Labour left must work with Starmer or risk ‘return to tomb’, says Corbyn adviser


Labour’s left must work constructively with Keir Starmer and resist the temptation to go “back in our sealed tomb”, Jeremy Corbyn’s former policy chief has warned, amid a growing split on the left over how to respond to the new leader.

Andrew Fisher, a key figure during Corbyn’s leadership, acknowledged doubts within the left over Starmer’s sincerity in endorsing a series of policies drawn up during the Corbyn era. However, he said it was the responsibility of senior figures within the party’s left to reassure new members that Corbyn’s replacement would not lead to their marginalisation.

A debate is already under way over how the left should respond, with other senior figures calling on the left wing to have a plan to gain control within the party once again when opportunities arise. Others are watching and waiting. Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s former chief of staff, told the Observer that dissent could quickly grow if Starmer ignored the concerns of the left.

Jeremy Corbyn



Jeremy Corbyn on the night five years ago when he was announced as the new leader of the Labour party. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

Fisher said Starmer’s 10 leadership election pledges, which included commitments on abolishing tuition fees, taxing the wealthy and public ownership, was “still basically our policy programme”.

He added: “There’s the kind of people like me, members for 20-odd years – or 40-odd years for people of Jeremy and John McDonnell’s generation – who need to be careful not to go back to shouting from the sidelines, thinking, ‘We’re back in our sealed tomb, we’re not in the shadow cabinet. We’re not on the front bench. We’re not relevant. We’re hated by the leadership’.

“We’re not in that situation. You can clearly see some people think that is the default setting, so we should go back to that. I think that’s a miscalculation.

“The left has got to build an alliance with that centre-left of the party that voted for Starmer – and a lot of Corbyn supporters who voted for Starmer – to defend that kind of programme. That’s the sort of constructive role we’ve got to play.”

Fisher’s intervention echoes that of former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who received some criticism within the left after saying Starmer had gauged his response to the government’s handling of Covid-19 “exactly right”. He added that he believed Starmer was a socialist.

However, others who worked within the Corbyn regime say the left must acknowledge it has already lost influence over the party’s direction and be more forthright in its dealings with Starmer and his team.

“Some are now saying, ‘don’t worry, it’s fine. We’ve shifted the conversation to the left. Starmer isn’t as bad as Tony Blair. We’ve still got the 10 pledges’,” said one former frontbench adviser.

“I think that’s the most dangerous line the left could take. We need to own the fact we’ve lost the party, and have a plan to win it back.

“I don’t mean we should be launching a leadership challenge. That’s ridiculous. But the campaign group has been very quiet and there is no leadership.”

Among the most combative in public so far has been Howard Beckett, a member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) and potentially the next leader of the hugely powerful Unite union.

Karie Murphy



Karie Murphy, Jeremy Corbyn’s former chief of staff, says the left must hold the new leader to account. Photograph: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

Work is already under way to unify various factions of the left into a more coherent group, to ensure that the gains under Corbyn are not allowed to evaporate under Starmer. One of the figures coordinating the efforts is Murphy, who had huge influence during his leadership.

She said a choice between cooperation or opposition to the Starmer regime was “too binary”, but said Starmer had let Corbyn down at times and that the left did need to hold the new leader to account.

“Did Keir wrap himself in the Corbyn flag to appear popular to the membership? Well, he was running a campaign. So of course, there would be an element of that,” she said.

“But my view is that he also believes in it. That doesn’t mean to say that the membership or the left should just entrust everything to Keir, because he’s going to come under pressure from the right wing of the Labour party, parliament and the Tories. Keir is an honourable man, a likable person. But is it the responsibility of the left to ensure he’s held to account? Of course it is, and he would welcome that accountability.

“It’s up to him to act responsibly. I don’t think he’s always acted responsibly in the past, but that’s a personal view. Is Howard Beckett correct to call out and hold him to account? Absolutely, that’s what he is on the NEC for. And if it continues to happen, then Howard will not be a lone voice in that. Other people will criticise him and that division will grow.

“I’m part of a left group who wants to work with Keir Starmer for the greater good of the working class. We’re not meeting to devise a mechanism the way that others did – an anaconda strategy – to strangle the leadership. It’s completely the reverse. We want to engage in a positive platform on workers’ rights, ensuring that the 10 pledges he stood on are translated into reality.”

Efforts to co-ordinate a major gathering of the left are still under way, though they have been disrupted by the pandemic. A Unite insider said: “There have been some very active discussions over the summer with key people on the left and it is clear there is an appetite to work together to help Labour back into power.

“When conditions allow, there will be an event that brings us together. That’s clearly not possible now, but it is great to see the enthusiasm for ensuring Labour stands for a better, fairer Britain and that Keir’s 10-point electoral platform is delivered.”



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