Kevin Ovenden says that Keir Starmer’s attacks on the left are only just beginning and reach beyond the Labour party. A radical, extra-parliamentary response is required
Keir Starmer is clearly trying to signal that the Labour Party is, in his own words, ‘under new management’.
Make no mistake, the aim is to reduce the left to a position of total subordination – and humiliation (that is what the sacking of Long-Bailey was about).
Meanwhile, whether it is opposing a warlike foreign policy or siding with the unions and workers’ struggles, most Labour Party members are at odds with Starmer’s drive to a New Labour MkII.
But that means more aggression from the leadership, not less. It means using executive power to smash further the left.
How can it do that when most members want to see substantial policy continuity?
First, it can rest upon control of the PLP and party bureaucracy. Second, major affiliated unions may express policy disagreement but they are likely to remain loyal to the leadership. Those that don’t can be marginalised.
But above all, it can rest on the other side of mass thinking at the base of the Labour Party. And that is that all of this – whether welcome or not – is an overhead you have to carry if Labour is to be “electable”.
This is why Starmer won the leadership with the votes of a considerable number of members who had previously twice voted for Corbyn.
It is why some parts of the left plaintively argued that there could be some accommodation whereby there was the Starmer leadership but policy gains from the Corbyn period. This was expressed in artful formulations about Starmer not being from the right and not being a Blairite.
That all missed the point. Neil Kinnock was not a Blairite. But his was the leadership that accomplished the first and largest part of the job of reshaping Labour towards what became New Labour.
And that is what is happening now. Of course it won’t be exactly New Labour of 1997, at the crescendo of neoliberal expansion.
The enormous crisis now, the second in a decade, means some different policy mixes and overarching ideological positioning. But it will be relatively-new-Labour. That is Starmer, Nandy & Co defining themselves against the “failed left”, seeking thoroughly capitalist arguments against the Tories, and positioning as a sensible voice of the capitalist centre (whatever thinking emerges from that centre).
I think it has yet to hit people just how far this is going to go. And the summer months have for the last four years been exactly the time that the Labour right, and now its leadership, have most been on manoeuvres, relying on the fact that parliament is closed and they can have lavish coverage in various media.
The annual conference in September has been postponed. Members complain that CLP democracy has been suspended, despite modern technology solutions to meeting during Covid.
Starmer & Co have a perfect six months (at least in those respects) to drive through this restoration. They are going to do exactly that.
But at the same time all sorts of battles are developing facing working people. It is going to be there that the left can make an impact.
We are heading back towards a situation where on a range of issues majority opinion (or that of a large minority) is not reflected by the main parties and where the capacity of a small number of socialist MPs to speak out is going to depend on their connection to mass struggles and movements giving them the confidence to defy the party leadership.
And that in turn is going to depend upon a bigger organised anti-capitalist left.