By Charlie Kimber
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Starmer cosies up to Lib Dems and sniggers at Coventry strikers

A pact with the Lib Dems would give Starmer cover to pull the party even further to the right
Issue 2793
Keir Starmer in front of a red background.

Labour leader Keir Starmer snubbed striking workers in Coventry this week (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is giving a clear indication of the pro-business government it would like to form by cuddling closer to the Liberal Democrats.

The bosses’ Financial Times newspaper said on Thursday the party “will fight only a minimal campaign in most of the Liberal Democrat party’s top 30 target seats” at the next general election. This is “an informal Lib-Lab plan to topple the Conservatives”. 

It adds, “The informal Lib-Lab non-aggression pact taking shape would leave the Lib Dems to lead the anti-Tory fight in many southern seats.”

This has been coming for some time. In some Labour by-election fights, such as Batley and Spen, the Lib Dem campaign was virtually invisible. In North Shropshire, the Lib Dems took the seat from the Tories. Starmer did not visit the seat, yet at the last general election Labour won 12,500 votes, more than twice the Lib Dems’ 5,500. And at the 2017 election Labour had almost six times the Lib Dem vote.

At the by-election, Labour’s share of the vote was down 12 percentage points. Labour handed the seat to the Lib Dems on a plate.

The Financial Times goes on, “Meanwhile Labour shadow ministers and their Lib Dem counterparts are getting to know each other informally.” This is “in the event that the two parties have to work together in a hung parliament”. 

Starmer might prefer to be in an informal coalition with the Lib Dems than to have a majority Labour government. It would provide an alibi for moves even further rightwards, and ensure a bulwark against the influence of trade unions and the left.

Starmer is following in the footsteps of his hero Tony Blair. Blair had extensive discussions with Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown about possible cooperation between the two parties while Labour was in opposition in the 1990s.

Ashdown says that Blair wanted Lib Dems in his administration regardless of whether he won a working majority. Blair even floated the idea of a merger of the two parties, and the extent of deals between the parties was often discussed at Blair’s and Ashdown’s homes. Ashdown said he believed that Blair would have preferred the 1997 election to have produced a Lib-Lab coalition government, rather than the massive Labour majority. 

The Lib Dems offer nothing to working class people. They are ruthlessly pro-business, anti-union and pro-privatisation. They were in coalition with the Tories to ram through austerity from 2010-15. 

It is still a party wholly wedded to the interests of business. At the last general election, the Lib Dems were for more restrictive spending than the Tories proposed. And they were prepared to override the Brexit vote without even holding another referendum.

Any alliance, formal or informal, would strengthen even further the hold of pro-business politics in Labour. Nothing else would be acceptable to the Lib Dems. More importantly these manoeuvres take politics away from trade union battles and struggles outside of parliament. Instead, what matters is pacts between elites to scheme a way to office.

Labour is already in thrall to pro-capitalist ideas. Deals with the Lib Dems accelerate the process. And as if to underline this, Starmer snubbed striking workers in Coventry and their union again on Wednesday.

He sniggered during an interview about the Coventry council bin workers’ strike. Refuse collection drivers have been on an all-out strike over pay since the end of January—and the Labour-run council is organising mass scabbing in an effort to smash them.

In response Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The union’s remaining financial support of the Labour Party is now under review. Your behaviour and mistreatment of our members will not be accepted.”

Starmer told the local Coventry BBC, “On the funding, I don’t think an industrial dispute in Coventry should influence relations between the Labour Party and its trade unions.”

This is Labour today—warm to the Lib Dems, cold to the unions.

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