Mark Perryman argues that when Keir Starmer sacked Sam Tarry he sacked us all
I first met Sam Tarry back in 2010.
Sam was one of the key organisers for the anti-fascist campaign Hope not Hate. The company I co-founded – Philosophy Football – had helped come up with the entire Hope not Hate name, design and identity and we were churning out T-shirts by the box load.
This was at the high point of Nick Griffin’s neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP). In Barking they’d taken a swathe of council seats and with a General Election in the offing there was a real danger Griffin would win the Barking parliamentary seat held by Labour’s Margaret Hodge.
The campaign to stop Griffin was incredible, with Sam right in the middle of it. Fighting fascism will always include physical confrontation as an option but this wasn’t how the BNP would be stopped here. On the doorstep, street by street, estate by estate, spreading the message, having difficult conversations: it needed hundreds of campaigners and meticulous organisation.
Moving on from T-shirts, Philosophy Football designed and funded the redecoration of the campaign HQ from where Sam would co-ordinate the street teams we were organised into.
And we won, Griffin defeated, the BNP routed, and so began their decline to welcome irrelevancy.
Sam, unlike too many Labour MPs, is grounded in mass, broad and creative campaigning.
I wasn’t involved in the Labour Party back then but the next time I came across Sam was when he won some key election in Young Labour. He worked closely with Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency to Barking, Dagenham and Rainham. They more or less shared the same ‘soft left’ outlook.
In 2007 Jon had surprised many by standing for Labour’s Deputy Leadership and coming a decent second. In Young Labour Sam did one better. ‘Soft Left’, neither with Labour’s hard left, nor the party’s hard right, or its more modern version the Blairites: it’s not easy carving out such a space in Labour, both radical and unifying, but that was what Sam was all about. And still is.
Next up, Sam goes to work for the transport workers union, TSSA. It’s another experience too rare amongst Labour MPs, trade unionism. We were still in touch and with Philosophy Football pioneering events that mixed ideas and entertainment, Sam saw the opportunity to link the TSSA with such an innovative approach. Sure, we were grateful for the support, but what we were most grateful for was finding someone at the centre of trade unionism who ‘got’ the idea that the old ways of campaigning wouldn’t work anymore. Sam did, and does.
In 2015 and again in 2016, Sam was Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election, and re-election, campaign manager. As a ‘soft left’ he was not the obvious choice, for Jeremy or Sam, but at his best the former appealed to a much broader constituency than he’s often credited for. And for the latter he saw the importance of keeping it that way.
And then back at the TSSA, Sam was a key part of his union actively supporting the Remain cause and call for a second referendum, as of course Keir Starmer once did.
I’d now moved to Lewes and in 2018 Lewes Labour pioneered a new style of political ideas and events. Sam could once again see the potential: he came along, took part, spoke and got his union to back what we were trying to do.
So in the awfulness of Labour’s 2019 General Election defeat, one of the few bright points was seeing Sam being elected Labour MP for Ilford South, where he’d grown up – a really good addition to the Parliamentary Labour Party.
In 2020 shortly after Keir won the Labour leadership election, he made Sam a shadow junior minister, for transport. An inspired choice, a campaigner, railway background, a unifier. And despite all the criticisms and disappointments, Sam has stood with Keir throughout.
But on Wednesday Keir couldn’t find it in himself to stand with Sam. He was sacked for joining a picket line. It was a dispute that Sam’s former trade union, the TSSA was part of, so where else should Sam have been?
Sam’s sacking has been dressed up as for making up party policy ‘on the hoof.’ Strange that – because earlier in the week on the day of Keir’s keynote economic speech, his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves had broken Labour Policy by saying in a radio interview that a Labour government would not renationalise the railways. Labour had to furiously row back, Rachel claiming she’d ‘misheard’ the question, Keir’s launch wrecked. Rachel, remains in post, Sam sacked.
It is the measure of Sam that in his statement following his sacking there is not one word of criticism of Keir. If only such respect and good sense went two ways.
But perhaps the saddest thing is watching Sam’s interview. Ask yourself is there a single thing he says in this interview you wouldn’t want every Labour MP, every Labour member, to say too? `And if he’s not allowed to say these things exactly what kind of politics, if any, is Keir Starmer offering in their place?
The last time I saw Sam was on Lewes High Street. In his hoodie, scruffy jeans and trainers, he didn’t look like your usual MP, whatever party. That’s because he isn’t.
This isn’t an act. In those TV interviews from the picket line he said things, and in a way, that hundreds of thousands of Labour members, millions of Labour voters, potential Labour voters too, would say. When Keir Starmer sacked Sam he sacked all of us. To update the words of Kirk Douglas, “I am Spartacus”? We are all Sam Tarry.
A member of, and event organiser for, Lewes CLP Mark Perryman describes himself as “a coalition builder by trade”. His latest book is Corbynism from Below
Image: Sam Tarry MP. Source: https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4829/Portrait?cropType=ThreeFour. Author: David Woolfall, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
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