Sir Keir Starmer: not his evil personality, stupid

Neither money nor personality

Carla Roberts reviews Alexei Sayle (narrator), Chris Reeves (director), Norman Thomas (writer) The big lie II - Starmer and the genocide Platform Films, 2024

Platform Films has produced this follow-up to its documentary Oh Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie about the rise and fall of Corbynism, which has been banned by a large number of venues, festivals and even the Unite union. Unlike that film, however, which we reviewed positively in the Weekly Worker almost exactly 12 months ago,1 we cannot recommend the new film in its current state.2

Yes, it contains moving footage from the various pro-Palestine demonstrations, which makes it interesting as an historic document of sorts. It also features plenty of evidence of rather nasty pro-Israel provocateurs blowing whistles and horns into protestors’ ears to try and get a reaction.

Before its “world premiere” on June 16 (Not the Andrew Marr show on Zoom), producer Norman Thomas explained that the calling of the July 4 general election had led to the understandable decision to try to “rush out the film with a few rough edges, when it comes to editing”. And, sure enough, the six chapters do feel a bit cobbled together. Also, the film spends a considerable amount of time concentrating on Keir Starmer’s (initial) opposition to a ceasefire - without explaining that this is now out of date, with Joe Biden having given the green light on that front some time ago.

We would argue, however, that it is not the editing, but the politics that are the key problem with the film - or, more to the point, the lack thereof. The advert, with the subtitle, ‘Starmer and the genocide’, asks, “Why has the leader of the Labour Party backed a genocide?’3 In trying to answer that question, the film strays into rather dumb, if not outright dangerous, conspiracy theories.

As an aside, depending on the success of this film, we might very well see rightwingers and centrist ‘commentators’ like Owen Jones and Paul Mason being wheeled out again to condemn the film’s ‘anti-Semitism’, just as they did with the first one. They would be wrong again. It is interesting that these useful idiots are currently shedding crocodile tears over the mass killings of tens of thousands of Palestinians. We can see all over social media, for example, a video of our Owen, wailing about how “Gaza has been such a clarifying moment for me, that has changed me forever”.4 Ruffling his own hair, his eyes closed in horror, he laments: “I cannot believe how the world does not shout about Gaza from the top of its lungs.” He goes on: “I cannot believe how people render themselves complicit. They have crossed a red line over Gaza and I cannot forgive them.” Presumably by “them” he means the Labour Party, seeing as he resigned his membership a few months ago to set up the dodgy campaign, We Deserve Better.5

He could of course also be referring to his slightly younger self, who was more than complicit in the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt. Just a few days before the 2017 general election, for example, he complained in his column in The Guardian about Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, that Jeremy Corbyn should resign and that Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker should be kicked out of the party over their alleged anti-Semitism. Perhaps he is finally apologising for his own “complicity” in spreading the big lie that criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism? Does he finally understand that the smear campaign in the Labour Party was designed exactly for a situation like the current massacre in Gaza, to silence all critics and allow Israel to act with impunity? Alas, no such self-recognition from Mr Jones: He has just had another go at Jackie Walker for “engaging in anti-Semitic tropes”.6 Some people never learn.

Back to the film. While it does not stray into anti-Semitism, the film tries very hard - and fails spectacularly - to explain Starmer’s silence when it comes to Israel’s genocidal campaign in Palestine. It starts in a rather self-contradictory way: “Why does Labour love Israel?” a headline asks and the film goes on to show how all Labour governments and leaders (bar Corbyn) supported the expulsion of the Palestinians in order to set up Israel and, later, the ongoing systematic discrimination against them by the Zionist state. So there is really nothing new about Starmer doing the same thing.

Much worse

But no, the film argues, there are things that make Starmer much worse than any other Labour leader. We are presented with two main reasons: there is Starmer’s “anti-democratic personality” (more on that below), but chiefly money. Put bluntly, the film very much peddles the popular ‘follow the money’ line, which rarely works to explain, well, anything.

The most problematic segment shows an article with the title, “23,000 members have left the Labour Party”, while Alexei Sayle reads: “Important in how Starmer acts, many believe, is where his new Labour Party gets its money”. Cut to Mary Evans, a councillor from Hastings, who explains: “Because the party has expelled so many members, they are in a really tight spot when it comes to delivering leaflets and such things. So they have become like the Conservative Party, relying on big donors, so that they can pay for mailshots and adverts.” Asa Winstanley then says that Labour is “relying on the same financial donors … the corporate donors, the Lord Sainsburys, the pro-Israel lobbyists as well.” After which Greg Hadfield from Brighton says: “He’s in their thrall, he’s being taken captive by the machine, and this is a very dark machine indeed.”

