. Ironically Thornberry is a victim of her own plain-speaking (and Tweeting) at a time when newspeak is the last thing we need more of if we are to reconnect with the electorate. It is also unfortunate for her that the word 'Islington' appears in her job description. There is a feeling that the fewer names that appear on our ballot papers, the less opportunity there is for us simple-minded members to get it wrong. Maybe we have after all learned something from the last few tumultuous years that culminated in such catastrophic defeat at the last election. I mean, look what happened last time someone was nominated simply to set the cat among the pigeons.

Cary Gee is a former contributor to the New Statesman, Tribune, trade union officer, and LGBT campaigner.

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