By John McGregor, a translator and political violence researcher
In late September, Al Jazeera’s investigative unit released a documentary series called the Labour Files. This in-depth investigation is based on a 500GB leak of British Labour Party documents, an enormous story in its own right. It shows how Labour Party officials worked against the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, attacking and expelling other members of the party, and suspending constituency groups.
The Labour Files is, or should be, a big story. Al Jazeera is a global mainstream, state-backed media outlet, and the corruption and collusion it has exposed across state institutions, mainstream media, and the Labour Party apparatus is extraordinary. Whilst dedicated independent media have uncovered and analyzed much of the anti-Corbyn campaign, both internal and external to the Labor Party, Al Jazeera’s leaked documents give it far greater insight.
Instead, there has been little comment from the British media. As The Canary noted, the Express ran an article on the series but other major outlets have either ignored it or mentioned it in passing. The Guardian found space to mention the Labour Files in an opinion piece by Nesrine Malik. This piece, which noted that Starmer is “on his way to a coronation”, focused on the issues of Islamophobia and racism towards people of color within the Labour Party.
It is perhaps not too surprising that the same media outlets that worked with Labour insiders to topple Corbyn don’t want to report on their own efforts. A 2019 BBC Panorama special was key to cementing in the media narrative allegations of institutional anti-Semitism against the Labour Party under Corbyn. Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party for claiming that the scale of the anti-Semitism problem was exaggerated for political reasons by his opponents and the media. Notwithstanding the various investigations into the Labour Party, including the Forde investigation that confirmed accusations of anti-Semitism had been weaponized within the party, current Labour leader Keir Starmer has not restored the whip to Corbyn.
With Corbyn sidelined, the Labour Party under Starmer has been the political beneficiary of a series of Tory policies that have been catastrophic for British people. The UK is currently experiencing multi-industry strikes, struggling to maintain the value of the Pound, and facing national protests over the cost of living. Whilst the unashamed and bumbling rule-breaking of Boris Johnson might have incensed the public, long-term Tory policies and approaches to government are costing the party its support and pushing working people to respond. A number of British voters, as seen in the protests, are angry at the rapid cost of living increases, many directly caused by Tory warmongering foreign policy, insane Brexit plans, and unbalanced fiscal policy.
In a system with two parties of government, it is somewhat inevitable that the opposition will eventually form government. In the UK, the Tories have now led the country through more than a decade of austerity and into an as yet unresolved, although already catastrophic, Brexit. YouGov’s most recent voting intention poll in the UK, from 28-29 September, found if there were a general election tomorrow, 54% of voters would choose Labour while only 21% would vote Conservative. This represents a prodigious change in less than a week. In the survey from 23-25 September, YouGov found support for Labour at 45% and support for the Tories at 28%.
New Tory PM Liz Truss seems to have been directly responsible for much of this change. When asked by YouGov on 6-7 September who would make a better PM, 25% of respondents nominated Liz Truss, 32% selected Keir Starmer, 40% were unsure, and 3% refused to respond. By 28-29 September, only 15% of respondents thought Truss would make a better PM compared to 44% for Starmer (and 37% unsure; Truss, it would appear, is so bad she makes undecided people certain Starmer would have to be a better PM).
With Truss’ almost complete lack of political appeal propelling Starmer forward, his political platform has a good chance of eventually replacing a decade and a half of Tory leadership. Starmers politics are far more appealing to big business than those of his predecessor Corbyn. A YouGov poll undertaken for The Times in late August found that 47% of Tory voters were in favor of returning energy companies to public ownership in light of the current crisis. In red wall seats, traditionally Labour seats where the Tories under Johnson made large inroads, 53% of Tory voters were supportive of renationalization.
Confronted with the energy crisis and this political sentiment, Keir Starmer proposed in his Labour conference speech to establish Great British Energy. This is a proposed publicly owned company that would invest in wind, solar, tidal, nuclear, and new energy technologies, either alone or alongside the private sector. It will get seed capital from the National Wealth Fund.
Despite Starmer saying in his speech that the move was the right thing to do “for energy independence from tyrants like Putin”, the proposal, which would only be implemented if Labour won power in any case, would take years to deliver returns of any sort and does nothing to address the current cost of energy in the UK.
Notwithstanding widespread support for nationalization, Starmer’s Labour was abundantly clear. The Guardian quoted a Labour spokesperson as confirming that this move is “not about nationalization, this is a new player into the market”.
Even with a decent level of support from the other side of politics, and complete failure of the market to provide British people with the basic essentials, Starmer is not interested in the opportunity to roll back one small step in the otherwise constant march of privatization in the UK. Instead, Starmer’s Labour would prefer to spend public resources on developing new technologies that will eventually benefit private operators by “making strategic investment that the companies shy away from”.
Risky public investments in new technologies that will only produce energy, if they are successful, in the years to come is clearly of little help to the people in the UK who are struggling right now to afford the essentials in life. It also stands in stark contrast to proposals from the Labour Party under Corbyn, when it proposed renationalizing the entire distribution network and the retail arms of the largest gas and electricity suppliers.
When Labour proposed this last move in 2019, Nils Prately argued in The Guardian that there was no reason for the move:
So what problem is Labour trying to address? The government can set the price of gas and electricity if it wishes and there is no shortage of would-be suppliers. Of all the proposed nationalisations, this looks the strangest.
The problem that Labour was trying to address has now become an extremely acute reality: the price of gas and electricity has become unaffordable for large numbers of British people. This problem has been growing. It was a predictable and intentional outcome of Tory and Blairite policies, and the NATO war with Russia. Also predictable in this context was the disenfranchisement of British voters with the Tory party after so many years of austerity, corruption, and Brexit failures.
Large swathes of the British media, including the BBC, worked diligently and deceitfully with the establishment of the Labour Party itself to ensure that when the British people finally faced the depths of Tory policy and were forced to reject the party out of basic survival instinct, they would either break off to the Right or fall into the safe hands of Keir Starmer’s Labour. Right as this process is unfolding in the UK, Al Jazeera has exposed much of its inner workings, but the British media has little interest in revealing its own role in neutralizing the threat of Corbyn’s Labour to corporate interests.