While none of what the three comrades say is particularly wrong as such, their comments have been edited in a way to give the impression that the pro-Israel lobby basically paid Starmer (and continues to pay him) just so that he would adopt his out-and-out pro-Israel line. This is certainly an easy and popular ‘analysis’ - and also entirely wrong.

Firstly, the witch-hunt against the left in the party clearly started under Corbyn himself. His general secretary, Jennie Formby, proudly boasted in the famous ‘leaked report’ how seriously she and Corbyn took the many (almost exclusively false) charges of anti-Semitism and how keen she was to hound Chris Williamson, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth, etc out of the party. The big millionaire donors came back to the Labour Party after Starmer expanded the witch-hunt. They did not have to pay him for that service - he was very keen to do it, in order to show the ruling class that he was making the party fit to be a safe second eleven once again; that he could run capitalism on their behalf more competently than the bumbling shower of Tory nincompoops. Of course, he willingly accepts their donations and why wouldn’t he?

Later in the film, there is an even dodgier section which tries to explain that capitalism is after the fossil fuels in Gaza and the West Bank and that this is one of the key reasons why Labour keeps quiet about Palestine. “There is genocide and there is ecocide. And Israel is committing both”, Alexei Sayle declares.

Yes, there is oil in Palestine - according to some sources, it is “billions of barrels worth” of oil. Middle Eastern oil was indeed one of the reasons why the British empire originally decided to sponsor its ‘Jewish Ulster’ and, no doubt, somewhere down the line Israel envisages significant production. But to claim that “this genocide is about oil”7 or even mainly about oil is bizarre.


The film makes no sense, precisely because the makers do not understand why Israel is actually so important to US and UK imperialism. It is not because Zionists pay big donations and it is not because of oil.

Israel is of immense strategic political importance in the Middle East and became a US asset, after its stunning success in the 1967 Six Day war, when it attacked, defeated and “basically destroyed Nasserite Egypt”, as Moshé Machover has put it.8 Israel became an important bulwark against pan-Arab nationalism, together with Iran. And after the 1979 revolution there, Israel was left as the only reliable ally of the US in the region - and remains so to this day. This relationship is especially important, considering the USA’s wish to police a region which has around 40% of the world’s readily accessible reserves of oil and gas (vital for countries such as China, Japan, Germany and France). Through Israel the US could help protect allies, turn off the taps or strike at any rogue state. This is why the US finances Israel to the hilt.

This is, however, not a relationship that could be characterised by the ‘tail wagging the dog’, as many on the left do. The US and Israel have a mutually beneficial relationship. Of course, the current genocidal campaign in Gaza has tested the relationship and Joe Biden has clearly come under internal pressure to at least speak out against it - especially with the presidential election coming up in November. His ‘peace plan’ is, however, not serious, but if it gets him over the line against Donald Trump, it will do! Starmer has been loyally following suit, as have most other G7 politicians. Starmer’s announcement to “recognise a Palestinian state” is, just like Biden’s ‘peace plan’, designed chiefly for internal electoral consumption.

But Starmer is somehow worse than any other politician, the film claims, because there is something really quite wrong with him as a human being. He is a liar and cannot be trusted. “Starmer is simply a pro-Nato warmonger,” one interviewee explains, while another says that Starmer ignores the Palestinians’ plight because “they have a different skin colour, live in a different part of the world and are worth nothing” to him.

Starmer supports genocide because he is a racist? This is, to put it simply, absurd. No less absurd was the discussion on the Not the Andrew Marr show that followed the premiere, when Andrew Feinstein, who is standing against Starmer, explained: “His political instincts are deeply anti-democratic. This is a human rights lawyer who has lost his humanity. Julian Assange would not be in prison, would not face many, many lifetimes in an American jail if it wasn’t for Keir Starmer.”

It is, of course, true that the head of the crown prosecution service at the time was a certain Keir Starmer. But it is ridiculous to claim that Assange would not be in prison today if there had been a different prosecutor. Or to believe that - even if there had been a prosecutor brave enough to stand up to the US government - that there would not have been a different avenue to get Assange behind bars.


