Labour Party

How the Hartlepool by-election is exposing Starmer

13 April 2021
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Labour’s campaign for the upcoming by-election in Hartlepool is further proof that Keir Starmer’s pledges of party democracy and progressive politics were lies.

The Labour Candidate for the election, due to be held alongside the local elections on 6 May, is former Stockton South MP Paul Williams. An ally of Starmer, Williams is known locally as ‘Saudi Pete’ for the donations he has taken from the gulf monarchy, and his subsequent defence of the repressive and warmongering Saudi regime whilst serving as an MP.

Local party members were not given the opportunity to elect their own candidate. Instead the National Executive Committee (NEC), under the direction of party secretary David Evans, produced a ‘shortlist’ of potential candidates containing only Williams’ name. The party bureaucracy, seeking to strengthen the right wing, was only too happy to oblige.

Hartlepool has returned a Labour MP at every election since its creation in 1974, but this does not make the upcoming by-election a foregone conclusion. Labour is currently polling below the Tories, and faces a right-wing threat from the former Brexit Party, who now call themselves “Reform UK”. Labour also faces a challenge in the form of the nascent left regionalist “Northern Independence Party” siphoning the votes of disaffected Corbyn supporters. 

Although his position as Labour leader appears stable, Starmer rests atop an unstable coalition of class forces. His material support, both in terms of financial backing and media propaganda, is provided by agents of British imperialism, which exerts a strong pressure towards the right. The aim of such backers is to use Starmer to purge and demoralise the socialist wing of the party, in order to restore Labour to its pre-2015 status as the junior partner of British capitalism.

However, Labour’s roots are fundamentally within the working class, whose interests are represented most strongly by Labour’s large Corbynite wing. Although many have become disillusioned, Starmer was able to convince a sizable minority that he represents a continuation of Corbyn-era policies but with the promise of electability. 

Many former Corbyn supporters have had their illusions shattered by Starmer’s repeated betrayals, ranging from his dismissal of the BLM movement and Kill the Bill demonstrators to his refusal to challenge the Tories’ criminal response to the coronavirus pandemic. The loss of a northern Labour stronghold could destroy the credibility of Starmer’s claim to electability, undermining the key element which unites his cross-class supporter base.

Starmer’s undemocratic actions and shameless courting of right wing votes will alienate Labour voters in Hartlepool. The reason Labour is haemorrhaging votes is its failure to offer solutions to the multitude of crises facing Britain. But we should not allow the pro-capitalist liberals running the party to squander the working class’ parliamentary representation without a fight. Socialists should vote Labour to keep the Tories out – and demand that a Labour MP fight for the concerns of working class people. 

It is now essential for what fragments of the reformist left remain within Labour to organise alongside the socialists who have already been expelled, in order to provide effective resistance to the Tories from outside the party. This will involve participation in the growing social movements against the police, women’s oppression and racism, and linking these forms of oppression to their common cause – capitalism.

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