I find it difficult to believe that a man as capable and intelligent as Keir Starmer did not know exactly what he was saying and why in his now infamous statement. He was consciously trying to have a “Sister Souljah” moment. But this is no longer 1992, so his deliberately Clintonian gesture produced far more pushback than he anticipated. Thus he resorts to “bias training” of the sort we’ve seen in, say, US police forces for decades, with absolutely no effect. These courses are performative gestures without substance.
What’s odd is that Starmer doesn’t seem to realize that this will not mollify people who object to the clear intent of his original statement, nor will it win him any credit with the “center-right” for whom he is striving to “detoxify” Labour and make it worthy once more of the endorsement of Rupert Murdoch, as it was in the glory days of 1997. Like Joe Biden, Starmer, despite his relative youth, seems a figure from a bygone age, unaware of how the political landscape is shifting under his feet, as the world hurtles through a series of unprecedented disruptions: the pandemic, the ever more catastrophic consequences of accelerating climate change, the pent-up rage of generations denied opportunity by austerity and neoliberalism, and people brought to the boiling point by the ever-more brazen injustices of our power systems and their brutal enforcers.
However, like Biden, Starmer also benefits from being the officially sanctioned opposition to an especially monstrous government – i.e., from the “we’re 2 percent less evil” principle that has guided “centrist” politics in the US and UK for decades now. Which means he doesn’t actually have to try so hard to ingratiate himself with a center-right, Murdoch-approved power structure that grows more illegitimate every day. Like Biden, he just needs to more or less stand still in order to look better than the murderous fools in power. There was absolutely no need for him to deliberately and clearly, more than once, denigrate BLM as a “moment,” not a movement; nor any need to say that the call to re-cast the care and security of our communities away from the current combative policing model is “nonsense.” He chose to make these statements, not from “unconscious bias” (a blame-shifting ploy worthy of BoJo: “Offensive? No, it wasn’t me, it was my unconscious bias!”) but from a very conscious, very deliberate application of supposed realpolitik in the 1990s style.
Every sensible person wants to see Johnson gone. But it is entirely legitimate, even necessary to ask if 1990s Clinton-Blair ‘centrism,’ which used symbolic dissing of minority concerns – and also ended up killing 500,000 children with sanctions then waging a war of aggression – is the best way to do this. After all, what world did this kind of “savvy,” realpolitik centrism give us? A world of murderous clowns like Bojo and Trump in power, a world where socioeconomic inequities & state corruption are at unprecedented levels. Why do we want to tread this ground again?