Yves here. After Keir Starmer shamefully pushed Jeremy Corbyn away from Labour, the idea that Starmer could quickly crumble and burn as a national leader seems a much-desired outcome. Note, however, that Richard Murphy is today warning that the Tories could take drastic action ahead of their scheduled ouster, ssuch as the abolition of inheritance tax. Thus, the instability of British politics does not seem poised to deliver good results for ordinary people.
By Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the Department of Peace Studies and International Relations at the University of Bradford and an honorary member of the Joint Service Command and Staff College. He is the international security correspondent for openDemocracy. He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers. Originally posted on openDemocracy
Despite the disappointing outcome of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-elections, there seems to be near consensus that Labor under Keir Starmer is directed to the government in next year’s general election, perhaps in a parliament without a majority, but more likely with an overall majority.
At the same time, Labor is a struggling party. Its leadership, determined to move the party to the center, abandoned its more leftist policies and members ousted, often on disputed grounds. Several tens of thousands more simply left in disgust.
Taken together, this resulted in a loss of 168,000 members since 2017, when membership was at its peak (564,000), having grown rapidly following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in September 2015. Today, membership stands at around 395,000. Although this has resulted in a substantial drop in income, support from some wealthy donors and businesses has increased, with £6m raised just last year.
There are widespread, though largely anecdotal, suggestions that many former Labor Party members did not join other parties but are active in non-partisan, community-oriented politics. There are also signs of deep frustration with national party politics, at least across England, in part because of Labour’s shift to the right.
Among the many signs of these trends, two recent examples stand out. In the North East, popular but staunchly left-wing politician Jamie Driscoll is the mayor of a local district, North Tyne, but was not shortlisted for selection as a Labor candidate for a planned wider area, the North-East Mayoral Combined Authority. This caused widespread anger among party members in the region.
Driscoll has now resigned from Labor and is standing for election as an independent. The support has been impressive. Like him Put the earlier this week: “It’s going to be tough, against national parties with slick press offices. But when we launched crowdfunding for the campaign yesterday, I said if we could raise £25,000 by the end of August, I would run. We raised £75,000 in small donations in one day. People believe in this campaign.
The second example was reported in this column two weeks ago, when Corbyn got a huge welcome from a large audience at the Bradford Literature Festival, including a standing ovation. This response – which he gets everywhere he goes, though rarely reported – recalls the huge crowds who gathered to hear him speak during the 2017 election campaign, when the Labor Party unexpectedly took off. The wide polling gap at the start of this campaign has narrowed enough to rob Theresa May of her expected landslide victory, instead delivering a hung parliament.
We are in the odd position of a likely Labor victory in next year’s general election, but for a party that simply does not have the enthusiastic support it enjoyed even a few years ago.
If Westminster had a PR electoral system, the Greens would likely win considerable support from disillusioned voters. But in the absence of that, the obvious question arises what will happen when Labor comes to power, given that many will have voted for the party just to keep the Tories out, rather than because they genuinely supported its policies.
Some voters will, for borrow a phrase from political theorist Raymond Williams“elect ’em on Thursday and fight ’em on Friday,” while others will pin their hopes that Starmer will be much more progressive once he takes office (although there’s been little evidence so far to suggest that will be the case).
Looking at what we know about labor policies, which would be due to to be beaten in the days to come, in most regions there is a strong determination not to make any financial commitments. Potentially grassroots moves to bring some services, such as railways and water, under public ownership are not being considered, and there are few indications of intentions to close huge gaps in local authority spending and even in social care.
Although Labor could hardly be worse on ‘green’ issues than the current governmenthe has backtracked on its £28billion investment plansand its current promises fall far short of what is actually needed. The party has some useful commitments on industrial relationsespecially in terms of job security for the weakest in the gig economy and other sectors, but in foreign and defense policy, it’s as traditional as it gets.
At the root of Labour’s troubles lies an issue that is rarely talked about: in the 1990s, Tony Blair accepted the Thatcher-era movement towards market fundamentalism as irreversible. Blair’s Labor party may have called for reforms, and his early years in office saw some improvements in health, education and, most importantly, child support, but there has since been an all-party acceptance that a deep shift in neoliberal economic ideology is simply impossible. Only the Greens and, briefly, Labor under Corbyn fought this belief.
The problem for Starmer is that his Labor Party will inherit an economic and social mess accumulated over 14 years of Conservative governments that acted “for the few, not for the many”. Food banks, years of waiting for health care and growing poverty are the order of the day.
Added to this will be an international energy system made uncertain by Putin’s war in Ukraine that is empowering the rich and, overshadowing all this, a gradual deterioration of the climate. In other words, Labor is likely to face multiple crises from day one, with little ability to inspire hope and the consequent risk that any public optimism in the new government will evaporate within a year.
Provided Labor has a working-class majority, that will be the time – in the mid to late 2020s – when those very many, including Jamie Driscoll supporters and the crowds still rushing to hear Corbyn, can take flight, demanding that a new generation of Labor politicians put in place the kind of progressive policies that were at the heart of Corbyn’s proposals in 2017. They might even succeed.