Will Starmer pick up the gauntlet?


Finally, after partying and holidaying his way through the summer, Boris Johnson is gone and his successor entering Number 10 promising more of the same. Johnson’s legacy is one of deeper social, economic and regional division, rising poverty, collapsing underfunded public services, and growing British isolation, alongside a reversal of commitments to tackle the climate emergency.

Worst of all, millions of Britons in the sixth-richest country in the world are facing the spectre of huge cuts in living standards and the choice or heating or eating. Inflation is currently running at 10%, and economists predict further increases to 15 or even 20%. Yet the Government insists that workers, who have seen the value of their earnings shrink by over £1,000 on average over the last ten years, should accept 2% to 5% wage rises. The usual nonsense about wages driving prices becomes the newspeak of ministers and their media mouthpieces. But as retail and hospitality businesses, barely recovered from the pandemic, face collapse, thousands of bankruptcies and a recession loom.

Liz Truss, along with most Tories, offers tax cuts which will mostly benefit the rich and further impoverish already cash-starved public services, particularly the NHS. While workers are told to tighten their belts, the High Pay Centre reports that the average pay of FTSE 100 chiefs rose by 39% last year.  Further, with pledges to cut corporation tax, companies like Amazon, already enjoying virtual tax holidays, look set to receive super-deduction handouts worth £27bn, rivalling the cost of Labour’s pledge to freeze the energy price cap at £2,000.

The same profits bonanza is seen with privatised water companies – busy spilling tons of raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters – big oil and gas companies like Shell and BP, rail franchises, and the rest. The case for democratic public ownership of our utilities is popular and unanswerable.

With the energy price caps rising to £3,549 in October and above £5,000 early in the new year, millions will see the terrible twins of personal debt and poverty mushroom. This is a crisis made in Britain, the result of 12 years of Tory misrule with austerity policies slashing our public services, suppressing wages and reducing the social security safety net.

Enough is Enough was recently launched by thousands of trade unionists and activists to say just that. Action is needed now. Trade unions are taking the lead in striking to protect incomes and working conditions. The railway unions, ASLEF, RMT and TSSA, and recently postal staff, barristers and dockers, are in the vanguard with many more to follow. Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary-elect, explains the importance of solidarity and how success for unions will benefit all. Paul Teasdale sets out a five-point plan to deal with soaring inflation and energy bills, while Duncan Bowie echoes Ann Black in our last issue in lamenting the policy vacuum in Labour. At a minimum, this should involve standing with workers on picket lines, not sacking shadow ministers expressing solidarity. If Labour is not for workers protecting livelihoods, what is it for? Wages should at least be tied to inflation, with regular updates, along with price controls. The pledge to freeze energy bills is welcome, as was the windfall tax proposal on energy companies half-heartedly adopted by Sunak. However, much wider policy ideas should be nurtured from the bottom up.

Paul Salveson shows that ‘levelling up’ is proving to be a spiv’s sales gimmick with regional divisions growing. Dave Toke explains why energy efficiency measures, including home insulation grants and investment in renewables, should be at the heart of any plan. If we have learnt anything from the war in Ukraine it is that fossil fuels are the wrong way to go.

Some around the Starmer camp are advocating a return to Blairism. Bryn Jones reviews two recent studies of Labour, concluding this would be a dead end. Rory O’Kelly reveals, through a study of by-election results, that Labour optimism is misplaced. Glyn Ford reports on the belatedly published Forde report revealing the skulduggery at Labour HQ that blighted the Corbyn years. Starmer needs to acknowledge the damage and end the unfounded attacks on the left. Labour is a broad church. A reforged unity would send a powerful signal to voters that Labour is ready for government in place of a Tory party that spent the summer tearing itself apart.

Culture wars are likely to be at the heart of a Truss government. Jean Seaton outlines the dangers to the BBC and public service broadcasting looming ahead. Caitlin Barr and Marge Berer highlight the threats to women’s right to abortion in the aftershocks from the overturning of Roe v Wade, and Margaret Owen highlights wider threats to women’s rights, while Sabia Kamali reports on continuing misogynistic crimes. Paul Garver surveys the scene in the US in the lead-in to the mid-term elections, with Trumpist Republican populism raging.

Internationalism and a recognition that political solutions lie in cooperation across borders should be at the heart of Labour’s alternative. This is the theme of our bumper special supplement, including an updated analysis of Putin’s war in Ukraine by Pete Duncan and Mike Phipps finding the Stop the War Coalition losing its way. Dave Lister highlights British imperialism’s outrageous oppression to maintain the empire in living memory; yet the new Tory leadership seeks to whitewash these crimes in its forlorn bid to make Britain great again.

The gauntlet is now thrown down for Starmer to pick up. Will Labour champion workers’ rights, women’s rights, human and democratic rights? The crisis demands bold action and democratic socialist alternatives with wealth redistribution, international cooperation and democratic reform at their heart. Will Labour provide an answer?

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