Andrew Feinstein: Copenhagen 2016

Unseating the Right Hon Sir Keir

In a bit of political theatre, two campaigns have selected Andrew Feinstein to contest Keir Starmer’s seat in the forthcoming general election. Carla Roberts reports

There is no doubt that Andrew Feinstein would make an outstanding leftwing candidate for any parliamentary seat. Born in South Africa, the son of Viennese holocaust survivors, he joined the African National Congress as a teenager and in 1994 became an MP. However, unlike Nelson Mandela, he never joined the South African Communist Party - though was still greeted with jeers of “You communist!” when he first entered parliament.1

Feinstein introduced the first ever motion on the holocaust in South African parliamentary history, stating that “previous suffering” - by Afrikaners at the hands of the British colonisers, or of Jews by the Nazis - in no way justified the brutal oppression of black South Africans or Palestinians.2 In 2001, he resigned from parliament “as a sign of protest against the ANC’s refusal to investigate a £5 billion arms deal that was accused of large-scale corruption” and has lived in London since, working as chief executive of Corruption Watch UK. He is an expert on the arms trade and has written a much-praised book on the subject: The shadow world was made into a documentary film (featuring Feinstein himself) and won various awards, including ‘best documentary feature film’ at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2016.

He might not be a communist or Marxist (he describes himself as a “proud leftie Jew” on X), but he has something that is sorely missing from many self-declared ‘socialists’: the man has a spine. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, he manages to stand up for the Palestinians - and at the same time openly fight the anti-Semitism smear campaign. While Corbyn and his allies (especially John McDonnell) buckled under pressure from the right, promising to do everything and more “to root out anti-Semitism in the party” and sacrificing supporter after supporter, Feinstein had no problem calling out the conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism for what it was - a big lie designed to defeat Corbyn and, crucially, stop all criticism of Israel.

He has spoken at various events and protests organised by Labour Against the Witchhunt and other groups, explaining that false charges of anti-Semitism are designed to weaken and undermine solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

On February 11, Feinstein “won” in a poll conducted by the snazzily-titled Organise Corbyn Inspired Socialist Alliance (Ocisa), which was set up just over 12 months ago with the single purpose of “unseating Keir Starmer” and remains tightly controlled by one Jim Breese. “Over 95% of votes cast by Ocisa members that registered to take part in the process” went to Feinstein, though it is unclear how many people participated - or, indeed, how many “members” the campaign has.3 In any case, we understand that he beat two other candidates. It is actually unclear if Feinstein put his own name forward or if he was ‘nominated’ by somebody. Transparency is not the strong point of the campaign (neither is spelling or grammar!).

The barely legible website explains: “The group is Socialist and aim to implement the 2017 Labour Party election manifesto through a concerted campaign against the current leadership of the Labour Party.”4 The Facebook group explains that you can only participate if you show

adherence to the plan: Because this group wants the implimentation [sic] of the specific plan to remove Kier [sic] Starmer from his seat in Holborn and St Pancras any post, or activity (outside) or comment that undermines this goal will result in removal from the group.

I am not sure if the phrase, “activity (outside)”, really is about policing members’ activity outside of Facebook, which would be … err, astonishing, but I can confirm that I have been removed from the group not once, but twice, for daring to mildly question “the plan”. Still, the Ocisa election fund stands at an impressive £32,020, as we go to press, and there are over 7,000 people in the Facebook group, so Feinstein will not sneer at the group’s support.5

For the Many

The comrade managed to get himself nominated by an additional campaign just before Ocisa went public. On February 12, he tweeted: “I am very grateful to the Camden For the Many local hub and Ocisa for endorsing me as a possible independent candidate in Holborn and St Pancras. I’ve indicated I am willing to stand” - though he wants to have a “more extensive consultative process”.6

For the Many is the “communication and coordination network” founded by Feinstein, Ken Loach, Ian Hodson (Bakers’ Union) and Audrey White (Merseyside Pensioners Association) back in October 2023. But it has not really come to very much and one would be hard-pressed to find details of its ‘Camden hub’ - or any others, to be frank. Between December 10 and February 12, there have been zero posts on any of its social media accounts, and the website has not been updated for a while either.7

As I understand it, the group has been somewhat paralysed, because there has been some ‘disagreement’ about the way forward. One half of the steering committee wants to continue as a network, while the other wants to - wait for it - form a party! And presumably one based on Jeremy Corbyn’s election platform of the same name. Forgive me if I cannot name how many groups/parties/organisations currently exist that are basing themselves on the 2017 Labour Party manifesto - whatever the number is, it is way too many For the Many.

