The votes cast on May’s super-Thursday elections are still being counted. But already the picture painted is one of an utter disaster for Starmer’s Labour.
Since the 2019 general election, the Tory government has presided over a catastrophe. 150,000 people have died of Covid. The vast majority of these deaths were completely avoidable. They were the direct result of the government repeatedly prioritising profit over measures needed to prevent the virus spreading.
Johnson himself is embroiled in scandal. His party is divided and crisis ridden. Revelations of alleged corruption and toxic comments have dogged the Tories’ run up to these elections.
In this context, anything other than a substantial swing to Labour would represent a humiliating failure for this party’s leadership. To receive a decisive drubbing in a working-class town like Hartlepool goes beyond this. It is an utterly damning indictment of all that Starmer’s leadership represents.
The attempt by Labour’s new Blairite leadership to put this result down to so-called ‘long Corbyn’ is audacious nonsense. To begin with, it ignores the fact that, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the seat was both retained in 2019 and won convincingly in 2017 – with 52.5% of the vote.
Support for left policies
Far from confirming the anti-Corbyn narrative of the right, this result gives the lie to the line advanced by them in response to the 2019 loss of Labour’s ‘red wall’: that this was down to a rejection of Corbyn’s left-wing politics. Polling in the run up to this byelection revealed voters supported policies far to the left of those on offer from any of the mainstream capitalist parties. On NHS pay, 43% supported a 10% increase (the highest option offered), with only one in ten supporting the government’s miserly 1% offer. More than 57% supported renationalising Royal Mail when asked. And finally, despite the sneering mockery with which the Blairites and right-wing media derided Corbyn’s 2019 free broadband pledge, more than 69% supported the idea when polled.
The Hartlepool result was in many ways of a piece with the red wall losses of 2019. Its causes include the Labour right’s long-term neglect of working-class communities that have suffered years of deindustrialisation, austerity and privatisation. They include Labour’s failure to put up any opposition to the running down of local services and jobs via council cuts – which they have instead dutifully implemented. Crucially, they include a deep anger at the attempts of capitalist politicians to reverse the result of the 2016 Leave vote – which for working-class people in these communities was a way of hitting back at the establishment. It was Corbyn’s failure to force out the likes of Starmer and the Blairites, and his capitulation to them on central questions including Brexit, which led to the party’s demise in its heartlands. As this result shows, Starmer’s leadership has accelerated rather than reversed this process.
The only success Starmer has had since assuming office has been the ongoing purge from the party of all vestiges of Corbynism. The expulsions and witch-hunts have made the party once again ‘safe’ from the point of view of capitalism. While Starmer’s leadership has been somewhat undermined by these results – it is the ultra-Blairite wing of the party, not the left, which is organised and prepared to go on the offensive as a result of it.
This underlines the importance of the left getting organised. An opposition to this government’s catastrophic and deadly policies will not come from Starmer’s Labour. But one can be built now – in the form of a mass movement bringing together workers, young people, BLM activists and climate strikers. The trade unions should be leading the charge – starting by organising a huge demonstration in the summer.
Fight for socialism
Such a movement will ultimately require a political voice. Socialist Alternative supports the idea of a new, working-class party to advance these struggles on the political plane. But crucial to the success of any such formation would be the ideas around which it is organised.
Socialist Alternative is organising now to bring together all those who see the need to overthrow the rotten capitalist system – based as it is on the exploitation and oppression of the majority. We fight for a socialist society – in which the big monopolies are owned publicly and the economy run democratically to meet the needs of all, without destroying the planet. If you agree, why not get involved?