The book which reminds us why Keir Starmer is a massive improvement for Labour

Labour's Keir Starmer out campaigning with Anneliese Dodds in Peterborough. Photograph: Twitter.

Labour's Keir Starmer out campaigning with Anneliese Dodds in Peterborough. Photograph: Twitter. - Credit: Archant

MARTYN SLOMAN says 'Left Out: The Inside Story' is a strong reminder why things can only get better without Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

Let's start on a positive note. 'Left Out' is one of the most absorbing and compulsive reads I have encountered in years. Moreover, it is one I approached from completely the wrong direction; it took me less than twenty pages to realise this was not the book I thought it would be. It is not about politics. Authors Pogrund and Maguire have produced a most useful extended case study on management. Business schools (my former profession) should purchase copies and incorporate them into their programmes forthwith. It asks and offers an illustrative answer to the question: 'what happens to an organisation when the leader cannot lead but cannot be removed?'.

Following the 2017 General Election, which produced a result for Labour which exceeded all expectations, Jeremy Corbyn was unassailable and had complete control. The Party activists worshipped him; critical MPs were subdued The Labour Party has always been an uneasy coalition between an ideological Marxist influenced left and a pragmatic social democratic right. In June 2017 the former had complete control and those of us who dwelt in the opposite camp had no alternative but to shut up and see how things unfolded.

Sadly, from the left's perspective the mantle of leadership had fallen on entirely the wrong person. Jeremy Corbyn simply didn't know what he wanted to do and still less how to go about it. He was determined to overthrow the entire capitalist system but could not sort out his own office. The result was a constant battle between competing individuals for power and influence.

We can expect, of course, a chorus from the former leader's supporters that this book is a biased account and part of the ongoing Blairite media attempt to besmirch Jeremy Corbyn's reputation. There may well be an element of truth in this; there are I am sure a whole range of other viewpoints to be expressed. However, if only five percent of the stories are true this was a wholly dysfunctional organisation rocking from crisis to crisis. Only by drawing on a huge range of willing sources could Pogrund and Maguire have produced such a rich narrative. It is to their immense credit that they produced such an amusing one.

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If there is a serious message it is that, by 2017, the Labour Party had simply run out of ideas. The battle within the party had been won by the left, but at a price: the factions had slugged themselves out, like two ageing prize-fighters unable to throw a punch but unwilling to collapse on the canvas. The result was a complete policy vacuum. There is no evidence in 'Left Out' of any discussion on what should have be the major issues of the day: climate change; youth unemployment; the crisis in social care. Who were the shadow spokespersons in these areas? Can anyone remember? They do not even get a walk on appearance.

Instead the dramatis personae are Seamus Milne and Karie Murphy, who are cast as villains and John McDonnell who emerges as a heroic figure trying to keep the show (known as 'The Project') on the road. This narrative cries out to be reproduced as a play. It could incorporate elements of King Lear (the sad and enfeebled King), Macbeth (exploring the tortured psyche of McDonnell who cannot bring himself to strike the required mortal blow) and conclude with the finale of Richard the Third (Keir Starmer arriving as Henry Tudor to establish a whole new dynasty).

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It is of course a very sorry tale. With my human resources hat on I was appalled to read of the way that staff, including Karie Murphy herself, were treated because 'Jeremy didn't like confrontation'. There were some hilarious incidents. Before her departure one of the staff who was about to have her employment terminated took it upon herself to attend any meeting she wished, including a confidential briefing with MI5 – one wonders what the Security Service's note of the meeting would have said. The story which has received most coverage concerns Corbyn's expression of gratitude to the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa for an intervention on Brexit which had, in fact, been undertaken by a Tory MP with the same surname.

I read the book with enthusiasm and in great detail. To prove my diligence, I have spotted some errors: Owen Smith was sacked not backed from his post as shadow Northern Ireland Secretary in March 2018 (p.87); Tolpuddle is in Dorset not Devon (p.110); and Richard Angell was Chief Executive not Chair of the pressure group Progress (p.170). I'll forgive the authors when they are able to produce a book so crammed with incident.

When Keir Starmer reads it, he'll be hugging himself with joy. Anything, but anything, will be an improvement.

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