I like Keir Starmer. Looks good in a suit, right? He outclasses Boris Johnson in PMQs every Wednesday. “Forensic.” Seems like the kind of guy both your nan and your dad would like. Hell, I’m a proud Corbynite who happily voted for him to become Leader of the Labour Party.
But here we are again. Another day, another palm to the face. Yesterday, in an interview on BBC Breakfast, the Leader of the Labour Party and the Official Opposition displayed one of the most remarkable examples of cognitive dissonance I think I’ve ever seen.
For anyone not familiar with the clip, according to Starmer, “The Black Lives Matter movement, or moment if you like, internationally is about reflecting something completely different and it is about reflecting on what happened dreadfully in America just a few weeks ago.” Apparently, “It’s a shame it’s getting tangled up in these organisational issues” and he “wouldn’t have any truck with what the organisation is saying about defunding the police or anything else, that’s just nonsense.”
This comes just a couple of weeks after releasing a photo of him taking the knee ‘to show support’ for the Black Lives Matter movement (or is it a moment?) with the caption “We kneel with all those opposing anti-black racism.”
Where do we even start with this?
As a basic outset, for those in the back, Black Lives Matter is not a “moment.” Calling it a “moment” is deliberately reductive of a civil rights struggle to mere happenstance, a reaction to an unfortunate incident. It’s the kind of attitude that claims the police officer who killed George Floyd was just a bad apple.
The idea of defunding the police isn’t anti-police, either. If anything, it’s pro-police: it wants to allow police officers the opportunity to actually do their job of protecting and serving communities across the country while reallocating excessive budgets to social workers, care workers, community programmes and more. It’s a re-balancing of society’s priorities. When suggested reform merely papers over the cracks, defunding and rebuilding are the only legitimate options to create real, positive change.
To on the one hand recognise the act of brutality which saw George Floyd executed by a police officer, but on the other refuse to even criticise the system that fostered and encouraged such devaluing of black life – while carrying out PR exercises to capitalise on injustice – is wilful ignorance at best and malignant racism at worst.
Starmer is not alone, unfortunately. These views on display are symptomatic of the wider disease of institutional racism. When Black Lives Matter protestors chant “silence is violence”, this is precisely what we mean. It’s not enough to be non-racist, rather we must be actively anti-racist. Without bite behind the bark, statements like Starmer’s “we kneel with all those opposing anti-black racism” are empty platitudes that ensure the longevity of racism through hypocritical inaction.
Glad he wears nice suits though. Sigh.