As the 2021 elections come to an end, it cannot feel good to be Kier Starmer.
True to his word, Starmer has taken the party back from the Corbynites. The national apparatus of the party is firmly back under the control of the ‘centrists’, many of those practising entryism from the left have been expelled and Momentum has been reduced to just another humdrum Labour faction, no longer the organisational powerhouse it was.
And yet, Labour continues to fail. Starmer wears his tie, sings the national anthem and is nothing but respectful to the queen, but this latest round of local and by-elections have seen the shift away from Labour not only continue, but increase.
What the party faithful seem unable to understand is that Corbyn’s problem was not that he was – undeniably – a bit scruffy, or that people didn’t trust him. The problem is that Labour have fundamentally lost the trust of the working class.
Brexit is an undeniable part of that. Corbyn was seen as dishonest on Brexit, having been a lifelong left-Eurosceptic right up until it mattered. Starmer on the other hand, for all his concerns about optics and Labour ‘losing touch with people’ has endorsed the universally unpopular Second Referendum on multiple occasions. That ship has obviously long since sailed, but the lingering image of Labour is one of dishonesty and going against the majority opinion. That would be an electoral problem in any circumstance, but when it’s regarding the most politically engaging issue since the cold war, the impact on Labour’s electability has predictably been a disaster. There is a clear link between the loss of Labour strongholds and the Brexit vote. Indeed the Hartlepool by-election campaign was fronted by a candidate that has been one of Labour’s strongest anti-Brexit voices. Hartlepool voted 70% to leave the EU, so why the ‘optics-focused’ Starmer leadership allowed a Europhile to stand raises some serious questions.
Brexit is a huge part of the issue, but it is far from the only part. To reduce the issue to Brexit would be to ignore the reality; Labour’s disconnect from it’s traditional base goes back to well before the referendum. In fact, it can be argued that Labour began drifting away from the working class organisations that founded the party from day one. But the relevant part of that history begins with Tony Blair, illegal wars and the introduction of tuition fees, all of which were attacks on the working class in one form or another. When you hear people discuss Tony Blair, no one remembers the now-extinct “Sure Start” community centres or anything else positive that pre-2010 Labour governments did. What they remember is cash for access, 9K a year for uni and dead British soldiers. All those things, together with the re-styling of the party away from unions and working men’s clubs and towards the City of London, has created an image of the Labour Party as just another set of suits waiting for their turn to keep the seats in the House of Commons warm. And with the brief exception of the Corbyn era, that’s not far off the mark.
From the perspective of working class politics, the fight for the soul of the Labour Party has been lost. It’s over. Corbyn made a decent go of it, but was let down by Brexit, his inability to fight the press and his child-like delusion in the idea of a ‘broad church’ party. So the question is: What now?
The answer to that question is working class community activism. Consider the resources that go into Labour election campaigns in Manchester alone. Hundreds of volunteers, hundreds of thousands of pounds. Now consider the impact that could have if the energy and the resources were invested in something worthwhile. 0161 Community has already helped hundreds of families across Greater Manchester. It has done so with a fraction of the resources of a single Labour election and with a fraction of the people.
Working class communities coming together to help each other not only gives material support to those that need it, it also puts working class power back on the agenda. We cannot rely on the Labour Party to represent our neighbourhoods or to protect our Health Service. They’ve made it quite clear that they don’t want to. The only way to protect our communities from capitalism is to do it ourselves.
The ruling class will never allow us to vote away our problems. The Corbyn project is the proof of that, and Starmer is the punishment for trying to do it.