Photos: Paul Mattsson, Rwendland/CC
Photos: Paul Mattsson, Rwendland/CC

It is highly likely that a Keir Starmer-led Labour government will form after the general election. But what will it inherit? An ailing economy with stagnant growth and productivity well below its peers.

For working-class people, there has been the longest sustained fall in living standards in 70 years and 11 million people face food insecurity. Neither or these issues make it onto Labour’s internal ‘shitlist’, drawn up before the election was called.

Preparing for what faces Labour in power, Keir Starmer’s chief of staff Sue Gray has drawn up a list of six major challenges: Thames Water collapse, public sector pay, prison overcrowding, universities going under, NHS funding and local councils.

Add to that; rocketing rents and mortgages, crumbling schools, childcare services at breaking point, climate change, thousands of redundancies looming at Tata Steel in Port Talbot, and much more.

What is needed to address the ‘shitlist’? And what kind of policies are needed to deal with the 101 other problems facing working-class people in Britain? The Socialist will be publishing articles throughout the general election campaign, putting forward what is needed. This issue takes up the six shitlist items.

1) NHS

7.5 million people are waiting for routine care on the NHS. People wait months in pain and discomfort and with the possibility of further complications developing increasing. Every year for the last 11, the length of time patients wait for treatment after cancer is suspected has increased.

‘Cut NHS waiting times’ is one of ‘Labour’s first steps for change’. To achieve that there are plans for more evening and weekend appointments, with money available to pay staff overtime. But there are already 120,000 staff vacancies in the NHS – long, unsociable hours as well as low pay are big reasons for this.

The Tories have wrecked our NHS through chronic underfunding and privatisation. They took it over pre-loaded with billions of pounds of PFI debt from the last Labour government. And Labour says it plans for more private involvement.

We say:

  • Fully fund our NHS, including free prescriptions and dental care
  • End staff shortages – for mass recruitment of health staff with decent pay and working conditions
  • Scrap university tuition fees and provide free training and development for NHS staff with living grants and bursaries
  • Kick private profit out of our health service, cancel PFI debt
  • Nationalise private health facilties, social care and the pharmaceutical industry with compensation only on the basis of need
  • For working-class democratic control of our NHS by health workers and service users

2) Local councils

After over a decade of Tory austerity, local authorities’ budgets have been slashed. Communities have seen the shutting or privatisation of libraries, community centres, playgrounds, leisure centres and more. In almost every council there have been battles against cuts and closures of council-run services.

Socialist Party members have called on councillors to refuse to implement central government cuts, to use reserves and borrowing powers as a stopgap and build a mass campaign to demand the funding needed. Standing in local elections as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coaltion, Socialist Party members and others put forward this as an alternative.

Very few Labour councillors have followed this road, and those that have and voted against cuts budgets have been expelled from their groups. This lack of a fightback has led to the sorry state of affairs we see today.

While councils, such as Birmingham, Nottingham and others, have declared section 114 notices, meaning they will only provide services they are legally forced to, others have cut services so deeply you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Most councils have increased council tax by the maximum amount they can, and what are we seeing for it but a managed decline?

How will the next government deal with more councils going into financial difficulty? With more debt being taken on by central government? More cuts, closures and fire sales of assets? Or by funding the services we need?

  • Reverse the decade of cuts to local services. No council tax rises
  • Kick out the profiteers – bring outsourced staff and services back in-house
  • Build high-equality, environmentally friendly council homes
  • For democratic planning of local service provision
  • Councils must set budgets to meet need, demand the money from government

3) Universities

The whole university system is in a state of financial crisis. After over a decade of cuts to funding by Tory-led governments, they are reliant on the inflated fees that can be levied on international students. Many universities’ budget sheets are on a cliff edge – 40% are expected to run budget deficits this year.

And, without a change to the broken fees model – something the Tories have been unable to even attempt to tackle due to their deep splits – students and staff will pay the price. Already, universities such as Goldsmiths have announced redundancies and course closures. The next government could see a wave of institutions going bust or ending the courses of thousands.

Keir Starmer has ruled out abolishing tuition fees, saying it’s a choice between that and the NHS. But the model is broken and something must be done to prevent collapse. The trebling of tuition fees under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government sparked a mass student movement, the first mass movement against austerity nationally. Making young people pay the price again could be the spark to set off another student revolt.

