Starmer’s ‘five missions’ offer little to the working class

03 June 2023

By George Banks 

The local election results were a disaster for the Conservative Party, and stand as proof that Sunak and Hunt’s electoral strategy couldn’t repair the Tories’ reputation. They lost 48 councils and 957 councillors, exceeding even the most pessimistic predictions of their internal analysts. However, this collapse was not met with an equivalent bump for labour, who only gained 642 seats and 22 councils.

To the extent possible, Starmer’s policies do indeed seem to be winning back some ‘moderate’ voters. However, the effect of this swing was limited across the country. The Green Party achieved its best ever local election results, gaining 201 new councillors. This support was likely swollen due to former Corbyn voters who have become disillusioned with Labour, while the Liberal Democrats have hoovered up the moderate pro capitalist vote in the south, gaining 407 councillors and 12 councils, the party’s best local election results for decades.

Based on the results, bourgeois analysts are predicting a hung Parliament. While the ongoing collapse of the Scottish National Party (SNP) makes this scenario far from certain, the strong showing of the Liberal Democrats in particular certainly doesn’t exclude some kind of coalition government. Far from the idyllic scenario romanticised by left-wing proponents of the ‘Progressive Alliance’, the consequence of a Lib-Lab coalition would be to allow Keir Starmer to dump any progressive part of his agenda on the pretext that ‘the liberals won’t allow it’ while both parties will get behind the agenda of the capitalist class – suppressing class struggle, underfunding services and ramping up military expenditure in the inter-imperialist arms race. 

Red Tories
Starmer’s Labour have announced some positive policies, in particular renationalising the railways, although the larger part of Corbyn’s nationalisation agenda – water, energy, and the mail – has been abandoned. Any positive reforms are tempered by very public calls to increase privatisation in the NHS; support for imperialist foreign policy; attacks on democracy and the rights of trade unionists; and reactionary policies on immigration.

Gone are the transformative manifesto promises of the Corbyn years. In their place, Starmer’s most explicit statement on Labour’s policy to date, ‘5 Missions for a Better Britain’ is a series of unspecific ‘targets’ interspersed with market friendly policies: ‘secure the highest sustained growth in the G7’; ‘make Britain a clean energy superpower’; ‘build an NHS fit for the future’; ‘make Britain’s streets safe’; and ‘break down the barrier to opportunity at every level’. 

Absent from the ‘5 missions’ are any concrete guarantees of additional funding for the health service, education, or indeed any other cash starved social service. Instead, the focus is on building ‘economic stability, national security, and secure borders’ by reforming policies and regulatory bodies, tweaking already established targets, and welcoming the increased privatisation of public services. It is apparent therefore that the priority will always be to support British capitalism on the international markets, strengthen the police and armed forces, and restrict immigration further. 

Starmer’s plan to get the NHS ‘back on its feet’ follows the typical Blairite formula. Despite rhetoric that the future of the NHS is ‘on the line’ in the next election, he has thus far refused to promise any additional funding, stating instead that ‘serious, deep, long term changes are needed’. His ‘plan’ for the NHS boils down to the same thing as the ‘five missions’ – promises such as: meeting cancer targets reducing death from heart disease and stroke by 25% over 10 years; cutting A&E waiting times; and ensuring declining suicide rates – all without providing any concrete strategies for achieving these aims. This is not significantly different from what the Tories have pledged. Without a promise of substantial additional investment, and concrete suggestions for where this money will come from, such promises are worthless.

Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, set out her vision for the economy during a midweek speech at Washington’s Peterson Institute, which she used to launch Labour’s ‘New Business Model for Britain’. Silly neologisms like ‘securonomics’ and ‘friendshoring’ suggest a policy of low fiscal spending combined with a tightening of economic measures targeted against our imperialist rivals. Claiming to be inspired by ‘Bidenomics’, she has promised to cut public spending as a share of GDP, making it clear that there won’t be any serious increase in taxation for corporations and the super-rich. Any substantial funds for health, education, or green infrastructure (including the so-called ‘Green Prosperity Plan’) will need to come from private capital, which will be sure to extract an enormous profit from the proceedings. 

Reeves’ itinerary took her to the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, posing for pictures under the exchange’s bell, grinning at jokes about what Jeremy Corbyn would think. Despite the colossal scale of the challenges facing the country, she promised she had no plans to target the wealthy beyond any previously announced plans, stating ‘taxes are at a 70-year high… I don’t have plans to be a big tax raising chancellor.’ She also specified that she had no plans to equalise capital gains and income tax or cut tax breaks on pension contributions for high earners; much like Liz Truss, her solution to the UK’s multitude of economic issues is the panacea of ‘growth’. 

