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Ex-Labour Party member and Corbynite commentator Aaron Bastani, 37, was far from impressed with the decision taken by the Leader of the Opposition’s office to take on the membership’s left wing. Mr Bastani, who co-founded the left-wing news outlet Novara Media in 2011, instead suggested the Labour leadership should have offered solutions to the fuel crisis and addressed the public’s ongoing economic concerns.
“What I did find very odd”, he explained, “was that the atmosphere cultivated by the leadership seemed totally at odds with reality.”
As images of growing queues and chaos at petrol stations reached Mr Bastani’s phone, he said he felt as if those images were “a million miles away from what Keir Starmer was saying”.
Bastani, who reportedly resigned from his local Labour association in Hampshire earlier this year, also suggested that while Starmer had taken on the party’s left, he had not done enough to see them off.
“The idea they’ve locked them out is nonsense,” he said.
‘At odds with reality’ Corbynite commentator slams Starmer over taking on the Labour left
Mr Bastani on the BBC
“The reality is that a soft left candidate or even a left candidate can get 40 nominations.”
Despite Bastani’s confidence, Starmer’s decision to raise the number of nominations needed for a potential leadership candidate to 20 percent would have prevented Jeremy Corbyn reaching the ballot in 2015, Diana Abbott in 2010 and John McDonnell in 2008.
After facing down his critics over the weekend, the Labour Party leader, who succeeded Jeremy Corbyn in April last year, delivered his maiden conference speech on Wednesday.
While Mr Bastani was critical of the decision to prioritise internal factionalism, he did praise Starmer for producing an “adequate” performance on the conference floor.
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Diane Abbot, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would not have made the ballot under new rules.
In his summary of Starmer’s 90-minute speech, Bastani said: “There were no screw ups, there were a few dramatic moments, it went on for too long, I thought it was quite dull, there was nothing substantive but then most people aren’t going to listen to the whole thing, the general election is two years away, I’d probably give it a seven out of 10.”
More favourable commentators on the centre-left have lauded Starmer’s performance in Brighton as a potential turning point for the party.
But Bastani challenged this by assessing how successful these predominantly Blairite commentators had been at analysing events in British politics in the last decade.
“They are the exact same people who said Labour would be 20 points ahead [if Corbyn was replaced as leader], the exact same people who said if we re-ran the Brexit referendum Remain would win by a landslide, the exact same people who said Ed Miliband was going to be Prime Minister in 2015 and the exact same people who said Brexit couldn’t happen in 2016,” he said.
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Labour Party conference 2021
Instead, Mr Bastani claimed the Labour leader’s conference concluding speech was something of a “high watermark moment for Starmerism”.
He added: “I could be wrong here because we are in a moment of national crisis but that seemed to me like his best.”
The fuel crisis of 2000 briefly saw William Hague’s Tories take the lead over Tony Blair’s then almost hegemonic Labour Party.
Starmer has thus far not benefitted from a poll lead in the current fuel crisis.
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Sir Keir Starmer delivering his conference speech
Looking back at Starmer’s first 18-months in Southside, Bastani also claimed the Holborn & St Pancras MP had missed out on an opportunity to overtake the Tories.
“I think Covid gave Starmer this incredible gift of a year to dismantle his opponents, to craft original policy and to create a compelling message but he’s done none of them.”
Instead, Bastani believes Starmer may only make modest inroads in an general election against Boris Johnson – in which Labour loses even more seats in the Red Wall but picks up others in southern England and Wales.
However, speaking to Express.co.uk earlier on in Labour’s conference, polling guru Sir John Curtice said Starmer could attempt to win back the Red Wall either by uniting the Remainer vote or by trying to win back ex-Labour voting Leavers.
Other commentators on the centre-left have lauded Starmer’s speech as a potential turning point.
Despite this, the Strathclyde University professor pointed out how Boris Johnson has arguably outmanoeuvred Starmer on the economy and the role of the state.
“The difficulty they face is that Johnson is a Blairite in that he has parked his tanks on Labour’s lawn,” he said.
This was echoed by Bastani when he raised Johnson’s “chameleon-like” flexibility in nationalising elements of the energy and rail industry.
Bastani added: “He’s not an ideologue and I think the stuff you’ve heard from people in the last couple of years that Boris Johnson is a fascist or whatever is bananas.
Corbyn during the 2016 referendum
“I think he has said things that are racist… but it is clearly ridiculous to frame him like that.”
Surprisingly, Bastani also appeared to pay a passing tribute to the Conservative Party’s most successful and controversial Prime Ministers.
While Bastani unapologetically disagrees with Margaret Thatcher on an array of issues, he implied the Iron Lady’s break from the centrist status-quo should be emulated by the modern day left, albeit on the other end of the political spectrum.
“My worry is there is this whole obsession with the centre – the Tories always win from the centre, Labour always win from the centre, you can’t offer a break from the status quo – [but] the most successful politician of the 20th century was Margaret Thatcher and that is exactly what she did.”
“I feel like Labour aren’t going to have a Prime Minister with a majority until they offer something that is a break from the status quo, which is populist and that speaks to the nation about a project of reconstruction but that is not where Starmer is right now.”