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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 February 2021

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1122

Starmer's speech a return to New Labour

Support a workers' and socialist fightback at the ballot box

photo Jeremy Corbyn photostream/CC

photo Jeremy Corbyn photostream/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Labour leader Keir Starmer's speech, supposedly setting out his vision for Britain, did nothing to counter the criticism that he is dull. It contained virtually no policy proposals. Nonetheless, it played another role, more important from Starmer's point of view, hammering home what he considers his most important message: that the Corbyn era is over.

Many of those who voted for Starmer to become Labour leader did so in the hope that he would not abandon the main policies from Labour's 2019 election manifesto. From day one of his leadership, however, it has been clear that he has no intention of standing by any policy which runs counter to the interests of the capitalist class.

Big business

Starmer's mantra was summed up in his speech when, against the backdrop of a union jack, he said: "For too long Labour has failed to realise that the only way to deliver social justice and equality is through a strong partnership with business."

Who did he mean when he said that? Not Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. Starmer was trying to trash Corbynism: five brief years when Labour had a leadership that was at least prepared to put forward a programme in the interests of the working and middle classes, instead of the pro-big business mantras of the New Labour era.

The capitalist elite fought tooth and nail to defeat Corbyn and, unfortunately, the hesitancy and willingness to compromise of Corbyn and those around him handed them victory. The result is Starmer, now with Peter Mandelson at his elbow. Mandelson, Tony Blair's prince of darkness, who once declared that New Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich", is back in Labour's innercircle, and Starmer's speech was no more than a New Labour re-tread.

No mention was made of nationalisation of privatised public services, or of kicking the profiteers out of the NHS. Corbyn's pledge of a programme of mass council housebuilding has disappeared, to be replaced with a meaningless aspiration of "affordable" housing. For decades now Tory and New Labour governments have promised affordable housing, but by relying on the private sector to deliver, have created nothing but insecure, expensive homes.

Starmer promised a new "partnership with business" again and again. In the course of the pandemic the gulf between big business and the working class in Britain has been laid bare. A few at the top have done very well. Over the last year the chief executives of Britain's 100 biggest stock market-listed companies have collected an obscene 73 times the average wage of their workers.

Meanwhile, workers are facing the dole queue or fire and rehire on worse terms and conditions, as employers fight to ensure that their profits are protected, and make their workforce carry the can for the crisis.

Unsurprisingly given Starmer's policies, the president of the Bakers' Union has reported that a consultation of his unions' members on disaffiliation from Labour has found only 9% think that Labour is serving their interests. Faced with desperate battles to defend their jobs, wages and living conditions, the working class doesn't need a 'partnership with business', it needs its own independent political voice, to stand up against the attacks of the bosses in the political arena.

At this stage, the leaders of the Labour-affiliated left-led trade unions are focused on fighting a rearguard action within Labour, demanding that Corbyn is reinstated as a Labour MP, and that party democracy is restored.

Unfortunately, the destruction of Labour's democratic structures in the Blair era was not reversed under Corbyn, nor were the pro-capitalist MPs and councillors deselected. That leaves Starmer at the head of a party machine in his own pro-capitalist image, with no intention of allowing it to be shifted left by the affiliated trade unions. Nor do the unions have a large financial influence - just 11% of Labour funds came from trade union affiliation fees in 2019.

The left union leaders are demanding that Labour's national executive committee (NEC) calls an emergency conference. But they need to go further. If, as is very likely, the NEC refuses, the union leaders should call a conference themselves, involving all those - inside and outside the Labour Party - who oppose Starmer's move to the right and want to fight for a vehicle for working-class political representation.

Anti-cuts candidates

If a conference agreed even limited steps, such as freeing trade union branches to stand or back anti-cuts candidates in May's elections, and setting up a trade union group in parliament (perhaps proposing Corbyn as its chair), it would do more to fight back against Starmer's New Labour than any amount of pleading behind closed doors.

It would also prepare the ground for a widespread anti-cuts challenge in May's elections. This is more important now than at any time in the last ten years, with eight out of ten councils with responsibility for social care facing technical insolvency, and Labour councils preparing to implement the resulting devastating cuts to their services and employees terms and conditions.

However, if the left trade union leaders do not act, the Socialist Party will be fighting to ensure there is a working-class anti-austerity challenge in May's elections. Socialist Party members will be standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition alongside other trade unionists, community campaigners and young people to fight back against the Tories and Starmer's New Labour at the ballot box.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
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In The Socialist 24 February 2021:


Covid

Where's the road map to jobs and wages Boris?

Johnson's 'road map' for schools: Act together to protect safety

Vaccine algorithm can't solve capitalist inequality

Garment workers and Covid: Dying for less than minimum wage


What we think

Starmer's speech a return to New Labour


News

Justice for Moyied Bashir

Uber drivers win case - they are workers

Social care: End privatisation and let workers decide how it's run


Lessons from history

How militant trade unionism defeated the 1971 Industrial Relations Act


Workplace news

Usdaw elections - right makes gains but Broad Left builds

HMRC: Divisive pay deal leads to expulsions

Hinkley Point electricians fight 'deskilling'

"I'm here to fight for the future education of children in Hackney"

London bus dispute against low pay, pay cuts and longer hours

GMB members continue fight against 'fire and rehire' in British Gas

Scunthorpe steelworks scaffolders: Fifth week of action


TUSC

Liverpool Unite branch supports 'no cuts' budget strategy

Scottish TUSC election campaign launch

Keep the fighting fund rushing in for a TUSC stand in May


Campaigns news

W. Sussex children's centres on the chopping block

Coventry success building subscriptions

Socialist Students conference - postering

Save John Carroll Leisure Centre

Getting the Socialist out in lockdown


LGBT+ history month

Pride flag is about unity in struggle

Tories tout toilet tensions


International news

Nigeria: Abbey Trotsky on trial for assisting workers' struggle

Facebook v Australian government: nationalise the bosses' media!


Readers' opinion

Film Review: The White Tiger

Tories admit guilt for asylum seeker neglect

Tories target universities in free speech shakedown

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