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British politics

Starmer’s ruthless purge of the left

Now, to work: Mandelson at Labour’s victory party in 1997. Getty

At 6am the morning after New Labour’s stonking election win in 1997, Peter Mandelson was in no mood to party, says Patrick Maguire in The Times. “Now we’ve won,” he told colleagues, “we’d better find out who on Earth these new MPs are.” Rather than hitting the tiles, the party’s bigwigs headed to their offices and did exactly that. Officials had screened candidates, of course, but no one thought so many would actually win. “We tended to ignore people beyond a certain point,” recalls one. Sure enough, as Mandelson had feared, not all the party’s 418 MPs were “true believers” in Tony Blair. And although they didn’t bring down his government, in time they “undermined its agenda”.

Keir Starmer won’t make the same mistake. Behind the scenes, his aides have been “ruthlessly” fixing selection battles in each of the party’s target seats. Of the 39 Labour candidates chosen so far, “none – not one – are what you could call a Corbynite or even of the left”. They are “Starmer people to a man and woman”: progressive professionals who “wear their politics lightly” and won’t upset the apple cart. The Blairite enforcers rigging these races insist they’re acting not against factions but to prevent “cranks and antisemites” getting on the ballot. Perhaps. Either way, Starmer clearly no longer believes he needs both wings of the party onside. “His heavies are reshaping his MPs in his own image.”