It’s Starmer versus the Sourdough Socialists: Foot battled Bennites. Kinnock fought Militant. But the current Labour leader faces the oddest Left-wing cult yet
Many Labour leaders have had to face down radical irritants in their party. Poor old Michael Foot spent as much time battling Bennites – named after firebrand Labour MP Tony Benn – as he did Margaret Thatcher. Neil Kinnock locked horns with Militant, the Trotskyist sect that attached itself like a carbuncle to Labour in the 1980s. Tony Blair went to war with ‘the dinosaurs’, as he referred to Old Labour types spouting 1970s ideas.
Now Sir Keir Starmer faces a clash with possibly the oddest Lefty cult ever to rise up in the Labour Party: what I call the Sourdough Socialists.
They’re not like the socialists of old. Gone are the donkey jackets and beige suits that were the uniform of yesteryear’s radicals.
This wing of the Left – so-called because they’re more likely to spend their Saturdays shopping for posh bread than selling copies of Socialist Worker on damp street corners – has a fresher look. Their uniform is a statement T-shirt and possibly the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.
You’re more likely to find a Sourdough Socialist on TikTok than a picket line. Online memes, not projectiles, are their weapon of choice.
Sir Keir Starmer faces a clash with possibly the oddest Lefty cult ever to rise up in the Labour Party : what I call the Sourdough Socialists
Former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the rally as Palestinians supporters take part in a demonstration in central London on Saturday
They wrap themselves in the Palestinian flag while looking down at anyone who decks their house out in St George’s flags.
They spend more time agitating for the right of men who identify as women to use the ladies’ loo than they do for the right of men and women to earn a decent wage.
They reminisce about the miners’ strike even as they fight against plans in Cumbria to open Britain’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years.
And they loathe Brexit. They will never forgive us little people for voting Leave.
That’s the biggest gulf between these new socialists and the old ones. For all their faults, Labour’s long-gone radicals – Benn, Barbara Castle, Peter Shore – were Eurosceptic to a man and woman.
Now the new lot are gunning for Sir Keir. Yes, they were on the same side as him in the Brexit wars: he, too, wanted to void the vote for Leave and hold a second referendum. But they view him as a sellout. A cardboard centrist who has betrayed the promise of the Corbyn moment.
They will never forgive him for suspending his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, from the party.
The big question is whether Starmer will budge and accommodate the Sourdough wing. Time will tell. But he’ll regret it if he doesn’t.
We are going to hear a great deal from Starmer in the coming months as he sets his sights on Downing Street. But there is one word that is unlikely to cross his lips – the S-word. Despite being named after the first leader of the Labour Party – Keir Hardie – by his Labour-loving parents, Starmer hardly ever utters the word socialism.
Though he leads a party whose own constitution describes it as a ‘democratic socialist party’, he dodges such language like the plague.
Three years ago he told his local paper, the Camden New Journal: ‘I am a socialist.’ Since then, though, there has been barely a dickie bird about socialism. It seems Sir Keir and his spin doctors have decided to ditch all talk of socialism in case it frightens off voters.
It’s a smart move. Mainly because socialism just doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
Thanks to the Sourdoughs and their cultural appropriation of the S-word, socialism now means being spectacularly snobby towards working people, not supporting them.
Of course, there were always problems with socialism, especially state socialism – the goal of many old Labour radicals – which would have been horrible for liberty and living standards.
In 1933, following a long spell for the party in the political wilderness, Labour’s Stafford Cripps helped produce a book titled Problems Of A Socialist Government.
Neil Kinnock locked horns with Militant, the Trotskyist sect that attached itself like a carbuncle to Labour in the 1980s
Tony Blair went to war with ‘the dinosaurs’, as he referred to Old Labour types spouting 1970s ideas
Cripps was a posh radical Labour MP, educated at Winchester College, the expensive private school attended by Rishi Sunak, who was often mocked as ‘the Honourable Member for Moscow’ on account of his super-Red tendencies.
In that book he spelled out candidly what socialism would do to freedom. If capitalism was overthrown, he said, there would always be ‘the greatest temptation for the government to become more and more dictatorial’. Let’s hope that isn’t what Starmer was thinking of when he let slip ‘I am a socialist’ three years ago.
And yet for all their crankiness, yesteryear socialists at least paid lip service to improving working people’s lot.
Today’s Sourdough Socialists could not be more different. Many seem motored by a contempt for working people, who they regard as racist, easily swayed by demagogic politicians and the popular press.
Socialism has become the plaything of snooty, rich, moral infants, making it a toxic word. Starmer and co are wise to avoid it.
The fact is that Sourdough Socialists are out of touch with public opinion on every issue.
They march alongside radical Islamists who holler about ‘jihad’, where the rest of us wonder what is also being done to protect beleaguered Jewish citizens.
They think a man who says he’s a woman is literally a woman, where the rest of us are more circumspect.
Starmer needs to draw a line in the sand between himself and this genuinely loony Left.
Yes they will whip up Twitterstorms against him. But he should ignore them. Better to be on the side of the silent majority than the noisy, annoying minority.
Brendan O’Neill is chief political writer at Spiked.
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