This film is an expression of the auto-Labourism of much of the pro-Corbyn left, which, frankly, seems to be going a bit mad politically, turning into its opposite: auto-anti-Labourism. Some seem to believe that July 4 will herald the rise of a ‘left bloc’ of independent MPs - when in reality, Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway are barely talking to each other. It is highly unlikely that they will be joined in parliament by any other left independents (and there is a big question mark over Galloway retaining his seat in Rochdale in any case - after all, he was running virtually unopposed in the by-election, because the Labour Party disowned its own candidate).

The usually shrewd Andrew Feinstein admits that, yes, “it is going to be incredibly difficult to defeat Starmer”. But not because this would require having to overturn his whopping majority of almost 30,000 votes in 2019 (64.5% of the vote)9. No, it is “because all we are allowed to spend is £17,000 for all staff, leaflets, everything - the Labour Party can spend tens of millions of pounds”. Yes, there is no great enthusiasm for a prime minister Starmer, but Feinstein and others seriously underestimate how keen many working class people are to get rid of the Tory government. Another 50,000 leaflets supporting Feinstein would not change that.

Anyway, should Feinstein be elected - a scenario he has clearly thought about at length! - he believes that:

… they could quickly precipitate a by-election to get Starmer a seat, but that is unlikely. It is more likely that the Labour Party would be forced to elect a new leader and one would hope that if Starmer was defeated in his own backyard it would send a really clear message to the Labour Party. It would mean they would be very unlikely to put another Starmerite in - they’d be forced to put in somebody who more reflects the views of the vast majority of the people in this country.

It seems to me that there is currently more chance of hell freezing over than any of that happening. Simply wishing for things does not make them so. And yet that seems to be the political ‘strategy’ employed by many on the Corbynite left. Further confusion and demoralisation are ripe.

Take the aforementioned Jennie Formby, who has just announced that she will be “voting Green”, because the Greens have a “not perfect, but much more transformative, agenda”. She continues:

And people can’t just keep voting Labour ‘because we’ve got to get the Tories out’. They’re out anyway, so we should vote for parties that genuinely represent what we believe in - which may well be independents.10

We do not know if Formby has resigned from Labour or if she has just given Keir Starmer the carte blanche to ‘auto-exclude’ her. In any case, this is a typically unserious way for her to flounce out - reflecting unfortunately the shallow moralism of many of her fellow Corbynites.

Like Formby, The big lie II is making a virtue out of necessity and thereby presenting the independents somehow as the answer. In reality, of course, they are a sign of the left’s profound political and organisational weakness.

Feinstein seems to at least recognise this fact. His semi-launched organisation, Collective - which is currently registered as a limited company, exactly like Reform UK (!) - wants to “form a party”, somewhere down the road. Which begs the questions, what kind of party? Will it have democratic structures? Branches? Allow members to organise around political platforms?

And what about its programme? There are currently dozens of grouplets and ‘parties’ in Britain which campaign on almost indistinguishable platforms for sub-minimal reforms. Collective’s current programme is, if anything, even worse: it is centred on the call for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire”, with the tame demands of Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project tacked on:

Feinstein promised on Zoom: “Regardless of what happens on July 4, we are going to hold these people to account. We are going to build a movement to challenge the structure, functioning and nature of our politics in this country.”

That is certainly what is needed today. But with a programme like Collective’s, that is very unlikely to happen.

  1. ‘Putting the record straight’ Weekly Worker June 29 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1449/putting-the-record-straight.↩︎

  2. www.platformfilms.co.uk.↩︎

  3. www.tickettailor.com/events/ntams/1289575.↩︎

  4. www.instagram.com/p/C5Q_oCENxEO.↩︎

  5. See ‘We deserve better’ Weekly Worker March 28: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1484/we-deserve-better.↩︎

  6. skwawkbox.org/2024/06/11/exclusive-left-wing-jews-fury-over-jones-renewed-attack-on-black-jew-jackie-walker.↩︎

  7. atmos.earth/this-genocide-is-about-oil.↩︎

  8. ‘Imperialism, Palestine and Israel’ Weekly Worker September 5 2007: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/687/imperialism-palestine-and-israel.↩︎

  9. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_history_of_Keir_Starmer.↩︎

  10. x.com/Jennieformby1/status/1802398061286547802.↩︎

  11. See ‘Where next for left?’ Weekly Worker March 7: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1481/where-next-for-left.↩︎