Socialist Worker

Labour ‘conference’ confirms the party’s shift to the right

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2723

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn at a 2019 election rally

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn at a 2019 election rally (Pic: Flickr/Jeremy Corbyn)


The Labour Party replaced its annual conference this year with what was meant to be a showcase for its new leadership.

It was supposed to be all about “winning back trust” from people who abandoned it in the 2019 general election.

What that meant was a heavy tilt towards false “progressive” patriotism and hints at support for austerity.

Labour lost the 2019 general election largely because people who had voted for Brexit were betrayed by its backing for a second referendum.

Though contradictory, the Brexit vote had been a kick at the establishment after decades of assaults on jobs and wages.

Labour leader Keir Starmer—who pushed Labour towards ­backing Remain—instead thinks it was all about patriotism.

Starmer finished his ­keynote speech on Tuesday with a plea to people in former Labour constituencies.

“Never again will Labour take you or the things you care about for granted,” he said.

Security

“We love this country as you do,” he added, ending a speech that promised “security for our nation” and that linked support for the NHS to support for Nato.

The rest of his leadership were keen to show they were on board.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said Labour would “act in the best interests of the British people”.

Rather than the language of class solidarity, there was national unity.

The work of public sector employees during the coronavirus outbreak was an example of how “the British people” had defied the Tories.

And defending jobs was cast as a matter of national pride. Rayner said, “I say to companies like British Airways and British Gas.

“If you use our country’s name, then you better respect our country’s values.”

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds emphasised that Labour would be “responsible” with government spending.

It was a return to the language that Labour used to use to justify support for austerity.

The slogan of the whole event was “a new leadership”.

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The wonks who advise party leader Keir Starmer hoped this would present Labour as a more competent government than the Tories.

But it was also a heavy handed way of showing that Starmer has left the left wing politics of previous leader Jeremy Corbyn behind.

“When you lose an election in a democracy, you deserve to,” said Starmer.

“That means we have to change, and that’s what we’re doing. This party is under new leadership.”

Every speech coupled this message with praise for the reight wing Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The message of radical change—and taking on the elite—of Corbyn’s conference speeches was gone.

Instead it was replaced with a return to the right wing, ­nationalistic, pro-austerity agenda that had failed Labour before Corbyn.

The message was clear—there’s no place for the left in Labour.


Momentum launches evictions campaign

Left wing Labour group Momentum has said it will launch a “resistance campaign” against tenants’ evictions.

It says it will link up with tenants’ rights organisations Acorn and the London Renters Union to take action such as peacefully resisting eviction attempts by bailiffs.

It comes after a candidate from a faction within Momentum—called Forward Momentum—took control of the group’s leadership.

Momentum was founded in 2015 after Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour Party leader.

Its founders said the aim was to channel the enthusiasm behind Corbyn’s election campaign into a movement.

In reality it became focused on winning positions and debates inside the Labour Party and canvassing in elections.

Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said, “Momentum will not stand idly by while this Tory government forces working class people to bear the brunt of a crisis of the Tories’ own making.”

The test will be whether Momentum prioritises campaigning outside parliament—or sidelines this for elections.


Members pushed out from decision making

Labour Connected was sometimes described as an “online conference” for party members.

In reality Labour members have been shut out of having any say over the direction of the party under its new leadership.

Instead of debates and votes on policies, there are online discussion forums dominated by speeches from Labour MPs and union bureaucrats.

When the great and good have finished talking, perhaps a few handpicked members might be given a chance to speak.

At the best of times, Labour members have a limited say over their party’s policies.

Ordinarily, Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) can send motions to the conference on topics that—if they’re lucky—might be chosen for discussion.

These are then watered down through a bureaucratic “compositing” process before being taken to the conference floor. Policies that get voted through can be completely ignored by Labour MPs.

Despite this, under Corbyn’s leadership members got more time to speak, debate and vote at conferences.

They often passed policies more radical than those that ended up in Labour’s election manifesto.

This year they have none of that. It could have been possible to organise an online conference.

Instead—after months in which CLPs weren’t even allowed to meet online—they’ve been fobbed off with a platform for preening MPs


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