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Keir Starmer’s shame on nationalisation 

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Labour won't take back key services from profit-hungry bosses
Issue 2815
An image of Keir Starmer leader of the labour party at Chatham House

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is steadily moving rightwards (Picture: Chatham House)

There’s been a lot of talk about “fantasy economics” lately.  Surely one of the biggest fantasies is Labour’s claim that its tight-fisted “fiscal rules” will inspire people to vote for it at the next general election. After a day of confusion, Labour muddled its way into its most right wing position for years on nationalisation and public ownership on Monday.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves declared Labour was no longer in favour of nationalising anything—energy, water or rail. In an interview on Radio 4, she was asked if Labour would ditch its previous commitment to “public ownership.” After fudging and dodging a bit she replied eventually, “To be spending billions of pounds on nationalising things—that just doesn’t stack up against our fiscal rules.”

In the sort of confusion that the media would have feasted on for days during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, a Labour spokesperson backtracked hastily. Maybe she didn’t quite mean rail, they suggested. The key was to be “pragmatic”. By the end of the day Starmer had an inspirational new catchphrase—“pragmatic, not ideological.”

So Labour’s attitude isn’t shaped even by any “ideological” belief that public services should be run for the benefit of ordinary people. It’s the “pragmatic” approach of what’s good for bosses and big business. In that sense, being “pragmatic” about rail nationalisation means doing nothing.

“Large parts of rail are already in public ownership and we wouldn’t alter that,” Starmer said on Tuesday. As for everything else, “It’s very hard to see how you could nationalise within the fiscal rules.” That puts Starmer’s Labour at odds even with the very moderate leadership of the TUC union federation. 

On the day that Labour ditched its nationalisation promises, TUC leader Frances O’Grady said the burden of failed privatisation had to be lifted from ordinary people. But it also puts him at odds with most ordinary people—who in poll after poll support nationalisation.

Starmer made a speech on Monday hoping to win over big business with talk of “fiscal responsibility” and “growth, growth, growth.” 

It’s as if—as bosses slash wages and gouge prices—people are crying out for a Labour government that works in “partnership with business” to be “financially responsible” and “distinctively British”. Whatever that means. Labour hasn’t ended up here by chance. In a crisis, its instinct is always to rescue the bosses. That’s why it has nothing to offer but austerity and boring slogans. 

Encouragingly, an increasing number of ordinary people’s instincts are to vote for pay strikes—and then walk out.  They have far more to offer than Labour.

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