Starmer’s fire of promises risks Labor’s electoral chances crumble and burn | Michel chessum
Mmaybe it was all a dream. Five years ago, I remember hurrying to my seat in the crowded Labor conference hall in Liverpool to hear the news that Jeremy Corbyn had been re-elected as leader, taking on the challenge of Owen Smith with a term. increased. The years that followed were a lesson in the fragility of hope and progress. But it was also, for those who supported even broadly the New Labor Left, a time when mass engagement and genuine alternatives returned to mainstream politics for the first time in decades.
Even if defeated, it seemed that the Corbyn Project had conclusively demonstrated that a radical national agenda was the path back to power for Labor. In 2017, Labor saw the biggest increase in its share of the vote since 1945 and, given the overwhelming popularity of its manifestos, the public backed Corbyn’s policy on renationalizing water by a margin. from two to one, its policy of renationalizing railways by three to one and its fiscal policy by more than that. Few could credibly argue that his beating in 2019 was due to his political agenda.
Keir Starmer was the parliamentary Labor Party’s preferred candidate, but he was also part of the post-Corbyn consensus and was elected on the basis that there would be “no backsliding from our fundamentals”. His pledge to the grassroots of progressive and left-wing members of Labor was to continue Corbyn’s economic agenda, including “common ownership of railways, mail, energy and water,” while turning around the sometimes equivocal position of the old leadership on migration by “defending free movement as we leave the EU”.
At this year’s conference, Starmer set his promises on fire and saw them burn. His opening bet, an attempt to reintroduce the electoral college for leadership contests, has been withdrawn, but replaced with measures that will make it much more difficult for a candidate like Corbyn to reach the ballot. Sitting on Andrew Marr’s sofa last Sunday, the Labor leader announced that he would not support the nationalization of public services. The next day, the fictitious chancellor, Rachel Reeves, visited the Today program to announce that “we are not going to bring back free movement” and on Wednesday Andy McDonald had resigned from the front seat in protest against Starmer’s opposition to a minimum wage of £ 15.
Corbyn’s leadership has been rightly criticized for using old-fashioned party management tactics to rig Labor’s Brexit policy, but these episodes are now being put in the shadows. Starmer’s rule changes were passed because the Unison delegation defied the policies of their own union. Proportional representation was rejected despite 80% support among constituency delegates. And, unlike Corbyn, Starmer has repeatedly signaled that he will not implement conference policies where they conflict, such as in the case of the energy renationalization and the £ 15 minimum wage. , with his own.
Momentum is not all in one direction. The Labor Party’s new £ 28bn a year pledge to tackle climate change is a serious pledge and grassroots campaigns around the environment, electoral reform and migration may well make political progress in coming years. But the atmosphere on the left has changed: whereas in the past it was debated whether and how to build bridges with Starmer, now the mood ranges from fatalism and disappointment to anger and hostility. With the closure of many internal avenues to influence change, the need to turn to industrial organization and social movements has never been more pressing.
But most importantly, the turn to the right will create problems for the leadership itself, and it is not yet clear what effect the bonfire of Starmer’s promises will have on member allegiances and the internal balance of power in the long run.
The left’s performative strategy of alienation rests on the simplistic and heartwarming narrative established by New Labor and its successors: that the process of moderation undertaken by Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair saved Labor from the desert and that, to win the next elections, Starmer must repeat this journey – as if he were embarking on a pilgrimage – in a single legislature.
It’s a plan that makes sense if you are a commentator or strategist whose political perspective was forged by the Kinnock and Blair leadership, and if you believe that replicating the relatively fragmentary political offer of that period, and the leadership Miliband, who followed it, is a tenable strategy for an era of insurgency politics, climate emergency and post-Covid economic crisis. It makes no sense if you realize that in 2021 the electoral base of a professional looking and middle-class Social Democrat party led by a knight of the kingdom is indeed very weak.
To win the election, Labor must be a party with a common goal, radical ideas and anti-establishment rhetoric. It is more and more a feast of platitudes and introspection. Starmer may have picked a side, but it’s hard to see how he can be a winner.
● Michael Chessum is a freelance writer and socialist activist