England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Starmer’s national broadcast: reasserting Labour as second eleven for capitalism

Keir Starmer’s national broadcast and the new Labour Party political broadcast were both aired this week, and both were equally dire. They were devoid of politics, full of truisms, and based entirely on the issue of competence — sending a clear message that the only thing Starmer’s Labour would do is the same as the Tories but with more competence.

No mention was made of unscrupulous bosses putting their workers at risk, no mention of predatory landlords threatening tenants with homelessness, no mention of the rise of racism, and no mention of social class.

While it is true that the Tories are failing to protect workers, this is not a simple matter of incompetence — they are not there to represent the needs of workers! From the perspective of sections of British capitalism, particularly those contracted to run test and trace and other COVID response services, the Tories have been very competent, handing over multibillion-pound contracts to private corporations with a history of incompetence. The only genuine incompetence shown by the Tories (at least from their perspective) is their failure to support other sections of British capitalism, which are currently floundering because of recession and new lockdown restrictions.

Commentators on NovaraMedia provided interesting and mostly correct analyses of the broadcasts. Where they fell short was in their suggestion that Starmer was walking into a trap because he accepted the Tories terms of debate — that winning votes was about appealing to the ideas of nationalism and loving your country – “Britain first”, as Lisa Nandy suggested.

But if this a trap, it is one they are walking into with eyes wide open. Pandering to racism, or “triangulation” as their strategists put it, is nothing new for Blairite Labour. Many will remember Labour’s anti-immigration mug, released in the run up to the 2015 general election. Or Sadiq Khan’s fawning open letter to the right wing Daily Express appealing for UKIP supporters to return to Labour (for all the wrong reasons) after New Labour’s appalling local election results in 2014. Khan’s words bear repeating:

“We know we made mistakes. We’re determined to put them right.

“Take immigration. In the past, we were too quick to dismiss concerns about immigration, or even worse – accused people of prejudice. 

“We all remember Gillian Duffy. We were wrong. We are sorry.

“So what are we offering now? Learning the English language will be a priority. 

“We will change the rules on child benefit – so that it’s no longer paid to children outside of this country.”

Those with an even longer memory, will recall the 2009 dispute at Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, where migrant labour was deliberately brought in (under the EU’s Posted Workers Directive) to undercut union negotiated rates. The response from the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to use his call for “British jobs for British workers” – a phrase straight out of the BNP’s manifesto!

Right wing Labour’s constant refrain that you cannot change things unless you win elections, as if progress only ever trickles down from the top, is demonstrably false, as any experienced socialist or trade unionist understands. The boss’s class don’t give, they concede — invariably under pressure from below! But this does help to explain why they mimic the policies of elected parties.

The truth is that Starmer is attempting to reassert Labour as a credible alternative to the Tories – a second 11 for the capitalists. No wonder The Spectator and The Times now feel confident in openly attacking Boris Johnson, and no wonder the Tory press is carrying favourable articles written by and about Starmer.

But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Parliamentary representation can be a vital platform for advancing worker’s struggle – see Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant in the US for an excellent example of how political leadership plays a central role in building worker’s revolt.

Working class people urgently need political representation. It is paramount that socialists throw themselves into the explosive struggles which are poised to take place, including by organising local conferences of resistance which can bring together all the different develop struggles. The Labour Party under Starmer will not play any role in these movements or give them a lead – the fight will be outside and will come from below. It will be through these movements that we will make steps in the direction of creating a mass party of struggle.


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