Tens of thousands attended rallies, and millions voted for an anti-austerity manifesto, when it was put forward by Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Steve Score
Tens of thousands attended rallies, and millions voted for an anti-austerity manifesto, when it was put forward by Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Steve Score

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1278

Keir Starmer has been preparing the Labour Party for this general election since he took over as leader in 2020. His 16-point lead over Rishi Sunak is increasing. Even if the polls narrow as the election gets nearer, Starmer is still confident he will lead the next government.

His first task after taking over from Jeremy Corbyn was to show big business he could be trusted to defend their interests. He has succeeded – he has a 17-point lead over the Tories among business leaders.

Now, he is clearly looking ahead to life in Number 10, which is why he has pushed on with his purge of ‘left-wing’ Labour candidates.

Starmer is not about to govern during a healthy economic period for British capitalism. Government debt is 98% of GDP, and the economy is still 16% smaller then if the pre-2008 crisis trends had continued. Economic data aside, there is no doubt that working-class people are feeling the impact of capitalist stagnation.

In the last 12 months, the Trussell Trust has distributed over 3.1 million emergency food parcels. More than one in five people in the UK are living in poverty, and there are around twice as many people in work and living in poverty compared to 1997.

The ‘S’ word

It’s no wonder there was so much enthusiasm for Corbyn’s demands in 2015, when he won the Labour leadership. Even when Corbyn was defiled in the press as a socialist, it just meant more people started to think of themselves as socialists as they looked for an alternative.

This latent anger and mood for change among working-class and young people still terrifies the capitalist class. We saw that anger played out in the strike wave, and in the ongoing huge Gaza protests and more.

Many will have laughed when Starmer described himself as a ‘socialist’, and few will have believed him. But the ‘S’ word was hardly uttered by Labour Party politicians for 20 years until Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. The fact that Starmer has been forced to call himself a socialist is more proof that the spectre of Corbynism, and the need felt by millions for a political alternative, still loom over this election.

Why purge?

Confident of his victory, Starmer wants to root out any individuals from the Parliamentary Labour Party who could come under working-class pressure after the election. That explains the latest phase of his purge.

Over 500 people gathered in a last-minute protest on 31 May in support of Faiza Shaheen, who has been blocked from standing as the Labour candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green. She has launched a legal battle against her removal as the candidate. But while she has support in the local community, Starmer has probably calculated that she won’t pose a threat having been removed.

The battle around Diane Abbott seems to have ended differently. She has been allowed to ‘go forward’ as the Labour candidate, although at the time of writing this still has to be ratified by Labour’s National Executive Committee.

Starmer’s New Labour machine has clearly been divided over whether she should be allowed to stand, given the anger among Black workers in particular at blocking the first Black woman MP, who has endured a huge amount of racism during her 40 years in parliament.

In addition, six general secretaries of affiliated unions, including Sharon Graham from Unite, which has over 1.2 million members, wrote to Starmer to demand Abbott be allowed to stand. However, even if Abbott is allowed to stand, it is clear that the ‘cull of the left’ she described is taking place, with Shaheen, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and perhaps others effected.

Starmer is preparing for what is ahead. With the Tories gone after 14 years, working-class people will expect an end to public service cuts and falling living standards. But this isn’t what a Starmer government has in store, and he could quickly find himself in the midst of a new strike wave, as people fight to improve their living conditions.

‘Independent’ or ‘socialist and trade unionist’?

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in which the Socialist Party participates, was set up as an electoral umbrella for trade unionists, socialists and community campaigners to stand in elections. As Mick Lynch, general secretary of transport union RMT, said in 2022 during the strike wave: “The working class is back!”

We think that means that having socialist and trade unionist on the ballot, instead of independent, is a strength. It shows voters looking for an alternative to war and the cost-of-living crisis which alternative candidates want to take on those issues.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition name is a better description than simply ‘independent’, because this struggle isn’t independent from all the other class battles currently taking place: junior doctors’ strikes, and protests against war, cuts to services or the climate crisis. This is why the Socialist Party calls on all ousted left Labour candidates to consider being part of the TUSC election challenge.

Above all, however, we call on them to contest the general election. Jeremy Corbyn has also now announced he will be standing as an independent, having had the whip removed in 2020. He has a lot of support in the local area where he has been the MP for 41 years.

In the next parliament, Corbyn alongside any other left of Labour MPs, could play an important role as class struggle heats up. Even a small number could form a left bloc in parliament, helping to hold Starmer to account. Such a bloc can be a pole of attraction for workers entering struggle.

Very quickly after this election, the issues around privatisation disasters at Thames Water and Tata Steel will be raised, and around council cuts, rising prices, and falling take-home pay.

But any opposition, both inside and outside parliament, will need to be properly organised if it hopes to take on the rotten Starmer and the capitalist system. That means getting down to the task of building a new mass workers’ party, based on the organised trade union movement and socialist ideas.