“No going back” is the new rallying cry for the left in the Labour Party.
It was the message from Labour chair, MP Ian Lavery, to the Arise festival’s Rally for Socialism in central London last week.
It was meant to lend a feeling of strength and defiance to a besieged left that’s digging in and trying not to retreat in the face of an emboldened right.
But what does it actually mean in practice? At its best this meant refusing to give in and adopt racist arguments about immigration.
MPs Apsana Begum, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Claudia Webbe and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott all hit back at the argument that Labour has to “listen” to people’s “concerns”.
“What they’re saying is we need to swerve right on migration,” said Abbott. “Not while I’m alive.”
Anti-racists need to fight together. However, with Abbott as shadow home secretary, Labour dropped its commitment to defending freedom of movement in favour of a divisive
“skills-based” immigration system.
At its least optimistic, “No going back” meant simply digging in and fighting to defend the gains made for the left inside the Labour Party. Speakers painted a picture of a years-long, hard struggle under siege from the right.
But one thing that really seemed to cheer people up was talk of finding ways to fight the Tory government away from parliament.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka was also at the meeting last week.
“Our task is to elect radical leaders such as Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon who are going to popularise socialist ideas.
“While that goes on our job is to be in the communities, in the food banks, on the picket lines, fighting to keep the libraries open and the schools and hospitals open. Defending people against deportation.”
Union leaders have made similar speeches often. Such words need to be turned into action.
John McDonnell, for now still Labour’s shadow chancellor, said, “We’ve got to build a movement. The way you build that movement is you build it in struggle.”
That’s always good to hear, but we’ve heard it before. McDonnell and union leaders never stopped talking about building a movement and waging action against the Tories.
But the Labour left and most union leaders prioritised getting a Labour government through normal electoral campaigning—and led activists away from struggle.
Jeremy Corbyn has started appearing at rallies and demonstrations again. He should never have stopped.
We do have to build a movement—but it can’t be dependent on whether and when Labour next gets a chance to be elected.
Starmer likely to win
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Sir Keir Starmer QC, is on course to be the next leader of the Labour Party, according to recent polls by YouGov and Survation.
Both polls last week suggest Starmer would get more votes in the election—set to end on 2 April—than the left’s candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey.
It’s a sign that Labour members and affiliated supporters believe the party needs to move back towards the “centre” ground.
Some believe they can defend the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership while also appeasing the right. One Labour member told Socialist Worker, “A lot of left wing activists feel Starmer is very right wing. But he’s my MP and I’ve been in lots of small meetings with him and he’s very open.”
Other activists appear confident that the left can regain ground.
But they often find it difficult to explain why Long-Bailey chose to back the more right wing candidate Angela Rayner over Burgon in the race for Labour Party deputy leader.