The Labour Party last week gave us a glimpse of what a future Keir Starmer‑led government would look like. Labour wouldn’t just fail over its stance on Palestine. It will cause hideous cuts for working class people and never-ending wealth for the rich.
And the crooks and spivs that run the City of London will be among the biggest beneficiaries. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves delighted the super-rich telling them Labour has no plans to restore a cap on bankers’ bonuses. Instead, she said Labour would “unashamedly champion” the fat cats.
Gordon Brown’s Labour government brought in the cap in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-08. It was supposed to stop bankers from lining their own pockets at the expense of the public, which had been forced to bail them out of bankruptcy.
When Liz Truss’s government scrapped the cap last year, Labour was outraged and said it would re-introduce it. But Reeves no longer has such plans. Instead she says it has “gone now, and we don’t have any intention of bringing that back”.
The party’s City charm‑offensive went further last week at a lavish event at London’s Oval cricket ground. The £1,000-a-ticket conference sold out in minutes and was packed out with some of the most powerful bosses in Britain.
“Quite simply, Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party,” said Iain Anderson, who last year quit the Conservative Party after 39 years to work with Labour on its plan. These conversations would not have been possible under Jeremy Corbyn, when there was a sense at that point Labour was talking at business not to business.”
It’s not just bankers and financiers that Labour is wooing by throwing out previous commitments—fossil fuel oligarchs will benefit too. Labour last week confirmed that it has ditched its £28 billion “green prosperity plan”. The party’s promise to invest in a low-carbon economy was once said to be integral to meeting legally binding climate targets, bolstering energy security and lowering bills.
It would have also improved public transport and insulated millions of people’s homes. Now those promises are worth less than hot air. Labour’s generosity towards the seriously rich doesn’t extend to workers and the less fortunate. The party is sticking to its decision not to lift the two‑child benefits cap that forces thousands of households into extreme poverty.
And Labour’s shadow health secretary tells voters that in office, he’d not spend more on the NHS but instead bring in even greater use of the private sector. The paucity of Labour’s ambitions for a future government reflect the dire economic conditions they will inherit.
That’s a big difference from 1997, when Tony Blair won a landslide Labour victory after long years of Tory rule. Then, the economy was growing while profits and investment were high. On the back of this, Blair was able to introduce reforms—and crucially, spend far more money on health and education than the Tories had.
Even then much of it went to private corporations. Blair’s desire to scapegoat single parents and others on benefits stemmed from an ideological commitment to the free market. Union leaders were able to hold back resistance, saying that if Blair were to fail, the Tories would come racing back. Many trade union leaders are today humming the same tune.
They are scathing about Labour’s refusal to repair public services and improve pay. And they warn the party that it will lose support if it persists. But when it comes to action, the unions are currently nowhere to be seen. The pressure to limit action is not just about winning the election.
Union leaders also intend to keep industrial struggle off the agenda after the election too. Whatever their differences with Starmer and Reeves, union tops have a shared core belief—real change can only come through parliament, and Labour will deliver it.
This belief has always been the labour movement’s key weakness. In the 1970s, union leaders were instrumental in holding back struggle and defending “their” Labour government. Workers’ anger rose sharply as inflation tore into their wages and jobs were decimated.
Disputes involving many thousands of workers spread from car factories to airports, and schools to hospitals. But instead of galvanising the mood, union leaders sought to play different groups off against each other, while all the time limiting the struggle.
Workers became increasingly demoralised. Believing they could not win by fighting back, some turned to the right. As defeat fed defeat, many turned away from Labour—the government they had once warmly welcomed.
It was this sour mood that allowed Margaret Thatcher’s Tories to win the 1979 election. And it created a space for the far right in the form of the National Front. Disillusionment and bitterness were the fascists’ bread and butter.
For those thrown on to the dole without even a hope of a another job, the National Front had an answer. It was, “Get rid of the immigrants, and everyone will have a job and a home.” To undercut the fascists, Labour could have thrown itself behind class struggle. It should have called for closing factories to be occupied and for unemployed workers to create massive social disorder.
But a party that aspires only to be the next government would never do that. The working class was to pay a terrible price for Labour’s failures. And that’s why it’s so good to see people now leaving. That can be an important first step towards breaking with the wider rotten politics of reformism.
Class struggle toppled apartheid