Keir Starmer accused of ‘behaving like Putin’ as Corbyn officially blocked from standing for Labour

Margaret Hodge calls comments by Momentum founder ‘ridiculous’ – as blocking motion passed 22 votes to 12

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 28 March 2023 19:23 BST
Momentum founder accuses Keir Starmer of ‘behaving like Putin’ over Corbyn ban

The founder of the left-wing pressure group Momentum has been condemned for comparing Keir Starmer to Russia leader Vladimir Putin for blocking Jeremy Corbyn from standing for Labour.

Sir Keir’s move to block the ex-leader from running was backed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, where the leader’s motion passed by 22 votes to 12.

Mr Corbyn strongly suggested he would run against Labour as an independent – saying he had “no intention of stopping” representing Islington North, adding: “I will not be intimidated into silence.”

Momentum founder Jon Lansman said Sir Keir was behaving like a “Putin of the Labour Party” for stopping the former leader from standing as a Labour candidate in his Islington North constituency.

“We’ve got to recognise that the radical policies that we had under Jeremy Corbyn... were not the problem,” he told Times Radio. “The party still supports them. I think we should be campaigning still for radical policy.”

Mr Lansman added: “We’re a democratic party. This is not an authoritarian party. Keir Starmer unfortunately is behaving as if he was some kind of Putin of the Labour Party. That is not the way we do politics.”

But Dame Margaret Hodge said his comments were “half laughable” as she backed Sir Keir’s move to block Mr Corbyn at today’s five-hour meeting of the party’s NEC.

“It’s totally inappropriate and ridiculous to compare a dictator fighting a war to someone who has zero tolerance against racism in the form of antisemitism in the Labour Party, and who is fighting for what is right,” said the veteran Labour MP and campaigner.

Mr Corbyn remains a Labour member, but is sitting as an independent after he was suspended over his failure to offer an appropriate response to the damning EHRC report on antisemitism in 2020.

Allies have suggested Mr Corbyn will stand as an independent in Islington North, the seat he has held since 1983. “There will be an announcement by the end of the week,” one source told The Times, while another said: “The debate is over. He will stand.”

In a statement, Mr Corbyn said the NEC’s decision to block his Labour candidacy for Islington North was “a shameful attack on party democracy, party members and natural justice” and “shows contempt for the millions of people who voted for our party in 2017 and 2019”.

He said: “Keir Starmer has instead launched an assault on the rights of his own Labour members, breaking his pledge to build a united and democratic party that advances social, economic and climate justice.”

Allies say Jeremy Corbyn will stand against Labour as independent
Allies say Jeremy Corbyn will stand against Labour as independent (PA Archive)

Mr Corbyn added: “I will not be intimidated into silence. I have spent my life fighting for a fairer society on behalf of the people of Islington North, and I have no intention of stopping now.”

Standing against Labour would likely see him suspended or thrown out of the party. It is not clear whether other Labour members could be thrown for backing him in Islington North.

Momentum condemned Sir Keir’s move “venal and duplicitous act”, describing Tuesday’s decision by the NEC as “a dark day for democracy”.

A spokesperson for the group added: “This anti-democratic attack is a slap in the face for the millions inspired by Jeremy’s leadership, and further damages the Labour Party.”

Sir Keir Starmer has moved to block Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North
Sir Keir Starmer has moved to block Jeremy Corbyn in Islington North (PA Wire)

Labour MP Shabana Mahmood, the party’s national campaign co-ordinator, said the decision was “a clear demonstration of Keir making changes to our party to make sure that we can win the trust of the British people again”.

She said Mr Corbyn had “failed” to take responsibility “and that’s why we’ve made the decision we have today”.

Responding to claims the move is anti-democratic, Ms Mahmood said: “Constituency members do get a chance to vote, and they always do, but it is always left to the NEC to endorse those candidates, so this is the NEC doing exactly what it’s there to do.”

Ed Miliband has insisted there is “no mystery” about Sir Keir’s proposal to block Mr Corbyn from running at the next election – after it emerged the motion referred to Labour’s electoral prospects.

However, the motion argues that’s Labour electoral prospects would be “significantly diminished” if Mr Corbyn were allowed to stand as a candidate, rather than his handling of the EHRC report.

“I’m not privy to exactly what goes on in the National Executive, but I don’t think there is any mystery about the background to today’s discussion at the National Executive Committee,” Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Miliband added: “It’s about one thing, which is about Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the EHRC report on antisemitism and his refusal to apologise for that reaction. That is the background of this. I don’t think there’s any mystery about that.”

He was also pressed on concerns by Martin Forde QC – the barrister who carried out a review of the party’s internal culture – that Labour has a “hierarchy” that sees Islamophobia and anti-black racism not taken as seriously as antisemitism.

“I certainly don’t have that hierarchy. Keir Starmer doesn’t,” Mr Miliband said. “The Labour Party has got to be a safe place for ethnic minorities, for people of all backgrounds, and all forms of racism, all forms of prejudice and all forms of discrimination should be taken as seriously as each other.”

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