Labour tilting at windmills


Almost 18 months into Keir Starmer’s leadership and the Labour Party is not moving ahead in the polls. Covid-19 has cost over 155,000 lives, many unnecessary due to government incompetence, but Labour has not managed to shift opinion against Johnson’s gang of right-wing privatising authoritarian little Englanders.

There are plenty of open goals: the decision to peg nurses’ pay at 3% and other public sector workers even lower, despite a sustained wage freeze. Another, the plan to end the £20 uplift on the misnamed Universal Credit, driving millions back into poverty. Worse, the impending end of the furlough scheme could see over a million workers joining the 700,000 already jobless or four million in precarious zero hours or agency employment, as Kate Bell explains. The safety of workers has been downgraded by the government’s cavalier attitude to ending lockdown without enforcement of necessary safeguards like mask wearing in shops, on public transport or entertainment venues. Paul Nowak sees this as a continuation of gung-ho approaches to staff safety in hospitals and care homes seen at the start of coronavirus.

Meanwhile the NHS is facing a huge reorganisation under the guise of Integrated Care Systems which open doors to greater private profiteering and reduced democratic accountability, as Stephanie Clark reports.

In the face of a climate emergency and the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, the government delays huge fossil fuel projects, Cambo oil drilling and a new Cumbrian coal mine, to avoid embarrassment. Nigel Doggett outlines the dimensions of the environmental crisis as Extinction Rebellion mount more street protests to raise awareness.

On all these fronts Labour has been pulling its punches instead of endorsing trade union and civil society campaigns.

Under Johnson’s regime the impact of the pandemic inequalities have widened on every front, most conspicuously between rich and poor, rubbed in by the awarding of billions of public money to crony companies. David Cameron’s £7 million from the collapsed Greensill Capital shows another side.

Black and Asian people have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, in terms of deaths and infections, as Farah El-Sharnouby explains, particularly hitting health workers. Meanwhile the government is ramping up the racist divide-and-rule policies we saw much of during the Brexit campaign. Don Flynn reports on the Nationality and Borders Bill designed to toughen already tight restrictions on asylum seekers and migrants, while Julie Ward highlights how racist attacks on Roma and Gypsy communities have grown.

In the wake of the UK’s neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bungled interventions elsewhere, thousands of refugees and inhabitants of these shores face a rising tide of Islamophobia, as outlined by Shaista Aziz. Again, Labour needs to set its own house in order as well as turning the heat on the government for its direct culpability in fuelling prejudice against migrants with its ‘hostile environment’ policies.

Labour seems to be tilting at red wall windmills in its efforts to find a direction. We have yet to have an official review of the 2019 general election and Hartlepool by-election defeats, or the successes and failures of the recent mayoral and council elections, as Robbie Scott reports. Instead we have the divisive purging of radical groups in the party and particularly Jewish members, as reported by Dave Lister.

At the heart of Labour’s problem is the issue of democracy. On present showing Labour is unlikely to win an outright majority, and with boundary changes and voter suppression it faces a steeper climb. But we have a government ruling with barely 43% of the electorate, an 80-seat majority with a significantly higher left-of-centre vote out in the wilderness. This is why we have joined with others, under the banner of Labour for a New Democracy, to secure a change in our antiquated voting system. This Chartist supplement is a contribution, with leading articles from Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Nadia Whittome MP supporting proportional representation. A commitment to electoral reform could well get Labour over the line to form the next government and make the democratic changes and radical policies on wealth redistribution, the Green New Deal and social justice that are so desperately needed.

The fundamental question on winning the next election and preventing two decades of Tory rule is tackled by Don Flynn, who argues Labour’s Plan for Work is but a tepid beginning in the process of identifying the agencies and policies for winning. Certainly Labour needs to win back voters in red wall seats, but not at the expense of Generation Left (millennials and younger voters of an internationalist, liberal-minded, egalitarian green outlook) in the cosmopolitan cities and other regions.

As the mirage of ‘global Britain’ fades in the face of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, Brexit realities of labour and food shortages and the failure to secure all but tiny trade deals, Paul Garver assesses the first period of the Biden regime and finds the window for radical reform beginning to close. In Europe, Glyn Ford looks at prospects for the left in the German elections which could have significant global implications. Jason Gold shines a light on the creeping fascism in the little reported Balkan state of Montenegro, while Francie Molloy MP finds the changing demographics and Tory bungles over the Northern Ireland Protocol underline the legitimacy of a poll on Irish unity.

Starmer’s Labour cannot afford not to be brave. The targets are clear. It’s the Tories deepening the wealth and social divide in this beleaguered isle. What’s needed is a commitment to democratic reform and a strong political message to protect and empower the many against the privileges and greed of the few. The pandemic has seen a lurch to corporate style capitalism, but as the plug is pulled on state support Labour needs to enter centre-stage with a persuasive narrative of social and employment support, popularising policies for a green and democratic revolution.

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