For many months now, Keir Starmer has been telling everyone who would listen that the Labour Party was “under new management.” But there is only so much that can be achieved in politics (or indeed in life) by telling people you have changed. You have to show them.
That’s why far from being the great gamble that some would have you believe, the decision yesterday to suspend former leader Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party was something of a no-brainer. Corbyn led Labour to its worst defeat in decades last year, and for the party to win from that position next time, it needs an overwhelming and convincing narrative on how much it has changed, and how the hard left and the crank left have been sidelined back to irrelevance.
So when Jeremy Corbyn, yesterday morning, sought to diminish the findings of the Equality & Human Rights Commission investigation into anti-semitism in the Labour Party, he played right into Starmer’s hands. Corbyn’s statement gifted Starmer the opportunity to do something so clear, so strong, that it will cut-through to the general public, who generally speaking are disinterested in internal party melodramas. And the early polling evidence? Well a snap survey yesterday afternoon showed that by a margin of four-to-one the general public approve of Corbyn’s suspension from Labour.
That’s not to say there won’t now be an almighty row within the Labour Party. And indeed in the last 24 hours every local Labour Party WhatsApp group has been overheating with strongly held views, strongly expressed. But the reality is that Starmer needs that row, in the same way that Kinnock needed the war with Militant and Blair his “clause 4 moment”. Because in that conflict, he has the opportunity to show the British people who he is and – more importantly – who he is not. From the EHRC report, cataloguing perhaps the greatest litany of shame in the history of the Labour Party, could perversely come redemption.