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Why Starmer will make some pledges of change

Labour would look to borrow £28 billion a year until 2030 to fund a green transition
Issue 2858
Labour party leader, Keir Starmer

Labour party leader, Keir Starmer (Picture: Flickr/ Jeremy Corbyn)

Keir Starmer’s tiff with GMB union leader Gary Smith will have shocked many Socialist Worker readers. Starmer, yes Starmer, is under fire for allegedly being too radical for suggesting a Labour government would ban new North Sea oil and gas extraction.

The scheme is highly limited, but saw Smith denounce Starmer as a jobs destroyer and demand, “Plans, not bans.”

Starmer’s move reflects his awareness that the Tories’ corruption and incompetence do not necessarily guarantee Labour will win the next general election. For most of the time he is happy to solidify his credentials as a safe pair of hands for big business, a more stable defender of capitalist interests.

Sometimes, as in demanding more speedy deportations of “failed” refugees, he attacks ministers from the right. But parroting the Tories will only get him so far, so occasionally it’s necessary to offer what can be spun as a glimmer of hope.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves went to the US this week to launch Labour’s economic policy—heralded as “Bidenomics”. It’s still pro-business, but involves a bit more state intervention.

Labour would look to borrow £28 billion a year until 2030 to fund a green transition. This would include things like wind farms, insulating homes, battery factories and accelerating the nuclear programme.

The Financial Times newspaper this week began a new series on “The Starmer project”. It fretted that “despite the soothing, pro-business rhetoric,  a Labour government would still represent a striking shift in the way the economy is run.”

Starmer won’t stand on a picket line, but his government would supposedly tackle unfair dismissal, and increase access to sick pay and parental leave. It would extend maternity and paternity pay. And, as Starmer reiterated on Tuesday,  it is pledged to repeal the latest anti-union laws.

Labour knows there’s hunger for change. So, like all previous leaders in opposition, Starmer has to produce the occasional promise of reform. 

But it’s combined with relentless internal warfare against the left. The party’s high-ups last week blocked the current North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll from standing as Labour’s mayoral candidate for the new north east region.

His alleged crime was speaking alongside socialist film director Ken Loach, who was expelled in 2021.

The second part of the Financial Times series was called, “How Starmer marginalised the far left,” perhaps to reassure its readers that all is well if Labour comes to power.

Its links to the union leaders mean Labour isn’t the Tory party. But like all Labour governments, Starmer will attack his own supporters in office. Rows with the GMB should not obscure that reality, or make us pause from building a socialist alternative.

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