It is absurd that seasoned socialists seem to believe that all they need to do is put forward Corbyn’s entirely reformist and tame manifesto - and the masses will flock towards them. No, comrades, it was not the adopted programme that made millions of people vote for Labour under Corbyn: it was largely the fact that some of the tweaks and reforms proposed could actually have been implemented by a Labour government. There is no chance of any of the myriad of groups and sects doing that.

Andrew Feinstein, we should stress, has not officially hitched his wagon to Corbyn’s programme. He has also not stated if he really believes that he could “unseat Starmer”, as Ocisa’s declared aim states.

In 2019, Starmer won with 64.9% of the vote - admittedly, that was 5.6% less than in 2015. But the 36,641 votes cast for him still represent a whopping majority of almost 30,000. The Tories’ Alexandra Hayward came a distant second with 8,878 votes or 15.6%. That is almost insurmountable. Add to that the fact that this general election will be all about getting rid of the Tories and it does not take a genius to work out: Keir Starmer will not be unseated any time soon.

So why form a campaign that is designed to fail? Why concentrate on one particular politician? Is Starmer really worse than Rishi Sunak, or Jacob Rees-Mogg? It seems that many people on the Labour left still feel incredibly and personally hurt by Corbyn’s defeat - and blame Starmer for it.

Take, for example, journalist and commentator Peter Oborne (not always a friend of the left), who writes that he hopes Feinstein will stand “for the sake of British politics, and public decency”. Yuk. In a long article, he gushes about Feinstein and complains about

Starmer’s brand of cynicism, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth. In 2020, he ran a campaign for the Labour leadership that was fundamentally dishonest. Needing to gain the support of the party’s leftwing membership, he presented a pitch which was entirely at variance with the way he subsequently ran the party. All the indications are that this was done quite deliberately.8

This reflects in a slightly more eloquent way the personally hurt demeanour of many disappointed Corbynites, who probably suffered under the delusion that Corbyn as prime minister would bring them some kind of ‘socialism’. Leaving aside the fact that the ruling class would have done anything in its power (and then some) to prevent that, Corbyn’s programme had precious little to do with actual socialism. It is the illusionary attempt to manage capitalism on behalf of the workers. That has been done many times and we know the results: the Workers’ Party in Brazil, Die Linke in Germany, Rifondazione Comunista in Italy; Syriza in Greece, etc - they all ended up attacking the working class and therefore causing demoralisation and demobilisation.

In reality, of course, the rot in the Labour left began very much from the head. Corbyn and his advisors played a huge role in their own defeat, by rolling over when the first false charges of anti-Semitism were made. Starmer did what pretty much any of Corbyn’s successors would have done - he is no worse and no better than, say, Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper. Yes, he lied a bit. But it was entirely obvious which way the wind was blowing. Anybody who actually believed that Starmer would continue Corbyn’s programme deserves to feel disappointed for the rest of their life.

Starmer has one job and he has done it perfectly: to make the Labour Party ready to become, once again, a second eleven that capitalism can trust. A very important job too, considering the pathetic state of the Tories.

There is nothing wrong at all, of course, with challenging Starmer and other bourgeois politicians at the ballot box. It can be very useful politically - particularly with the current genocidal war against the Palestinians - to stand on a principled political platform. The question is to what purpose and on what political platform.

Leaving aside the current unusual situation in Rochdale (where George Galloway has a real chance of winning the seat from Labour) and Islington (which will in all likelihood be contested by the ‘independent’ Jeremy Corbyn), in most areas socialists have pretty much zero chance of becoming MPs.

Which means, even on the most basic logic, that socialists should make use of elections to put forward a principled political programme - a vision of genuine socialism, in other words - in order to win over the working class and to build a viable political alternative.

  1. twitter.com/andrewfeinstein/status/1487411497454252033.↩︎

  2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Feinstein.↩︎

  3. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100092218000669.↩︎

  4. ocisa.org.uk.↩︎

  5. www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/starmerout.↩︎

  6. twitter.com/andrewfeinstein/status/1757102831604052074,↩︎

  7. www.forthemany.org.uk.↩︎

  8. www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/uk-andrew-feinstein-starmer-challenge-politics-hope-rekindle.↩︎