Starmer backsliding weakens Labour 

Editorial 322

Despite Labour running ahead in the opinion polls, the Tories losing hundreds of seats in local elections, and Sunak seen as weak in failing to sack his deputy Dominic Raab for bullying, Starmer’s Labour is failing to present a clear political alternative. It is not as if the Tories have not created countless opportunities. Labour could stand by the public sector workers, especially nurses, junior doctors, teachers and lecturers, saying they have a powerful case for inflation-proof pay rises and rebut the argument that public sector pay causes price rises. Instead, the line is the worthy ‘negotiate’ and ‘get round the table’. On energy price hikes, Labour could be championing the popular policy of renationalisation and price freezes. Instead, silence. On immigration and asylum, Labour could make a stand for free movement, or at least for humane treatment, of refugees and asylum seekers, condemn the illegal Rwanda plan and fight to ditch the iniquitous illegal immigration bill being pushed through Parliament.  

Worse, we have the cheap and tawdry ‘attack ads’ accusing Sunak of being soft on child abusers and efforts to outbid the Tories on being tough on crime. Trevor Fisher reports on the feeble politics aired in the Stoke launch of the crime mission statement, one of five in Starmer’s plan. The ads are generally panicky and unprincipled, based on the same lack of belief that sent Blair into the arms of Murdoch in 1995. Labour is better than this. Why not, “Do you think we should re-enter the EU single market as a stepping stone to deeper relations with the EU? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.” Or, “Do you think the nurses we clapped during Covid should be paid a wage that protects them from raging inflation? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.” The Tories are desperate, which is why they are playing cheap dog-whistle politics on small boats and transgender issues, as reported by Caitlin Barr.

We need to remind people that the Tories have been in power for 13 years, during which their five prime ministers have inflicted a regime of austerity, with deep cuts to all public and local government services – not forgetting Brexit, Partygate, cronyism, the Truss debacle, attacks on trade union and civil rights, deepening the wealth gap and backtracking on climate crisis commitments. 

In the face of this onslaught, Duncan Bowie asks where is the substance in Labour’s policy offer? On every policy area, from housing to health, welfare to migration, Labour is either silent or feeble. Long gone are the ten pledges on which Starmer won the Labour leadership. Ann Black explains the weak democratic process and narrow window for party members to influence the shape of the manifesto. This over-centralised, top-down approach is straight out of the Blair play book. Worse, we have waves of expulsions and the blocking of Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate on the specious grounds he failed to win the last general election. Democracy in the Labour Party is diminishing daily. 

Equality should be a big issue for Labour. Nikki Pound exposes the growing gender pay gap, exacerbated by Covid and still growing. Closing the gap could be a popular campaign for Labour. Hugh Gault analyses the Casey report that condemns the Met Police as institutionally racist – another example of failure under the Tories’ watch; another issue for a high-profile Labour campaign. 

Brexit is a further huge faultline where the rewards of leaving are shown to be so much eye-wash, from farmers with diminished subsidies and pickers to a failing fishing industry. Victor Anderson looks at secret trade deals that undermine decarbonisation goals, with the latest Pacific trade agreement representing less than 0.08% of GDP. 

Geoff Bell reports that the Windsor Framework provides a sticking plaster on the Northern Ireland Protocol, with hard-line Unionists continuing to boycott the Assembly and weaken the Northern Ireland colonial statelet. Scotland has also seen its share of crisis and chaos over the last few months. Gerry Hassan reports on the problems of the SNP, with the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, a new leader and financial irregularities in its party finances with possible criminal charges, while Labour’s prospects brighten. Allan Armstrong reports on the grassroots independence campaign plan to mark the coronation with a republican festival. 

The cost-of-living crisis, strike waves, a widening gap between rich and poor within and across nations, and failure to halt the slide to climate emergency for many all underline the case against capitalism. Don Flynn discusses the views of Martin Wolf, who advocates capitalist reform, alongside American senator Bernie Sanders, who argues in his book that the profit system must go. 

On the international front, the war in Ukraine looks set to run deep into another year. Leading Labour MPs Clive Lewis and John McDonnell have taken up calls for more military aid for the besieged Ukrainian forces to help them expel Putin’s imperial occupation. Vladislav Starodubtsev explains the current state of solidarity and what is needed for victory against the Russian imperialists. 

Israel’s new extreme-right government has provoked a massive response from Israelis who view Netayahu’s power grab against the judiciary as a fatal weakening of democratic claims for the state. Martin Linton reports on the repercussions, the green light to further illegal settlements and the response of Palestinians

As the far-right take control in Italy, Phil Vellender reviews John Foot on Mussolini’s Fascist period and reminds us of the brutal, repressive and racist regime that ruled for over 20 years, drawing some lessons for today. 

Without a robust democratic socialist movement in the UK and across Europe, the prospect of ever more dangerous repressive and xenophobic populist movements gaining power grows. Starmer needs to wake up to this threat. 

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