A Valentine Letter to Rt Hon Sir Keir Rodney Starmer MP
by Ahmed Sule, CFA
Happy Valentine. I trust you and the family are doing fine.
I have taken an interest in British politics right from my youth. I recollect my father telling me to watch the news and summarise what transpired during the day. My father was a Labour supporter and would educate me about the policies of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. However, he was not too fond of the Conservative Party. So, as I grew up, pitching my tent with the Labour Party was a no brainer. I voted for Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn. I even knocked on doors to get people to vote for Labour.
Since your emergence as leader of the Labour Party in April 2020, I am compelled to sit on the sidelines. It is not easy to know what you stand for. Rather than sticking to your conviction, you are too cautious in your approach and take direction from where you believe the popular opinion is heading. In the words of Martin Luther King, “You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup Poll of the majority opinion.” Shortly after George Floyd’s death, as protests erupted worldwide against anti-black racism, you decided to align with the Black Lives Matter movement by posting an image kneeling. You wrote on social media, “We kneel with all those opposing anti-Black racism. #BlackLivesMatter.” How convenient. A few days after expressing solidarity with BLM, when you were asked about BLM’s call to defund the policy, you stated that defunding the police in the UK would be nonsense and that Black Lives Matter is a moment. Your response of calling BLM a moment generated a backlash from the black community, so you expressed regret to a group of black journalists for calling the movement a moment.
After the Black Lives Matter saga, your flip-flop with Jesus House Church was next. To recap, Jesus House, one of the most popular black churches in the country, received a lot of praise for its role in setting up a vaccination centre to get people in the black community vaccinated. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles even visited the church’s vaccination centre. You also visited the church and posted a video online highlighting the visit to score political browning points. Unfortunately for you, this publicity stunt backfired spectacularly as the LGBT community complained about the church’s attitude towards gay people. Just as you dumped the Black Lives Matter movement upon a change in sentiments, you also distanced yourself from Jesus House, saying, “I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit… I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake, and I accept that.” Sir Keir, for how long will you continue to ride the coat tail of popular opinion before you decide what cause to champion?
As the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, you are expected to question and scrutinise the work of the government. With all due respect, you have failed in carrying out your duty. It should be no surprise that the New Yorker described the Labour Party as Britain’s Lost Opposition. Instead of serving as an effective opposition, you expend your energy attacking your predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, and your party’s left-wing segment. After Labour faced a humiliating defeat in the Hartlepool by-election in May 2021, you attempted to sack the left-leaning Angela Rayner from her roles as Labour’s party chair and national campaign instead of accepting responsibility for the defeat. The media reported that Rayner was left blindsided when your spokesperson announced that you would be reshuffling your Shadow Cabinet as she delivered a speech in Westminster. A few months later, party members accused you in December 2021 of hatching a plot to abolish Rayner’s role as Labour Deputy leader. Could Angela Rayner’s substantial political capital and her acceptance by the masses be a plausible reason for the various attempts to undermine her? A house divided against itself certainly cannot stand.
We all know what Jeremy Corbyn stood for, “For the many, not the few;” we all know what Gordon Brown stood for, “Our new economic approach is rooted in ideas which stress the importance of macro-economics, post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory and the symbiotic relationships between growth and investment, and people and infrastructure”, we all know what War Criminal Tony Blair stood for, “As I have said throughout, I have no doubt that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.” We even know what the lying, fumbling, corrupt and xenophobic Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands for. But the million-pound question is, What does Keir Stand for? Malcolm X once said, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” It would help if you were true to your conviction instead of trying to be all things to all people. Since you do not have a compelling vision, it is challenging to differentiate you and Boris Johnson.
You will make a more effective leader if you channel your energy towards challenging the ruling party instead of supporting its controversial policies. You have become more Tory and less Labour in your bid to move to the centre. When the Tory government introduced the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill, i.e. the “Spy Cops” bill, which could authorise undercover officers to torture and commit other horrendous crimes in the name of national security, you ordered your MPs to abstain on the third reading of the Bill. You equally took the path of least resistance during the reading of the Overseas Operation Bill, which exempts British armed forces from prosecution for crimes against humanity committed overseas by instructing your MPs not to vote against the Bill. When three junior shadow ministers in your party defied the party whip, you sacked them.
When the Conservative government was toying with the idea of vaccine passports in April 2021, you said that vaccine passports are un-British. During a Prime Minister Question exchange debating the vaccine passport, you told the Prime Minister, “I remember when the prime minister used to say he’d eat an ID card if he ever had to produce one, and now he is introducing one.” In an interview in October 2021, you indicated your opposition to vaccine mandates saying that though you would encourage all NHS staff to be double vaccinated, “I wouldn’t make it mandatory.” However, in December 2021, when the government introduced its so-called Plan B Covid Measures, which included the implementation of vaccine passports and the proposed sacking of unvaccinated NHS workers, you supported and voted in line with the government. When you choose to support inhumane government policies to boost your poll ratings, you could end up in situations like when Rod Humphris threw you out of his pub .
I have often wondered what could account for your lacklustre leadership and have realised that perhaps you are suffering from a crisis of identity. You recently said that you are ready to try to emulate Tony Blair by putting forward a policy platform that can take Labour into power. I guess this could be why you could come up with such a ridiculous comment like “That’s why the likes of the Stop the War coalition are not benign voices for peace. At best they are naive; at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies.” However, the more you try to copy Tony Blair, the more you come across as a pound shop Tony Blair tribute act. When you are not role-playing Tony Blair, you are trying to copy Boris Johnson by hugging the Union Jack.
You need to look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Who am I?” Am I Tony Blair or not? Am I a Tory or not? Am I Boris Johnson with a better hairstyle or not? Am I a Black Lives Matter Supporter or not? Am I for social justice or not? Until you answer this fundamental question, you will continue to struggle with your message.
You have a lot going in your favour. During the PMQ sessions, you convincingly outwit your opponent. You have also been given a free pass by the mainstream British press (a luxury Corbyn, Ed Miliband, and Gordon Brown never enjoyed). In addition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to move from one scandal to another. Yet, you are not capitalising on these opportunities. Your message lacks bite, passion and substance. The current strategy of “Vote for me so that you don’t have to deal with Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party” is flawed. Equally destructive is your gesture politics of kneeling, flag-hugging, pub hopping and church photobombing.
Even though I have no intention of jumping ship to join the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Party, I never imagined that there would be a time when I would not be supportive of the Labour Party. Of course, my analysis might be wrong, and you could win the next General Election. However, be rest assured that even if this is the case and you get 66,999,999 people voting for you, the lone dissenting vote will be mine.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA
14 February 2022