New Labour leader Keir Starmer has begun shifting the party rightwards.
His victory is a sign that many members have been won by the argument that Labour lost the 2019 general election because it was too left wing.
Starmer won in all the different categories of members, and beat the left’s candidate RebeccaLong-Bailey by around two to one among individual members and trade unionists.
Meanwhile, left winger Richard Burgon came third behind Rosena Allin-Khan and the winner Angela Rayner in the race for deputy leader.
Both Starmer and new Rayner campaigned on promises to defend the legacy of Corbyn’s leadership while appealing to the right and bringing “unity”.
Yet in a statement following his victory, Starmer already showed signs of dragging Labour rightwards.
He said that Labour would “have the courage to support” the Tory government during the coronavirus crisis “in the national interest.” “Not opposition for opposition’s sake,” he said. “Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands.”
At every step the Tories’ response to the outbreak has been to put the interests of the bosses ahead of the lives and safety of ordinary people. But Starmer said Labour’s goal during the outbreak is “the same as the government’s”.
Starmer also promised to scrutinise the Tories, and that after the crisis things “cannot go back to business as usual”.
He has promised that Labour will remain an anti-austerity party—but has refused to say he would keep the radical policies in the 2019 manifesto.
Yet his victory was celebrated by right wing MPs and newspaper hacks as a return to “sensible” leadership—by which they meant support for Tory policies.
Starmer has also removed prominent left wing MPs from the shadow cabinet and replaced them with new, but relatively unknown, right wing ones.
They include Rachel Reeves who has previously implied that immigration could cause race riots and said Labour was “not the party of people on benefits”.
Failed Labour leader Ed Miliband was brought back in as shadow business and energy secretary,
Diane Abbott has been replaced as shadow home secretary by Nick Thomas-Symonds who joined in with the attempt to overthrow Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.
Starmer is also certain to launch a witch hunt against the left under the guise of building unity.
In his statement he said antisemitism had been a “stain on our party.” It was a reference to the argument that Corbyn’s left wing policies—particularly his support for Palestine—meant antisemitism was encouraged and tolerated.
His victory should be the final nail in the coffin for the idea that the main focus for the left is inside the Labour Party.
The focus has to return to resistance to the Tories outside parliament.
Strategy of ‘stay and fight’ inside partyis no way to win real socialist change
Left wing Labour Party activists are now weighing up whether to leave the party or to “stay and fight”.
Many who want activists to stay quote Tony Benn, the Labour MP who once led a movement of the Labour left to control the party. “There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat,” the quote goes.
“There is the same battle to be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”
The idea that this is a war without end is a pretty grim prospect.
The entire history of the Labour Party has involved constant struggle between the left and the right. It’s generally taken the form of tension between its predominantly left wing membership and its mostly right wing MPs.
That’s the result of a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Labour Party.
Labour reflects—in a distorted way—the aspirations of working class people for real improvements to their lives.
But because it tries to channel this through the workings of parliament, the British state and the capitalist system, thesehopes are limited, held back and scorned.
So there’s a constant tension between party activists and MPs.
The activists look to Labour as a vehicle for change and even socialism. The MPs, closest to parliament, are more concerned with proving themselves “responsible” enough to govern.
From as early as 1907—just seven years after Labour was founded—Labour MPs gave themselves the right to ignore members’ decisions.
And whenever the left do get their way, the right will always use the pressures of “unity” and “electability” to bring them to heel.
Benn himself was defeated by this. After nearly winning an election to become deputy leader, he was convinced by the right to stop campaigning in the interests of unity.
His adviser Jon Lansman—who later founded Momentum—thought this was a good idea.
A long drift to the right and a purge of left wing activists followed. Now it looks as if that’s about to happen all over again.
So Benn was right—the Labour left is condemned to continually wage war with the right inside the party.
It’s a war in which the right has huge advantages. And even if the left wins temporary control, it is constrained by the wider system.
The way to escape is to refuse to be prisoners of the right—by building a party that is focused on activity from below and sticks to socialist principles.
Scottish Labour goes to the right
Right winger Jackie Ballie has won the Scottish Labour Party deputy leader election.
Her victory signals not only a move to the right as with Keir Starmer, but a further disastrous reverse for the party in Scotland.
The election was triggered when former deputy leader Lesley Laird lost her seat at the general election.
Just like Starmer, Baillie claims to represent “change”.
By this she means Labour should have campaigned even more ardently for reversing Brexit and against a second independence referendum.
Baillie rabidly opposes a second independence referendum. She was a director of the Better Together establishment campaign that brought Labour together with the Tory-LibDem coalition during the 2014 referendum.
Baillie defeated the candidate of the left, Matt Kerr, by 10,300 to 7,500 votes.
Socialists in Scotland who want to build a fight against the Tories and hold the Scottish National Party government to account over their complicity with austerity need to look outside the Labour Party.