A New Workers Party?
The response of what remains of the left wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party to this right wing pro-business agenda has been deafening silence, eclipsed only by their complete failure to defend Jeremy Corbyn from being unjustly purged from standing for Labour. The complete rout of the Corbyn movement finds its clearest expression in the announcement that the man himself will not be allowed to stand as Labour MP for Islington North in that the next general election, despite the fact that his Constituency Labour Party recently endorsed him as their candidate by 98%, with no votes against. 

Keir Starmer has achieved his primary objective, destruction of the parliamentary left as a political factor, with barely a whimper of resistance from the MPs concerned. Desperate to retain their seats and positions, they have simply abandoned any ‘socialist’ policies. This defeat has very little to do with Starmer himself. Rather, it was due to Corbyn’s strategic failure when he was leader. He refused to lead the over 200,000 new members who rallied to his anti-austerity and re-nationalisation message to break the institutional power of the right in the PLP, the local councils and the party bureaucracy. Also, the left union leaders who backed him didn’t use their undoubted power to call the right wing to order.

Thus, the rightist MPs and bureaucrats were free to launch coups, and join with the press and the Zionist lobby to smear the Corbynite and pro-Palestinian left as antisemites, all without resistance. From the beginning, Corbyn and John McDonnell refused to support the reselection of parliamentary candidates, to purge the right-wing councillors, or defend those unjustly suspended and expelled during the witch-hunt of left wing militants. Lastly, the Corbyn leadership’s utter confusion over Brexit opened the way for Johnson to attack Labour with the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’; vacuous, but attractive to a nation bored sick of the Brexit debate. The electoral disaster of 2019 – the unforgivable sin in a party of parliamentary cretins, has resulted in the Labour Left’s total defeat as a political force. 

That is why Starmer’s hold over the party is virtually unchallenged. Labour’s return to riding high in the opinion polls is enough to pacify internal opposition. As for all the affiliated unions, they are desperate now for a Labour Government, any Labour government, just to get the Tories out. 

Many on the left, bitterly disappointed by the failures of the Corbyn years, see a potential solution in standing independent socialist candidates, some with the hope that one day a return to a Corbyn-style Labour Party will be possible. Others have the idea that forming a new democratic socialist (left reformist) party could be the better alternative. Workers Power considers that the formation of such a party is impossible in the short term, given the demoralisation of the Labour Left and the trade union bureaucrats’ willingness to accept any sort of Labour government.

The first decade and a half of the new millennium saw several attempts at the formation of a new left reformist party, which could have developed into a politically viable alternative to ‘New Labour’. Blair’s enthusiastic neoliberalism and war mongering drove hundreds of thousands out of the Labour Party, and maverick MPs and former mayors such as Ken Livingstone and George Galloway flirted with the idea. The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, with a few thousand active members, likewise attempted to create a ‘Socialist Alliance’ to the left of Labour, which Workers Power participated in. Several such projects, from the Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, to the Socialist Alliance, to the TUSC, tried and failed to make an electoral breakthrough. 

Despite Starmer’s bourgeois politics being as bad as Blair’s, and despite the total capitulation of the left, the Labour Party retains its dual character – as a party which serves the capitalists but rests on the mass organisations of the working class, i.e. the trade unions. Without their support, the party would lose any distinguishable features from the Liberal Democrats.

However, given the apolitical orientation of the union leaders, their political strategy of waiting for and encouraging a Starmer Labour government, the possibility of such a new reformist party attaining the support of the major trade unions is excluded for the present. Without this support, any left reformist mini-party would be politically irrelevant. 

However, the recent rise in industrial militancy presents hope for the formation of a militant rank and file consciousness within the unions, which can stimulate political consciousness. Revolutionaries must encourage the development of this consciousness, helping to build a movement from below that could break the stranglehold of the union bureaucracy and with it their subservience to Labour. 

Our goal must ultimately be to conduct a political challenge against the union bureaucracy, demanding that the leaders place concrete demands on the Labour Party before and after it enters government (if it does). In particular, these demands must centre on issues such as pay, repealing the anti-union laws, restoring democratic rights and social spending, nationalisation of public services and key industries, reduction of military spending, averting the climate catastrophe, and protection of the rights of refugees and migrants. 

These demands are already the official policy of most unions, and are keenly felt needs amongst the union membership. The unions must be forced to hold Labour to account, and to threaten funding being withheld and ultimately disaffiliation if necessary. By engaging in such a process, we could help to apply pressure on the Labour leadership either to introduce reforms which improve the lives of workers, or which expose them for the agents of capital that in fact they are. This could provide a basis for the emergence of a genuine party of class struggle, rooted not only in the unions, but among the social movements and all layers of the oppressed. 

In order to have any lasting success against the forces of the capitalist class, both at home and abroad, such a class struggle party must adopt a revolutionary programme and democratic centralist discipline on the Bolshevik model. Only a revolutionary communist party can fend off the attacks of the capitalists and lead the working class to the overthrow of the capitalist system Labour helps to prop up, paving the way to the socialist transformation of society. 

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