Peter Stoddart discusses the recent Labour Party conference and considers the implications for the wider labour and progressive movement.
Addressing the Labour Party Conference this week, Keir Starmer made clear that the Corbyn era was over. Marking a shift from Corbyn, the Labour leader told the online conference that the Party was “under new leadership”.
Directly critiquing the Corbyn era, Starmer said “Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security”. Pandering to the right wing press, Starmer has sought to fling his predecessor under the bus. This is despite his promises to defend Labour’s record in opposition.
Speaking from a purely electoral perspective, this strategy is unlikely to win any voters over to the Labour Party. Labour will never be able to ‘Out-Patriotism’ the Tories. Instead it is only alienating its trade union and left of centre voter base. Not only this, the right wing press will never believe Labour is genuinely patriotic. Even if Starmer espouses his belief that “Britain is the best country to grow old in”.
It’s time to get serious about winning.
That means we have to change, and that’s what we’re doing.
This is a party under new leadership.Kier Starmer, Labour Party Conference
Another key area where Corbyn was determined to make a difference was in policy. Throughout his tenure, the Labour Party was explicit in what it would do, what policies would be adopted and most crucially, how it would pay for it all. Starmer’s speech this week had none of that, and very little of any substance.
Discussing the Labour leader’s speech this week, Ben Chacko, editor of the Morning Star, wrote on Wednesday that it “shows Labour is not offering fundamental change: in a crisis that has exposed the injustice and unsustainable nature of the current system as dramatically as Covid, that’s a problem”.
It was also revealed yesterday that the Labour Party had cut the furlough of its staff short, despite the scheme lasting into October. This flies in the face of activists up and down the country who are calling for an extension to the scheme to protect the jobs of working people. It is estimated that without an extension, unemployment could soar into the millions.
A perfect, if cruel, summation of what Starmer means when he says the Party is “Under new leadership”. It’s useless to pretend Corbyn was perfect. Nonetheless, it is clear that definitive progress was made within Labour in the last five years. What is also becoming clear is that Starmer, those in control of the Labour Party and the right wing media is determined to undo that progress.
Furthermore, in a radio interview this week, former Labour Leadership candidate and MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy highlighted again that the Party had lurched to the right. Echoing Starmer’s comments in Conference she said “[Labour] stands up for Britain, we stand up for British people, we stand up for British interests and we will always put that first”. Given the role of Britain First in perpetuating far-right and neo-nazi propaganda in this country, which ultimately led to the death of Labour MP, Jo Cox, these insensitive comments are nothing short of jingoism.
Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, was sacked today from her role supporting the Shadow Cabinet, for opposing the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. The bill aims to stop future investigations into the actions of veterans in a move which left MPs have said “effectively decriminalises torture”. Labour MPs were ordered to abstain from the Bill, although 18 Labour MPs opposed it along with the SNP and Liberal Democrats. Ultimately the Bill passed because of abstentions, highlighting again that Starmer’s forensic working only serves the Tories purpose. Meanwhile Corbyn’s supposed lack of effective opposition led to the most Government U-Turns ever recorded in a single parliamentary term.
The comments from across the Labour Party this week do well to reinforce Starmer’s central message. “This is a party under new leadership”. But what does that actually mean? And what does it mean for us, as communists.
In line with the BRS and the Party Line, the Party and the YCL remain committed to the election of a Left-Labour Government. However, there are clear differences that have developed following Starmer’s election. The Party has already made moves to put up candidates in next year’s local and Scottish and Welsh national elections. Whilst Corbyn was in power, the CP made a deliberate effort to support the Labour Party and called for supporters to come “All out for Labour”. In fact in both 2017 and 2019, YCLers and CP members were often some of the most vocal supporters of Labour candidates across the doorsteps.
Nonetheless, the CP is not an primarily an electoral party, and while we, as communists, were proud to support left Labour candidates in those elections, it was never our sole focus. Therefore, whilst losing Corbyn at the helm of the Labour Party is a blow to the labour and progressive movement, it does not signify an end to our work. If anything it highlights we must redouble our efforts. National politics is incredibly important, and while it might fill the headlines of the tabloid press, it should not become the sole focus of our work.
YCLers and Communists en masse, should continue to build our trade unions, continue to work with our allies across the labour movement and continue working to build working class power from within our communities. The work of the British Labour Party is often irrelevant to all this work. This is not to say that members of Labour do not subscribe to these aims, but that the work of social democrats, as members of a parliamentary party, will not be the ones to deliver this power.
Similarly, for many of those on the left of the Labour Party questioning their membership, it is important to question where one’s efforts are best placed. Thousands of Labour supporters have already rescinded their membership and hundreds have joined the CP in response. However, being a member of Labour does not exclude you from doing the work described above. Many left activists within Labour represent some of the foremost left voices in their community and their position in Labour offers them the support of their class.
For others however, the shifts developing within Labour are too much to stomach and restrict their ability to build working class power. For people in this position, it is important to question where your politics fit best, and more importantly, where you think you can build that power.
Regardless of who sits at the top of the Labour Party’s conference, what this pandemic has shown us is that we need a working class alternative. The halls of Westminster will not deliver working class power. Only we can. Only you can.
If we want to oust the Tories we have to be prepared to build the extra-parliamentary power to get rid of them. Corbynism may have inspired a generation to support socialism, but if we actually want to go about building it, then we have to be prepared to fight for it.