We need:

  • Free, high-quality education accessible to all. This means scrapping fees, replacing loans with maintenance grants students can actually live on, and cancelling student debt
  • Investing in education infrastructure, from schools to colleges and universities, pay rises for staff to offset the damage done by inflation, and reducing workloads
  • The money for this is there, not in the bank accounts of students, but in the balance sheets of the super-rich bosses. A nationalised, democratically planned economy could fund the education we need

4) Public sector pay

An experienced NHS nurse faced a 25% real-terms pay cut between 2010 and 2023-24, for experienced teachers it’s something like 20%, cuts of a similar scale for civil servants and local government workers too. Many are paid the minimum wage – school support staff, nearly a quarter of DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) workers, and more. No wonder public sector workers were among the hundreds of thousands taking strike action during the strike wave.

The next government will form with no pay offer having been made to teachers, NHS and civil service workers for 2024-25. Local government workers have been offered a low pay offer, currently being considered by the trade unions and their members.

Within weeks, the next government will have to reckon with nearly six million public sector workers fed up with pay cuts and a cost-of-living crisis.

As recruitment crises wrack the public sector, along with paid training and improved work-life balance, pay restoration is needed.

  • For fully funded, inflation-proof pay rises
  • Organise now for strike action to demand a real pay rise
  • Bring outsourced workers back in house, on trade union-agreed pay, terms and conditions
  • Fight for pay restoration to address over a decade of real-terms pay cuts

5) Thames Water crisis

The failure of Thatcher’s privatisations to encourage investment and a decent service for us is undeniable. Water companies pump gallons and gallons of sewage into our rivers, lakes and beaches every year. All while our bills go up across the board.

Privatisation has been very successful for a few however, the vulture capitalists and speculators that, while refusing to invest what is needed, have sucked out profits from our infrastructure. £78 billion has been removed in the form of dividends paid to water company shareholders since privatisation.

But now, in Thames Water, this process has seemingly gone too far. Massively in debt and missing payments, the spectre of renationalisation to save it from collapse is looming.

A Starmer government renationalising Thames Water could open the floodgates to other questions. Why leave the rest of the water system in private hands? Energy production or any of the other privatised industries? As Royal Mail is sold to a billionaire and there are attempts to scrap the six-days universal service, why not take it into public hands and run it without profit? And as Tata Steel tries to run down the Port Talbot steelworks, leading to thousands of job losses with the devastating effects this will have, why not take that into democratic public ownership with the workers themselves controlling and managing a green transition?

  • No bailouts for the fat cat bosses – nationalise water, transport, mail, steel, energy, with compensation only paid to those with proven need
  • An environmentally friendly plan of production can be drawn up that reduces pollution, reduces emissions and doesn’t make the working class pay
  • Nationalise the banks and big businesses under democratic workers’ control and management. Plan the economy for need not for greed

6) Prisons

The crumbling of services across the board has been laid bare under Tory rule, with even relatively hidden crises coming to the fore, such as the prison system. Ministers were recently forced to trigger a plan which allows the criminal justice system to delay court cases of some suspects because of overcrowding in prisons.

The overcrowding is dangerous for workers and inmates alike. Violence against prison officers is rife and Parc prison in Bridgend has seen nine prisoner deaths in just two months earlier this year. Some prisons report inmates even “using buckets and then throwing the waste out of the window” when using the toilet.

This is the situation a Starmer Labour government will inherit, but one prison reform group has described Labour’s prisons policy as “a blank page”. But while it was the Tories who created Europe’s first private prison in Yorkshire in 1992, New Labour ran with the policy so much so that when the coalition government announced nine new private prisons in 2011, it seemed the norm.

To fill that ‘blank page’ we call for:

  • More funding and safe staffing levels in prisons
  • Kick profit out – nationalise prisons and the justice system
  • A socialist justice system based on protection and rehabilitation, not private profit

Build a new workers’ party fight for socialist change

In an effort to lower expectations, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves talks endlessly about ‘iron-clad fiscal rules’. Translated into English that means ‘no money to spend’. But what of the £795 billion combined wealth of the 350 members of the recently published Sunday Times Rich List?

Addressing Labour’s business conference in February, Starmer told bosses: “We’ve taken decisions together as equal partners in the venture of national renewal. Your fingerprints – on every one of our five missions”. He sees Labour as representing the bosses not the workers.

The working class needs its own political voice – a new mass workers’ party. For this election, Socialist Party members have fought for a trade union backed workers’ list of candidates to stand, and to bring together working-class opposition to the Tories and Labour under the same banner. The Socialist Party will stand a number of candidates in the general election, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Our candidates will fight for policies that can transform the lives of working-class people, paid for by taking the vast wealth and resources currently hoarded by big business and the super-rich into public ownership – nationalising the top 150 companies and big banks with compensation only on the basis of proven need.

In public ownership, and under the democratic control and management of the working-class majority, production could be planned to meet the needs of all and the environment.

Dealing with the manyfold crises facing the working class means fighting for socialist change. That’s what Socialist Party members will be doing during this election campaign. Join us to help!