News & Analysis

‘Which side are you on?’ Labour has a crisis of leadership

13 September 2022
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By R Banks

After a period which has brought the Tory party to the brink of collapse through a combination of scandal and the biggest fall in living standards since records began, one might expect Keir Starmer’s Labour Party to be a sure bet to form the next government.

But an Opinium poll at the beginning of this month showed Labour’s lead has narrowed to just four points. When Liz Truss takes over from the buffoon Johnson and if she freezes energy bills, that slim margin could vanish or be reversed.

In parliamentary politics the job of an opposition party is supposed to be to win elections. However, Starmer has demonstrated time and again that his priority is to cleanse the party of any trace of the ‘radical’ policies of the Corbyn years. From uncritical support for Nato to clipping the minimum wage policy from £15 an hour to £10, he is desperate to paint Labour as a safe pair of hands for capitalism.

Popular

The cost of living crisis is shaping up to be the biggest attack on the working class for 40 years. Socialist solutions of renationalising rail, mail and the utilities are hugely popular, as are pay rises that match inflation, taxing the rich and unshackling the unions.

A recent poll conducted by LabourList reveals the huge popularity of left wing policies within the Labour membership; 94% of Labour Party members think that rail and water services should be run in the public sector; 87% of members said the same for energy; 85% said Royal Mail should be run by the public sector; 94% of members think the recent rail strikes are justified and 73% believe that Labour MPs should be joining picket lines.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of policies within the membership, the response of the Labour frontbench has been to position itself slightly to the left of the government in an attempt to win over moderate Tory voters. It won’t work because the Conservatives are likely to steal Labour’s clothes, as they did with covid and are about to do (again) on the energy price cap, and Labour voters feel frustrated and let down.

Even more disgraceful is Labour’s response to the recent strike wave. Starmer ordered his Labour frontbench not to attend picket lines, although many have defied these orders in one way or another, realising how strongly Labour voters support the strikes.

Starmer even took the opportunity to sack one of his shadow ministers, Sam Tarry, removing the last surviving vestige of the unity farce of earlier days. The leader’s office claimed Tarry was sacked for ‘making up policy on the hoof’ when Tarry said that workers should receive pay rises in line with inflation.

Starmer’s opposition to nationalisation, however, explicitly contradicts conference policy; if anyone is breaking party discipline it is him. But this ditching of conference policies poses a serious question as to what the left’s strategy should be in Liverpool this year and more generally going forward.

Left’s response

Where is the Left? Many of the best militants have been purged from the Party, or have torn up their membership cards in disgust. Those that remain are disunited or in retreat. The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the equivalent association for councillors may have grown but on key issues, they can only rely on a tiny hardcore or, like on criticism of Nato, an issue of principle if ever there was one, they retreat like cowards.

Momentum also has faded badly. For two years Forward Momentum failed to take the organisation forward, reneging on half-promises that it would introduce democracy and ducking the big issues, like the witch-hunt and the anti-Semitism smear campaign.

Now under the new management of Momentum Organisers (very similar to the leadership in the days of Jon Lansman), the CLP left group has fallen at its first hurdle, supporting the full Grassroots 5 NEC slate. Its new campaign, Labour for Labour, has really lowered its horizons, merely encouraging MPs and Councillors to support strikes!

The strategy of the Left consists entirely of passing conference motions and electing leftwing MPs and councillors, while keeping their heads below the parapet and hoping to ride out the storm until ‘their turn’ to lead the party comes once again.

The consequences of this strategy are now on display for all to see: conference motions trampled on; socialists purged; a drastic decline in membership and funding; widespread demoralisation. Meanwhile, the right wing has been allowed to put its anti-democratic agenda into full effect.

But challenging times call for bold measures. We need to step up the pressure on Labour’s leaders. Strikers and campaign groups should descend on Liverpool at the end of the month to demand the party changes course and supports those unions facing job losses and real pay cuts, that the leadership campaigns on conference policy, rather than the mild reforms that the Tories and bosses can live with but we can’t.

Instead of touring picket lines, like she did last year, Sharon Graham should expose Starmer and his crew from the podium.

The same goes for all the left trade union and parliamentary leaders. Yes, the Tory press may lap it up but more importantly millions of workers around the country will hear the voice of the left and take heart from it.

Dave Ward and others have made a lot of noise at Enough Is Enough rallies about campaigning ‘without Labour’ if necessary: they should take this message to the conference floor to make sure the party’s leaders and members get the point.

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