Michael Doyle

Michael Doyle

Labour: Capital’s A Team

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have been following British politics intensely for the past 25 years, and sometimes I have been an active participant, and this was the strangest General Election I have experienced.  It was not the result that was strange – I anticipated that the Tories would end up on 130-150 seats despite the ridiculous polling indicating Labour would win a majority of 200+ seats that blanketed this General Election.  It was not the stage-managed campaign events in factories that the Tory and Labour leaders participated in to project a ‘connection with ordinary working people’ and also eliminate the danger of a spontaneous challenge from an elector which the tetchy Rishi and thin-skinned Keir would take fright at. 

One of the few memorable moments of a lamentable General Election was Starmer’s encounter with a primary school child, who told him that her family was so poor and so cold, that she had to wear a onesie to bed, to which Starmer replied with a pointless joke that his sixteen-year-old son used to wear a onesie but has grown out of it.  Starmer’s inability to empathise or even pretend to empathise with a child who is just one of the millions of children who have been driven into poverty by the Tories encapsulates his robotic and cold approach to politics.  He is not there to serve the people the Labour movement came into existence to help.  Rather, he is a servant of the state that has led to their plight. 

He leads a post-social democratic operation denued of the old electoral coalition that bears that name. The rights of workers as workers (rather than nebulous, authentocratic ‘working people’) are nowhere.  Starmer’s ‘New Deal for Working People’ has already been diluted to the point of irrelevance, leading Labour’s largest union affiliate Unite to refuse to sign off on the manifesto.  Nothing in that document, or the direction of travel Starmer has taken in the past four years, indicates a willingness or interest in redressing the balance of wealth and income between the rich and the majority. Instead, Starmer has jettisoned Labourism and replaced it with a cold, soulless and managerial conservatism.  This was once the Conservative Party’s raison d’etre: having the right personnel manage the social and economic order competently on behalf of British capitalism.

The great theorist of right-wing Labourism, Anthony Crosland, argued that greater equality must be the primary objective of the Labour movement. Harold Wilson once said the ‘Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing’. In this General Election, Pat McFadden, Labour’s election co-ordinator was asked if Labour’s aim was to reduce inequality by the end of the 2024-2029 Parliament. He said that the aim was to generate wealth for every income group and refused to say whether this extra wealth would be provided disproportionally to poorer income groups. Nothing encapsulates better the break from tradition – and no one has to valorise that tradition to acknowledge this.

As part of his project to move beyond the populist upsurges of the 2010s, Starmer has copied the Emmanuel Macron playbook, seeking to reassure capital, and take ‘tough decisions’ on social spending. When Labour promise ‘stability is change’, they mean bringing more stability to a volatile economic system without addressing the growing climate crisis that is so much the source of volatility.

Starmer has been ably helped by the Conservative Party’s self-destruction. Boris Johnson’s rambling address to the CBI, his tawdry management of the pandemic and the whiff of Brexit about him prompted his downfall. Liz Truss’s catastrophic tenure panicked the very institutional redoubts of British capitalism that the Conservative Party has historically served, as well as alienating a key component of its electoral coalition: the Middle England mortgage holder. 

Labourism, for all of its undoubted flaws, gave the Labour Party deep and broad social roots in working-class communities in Britain which meant it would always have a solid base of electoral support.  Labour’s landslide has been referred to as ‘wide but shallow’, and this means that come the next election, they are susceptible to losing hundreds of their newly acquired seats. The continuing decline of tribal loyalties, the depoliticization of society which has been an elite project since the 1980s, and the refusal to even broach the question of wealth distribution, means that Labour go into the next GE with a very weak foundation of support that was built with the sole aim of removing the Tories. According to an eve of election Yougov poll,  48% of Labour voters had the primary intention of getting rid of the Tories, many of whom will either switch their votes to a left alternative or will simply not vote in 2029. Despite the typically inchoate state of the British left, electoral success was achieved by independents, with the surprising defeat of Jonathan Ashworth and the near defeat of Wes Streeting portents of what may occur in 2029 (or even sooner). 

Many of my friends could not understand why I did not share in their delight at the Tories deserved removal from office. Of course it was nice to see some of the most odious and wicked people to ever hold office removed from power. However, as these Tories leave the House of Commons for the rich pickings of the corporate world, many of the new Labour MPs are passing them by the revolving door from the corporate world to Westminster.  If ‘change’ has occurred, it is that Labour are now capital’s A team with a new set of managers expected to suppress dissent whilst stabilising the existing system and expecting Blackrock to fund ‘national renewal’ (the privatisation of water demonstrates what a roaring success that has been). Labourism maybe dead, and what comes next will not only be worse, but we can be confident it won’t last. 

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