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Election: Tories Out–but Starmer’s Labour doesn’t stand for us

Build a socialist election challenge

Fourteen years of Tory government look set to come to an end on 4 July, 2024. Fourteen years of the super-rich raking in £billions, while the rest of us suffer falling living standards and crumbling public services. No wonder millions will be rejoicing to see the back of Sunak and his cronies. Unfortunately, however, a Starmer ‘New Labour’ government is not going to act in the interests of the working-class majority. 

Sunak has cut and run now because his right-wing, pro-capitalist government had no way of improving their abysmal poll ratings. The sorry state of the UK economy has led them to conclude that a desperate attempt at an autumn pre-election bribe was not possible without risking another Truss-style crisis on the markets. So, rather than risk further looming rebellions from the parliamentary Tory Party, and probably in order to try and limit the ability of Reform UK to cut further into their collapsing electoral base, Sunak obviously decided just to ‘walk into the guns’  and get the defeat over with.

As a result, we are on course for a Starmer-led government in six weeks’ time. Millions will grit their teeth and vote Labour, not out of enthusiasm for his policies, but in order to make absolutely sure the Tories are binned. Others will abstain or vote for smaller parties. The most enthusiasm for Starmer’s New Labour comes from the capitalist elite.

The party’s ‘business conference’ was sponsored by HSBC, and was packed with bankers and city executives. No surprise that Rachel Reeves has even scrapped the pledge to re-introduce the very limited cap on bankers’ bonuses. Meanwhile, shadow cabinet ministers are getting endless free ‘help and advice’ from financial corporations. Price Waterhouse Cooper alone has donated more than £96,000 worth of staff time to the party. All of these details reflect a broader picture: the majority of the capitalist class want a Starmer-led government, because they are confident it will act in their interests.

But what will that mean for the working-class majority? Starmer’s lead pledge is ‘deliver economic stability with tough spending rules’. No one wants economic ‘instability’, but that is what Starmer will preside over. He defends capitalism, and capitalism is a crisis-ridden unstable system. Remember that New Labour’s previous incarnation, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, claimed to have ‘abolished boom and bust’, only to be engulfed by the Great Recession, which British capitalism has never recovered from. Average wages today are £10,700 a year lower than they would have been if they had continued on the pre-2008 trend.

The real meaning of Starmer’s pledge is that his government will defend the profits of the few at the top, while imposing continued Tory austerity on the rest of us. Change is desperately needed: we need repeal of all the anti-union laws, an end to pay restraint, a minimum wage of at least £15 an hour, a huge increase in NHS funding, a reversal of the 40% cut to council grants from central government, mass council house building, and much more. But Starmer has made clear he will deliver none of this. He has also made clear that his foreign policy, including on the nightmare being suffered by Palestinians in Gaza, will be the same, in essence, as the Tories.

None of this means that the working class is powerless to improve our lives under the next government. But, just like under the Tories, doing so will require the trade union movement being prepared to fight to defend workers’ interests. The need for this will be posed sharply from day one on a host of issues. Take Tata Steel in South Wales. It is facing the closure of two blast furnaces with 2,000 job losses. Heroically the workers have voted for strike action. With a Labour government just six weeks away the demand needs to be raised now that Labour pledges to nationalise when it comes to power. After all, it is widely known that Labour may have to nationalise Thames Water to try and prevent the collapse of the company – caused by its owners gambling profiteering – creating a new financial crisis. But if they can nationalise to defend the finance system, why not to save jobs and allow a workers’-led transition to green steel production?

A fighting trade union movement is going to be essential under the next government. So is building the anti-war movement. But it is also vital that the working class starts to create its own political voice. The potential for such a party has existed for some time. That was demonstrated by the enthusiasm for Enough is Enough, launched at the height of the strike wave by two key trade union leaders, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT, and Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union. Half a million people joined, but unfortunately its leaders didn’t see it as a step towards new party, and so it has now disappeared.

The opportunities that were there have not been taken to launch a mass workers’ party in time for this general election. As a result the Greens are likely to pick up anti-austerity anti-war votes. But in reality the Greens are not a workers party. Trade unions have no democratic rights within the Greens and as a party it accepts the constraints of the capitalist system. Where Greens have been in power at local level, they have implemented austerity. In the 2019 general election, the Greens had an electoral arrangement with the Liberal Democrats – who were part of the vicious austerity coalition government from 2010-2015 – standing down for them in 40 seats; yet they stood against Jeremy Corbyn and other left Labour candidates. This time they appear to be refusing to stand down in Islington North where Jeremy Corbyn has declared he is standing as an independent.

Nonetheless, this election does represent an opportunity to take steps towards the kind of party we will need under a Starmer government. It is positive that Jeremy Corbyn has declared he will stand as an independent. The potential exists for a bloc of workers’ MPs being elected, who could, from 5 July, articulate the demands of the working class in parliament. If Jeremy Corbyn and others are elected, it will immediately pose the need for the trade union movement to start discussing how to build a party that fights in workers’ interests. The Socialist Party is fighting for every possible step towards this.

We participate in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an electoral coalition which aims to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists who are fighting for a new mass workers’ party to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians under a clear banner. We have been campaigning to bring as many different workers’ candidates as possible together in a common challenge in this general election. However, it is now clear that not all anti-austerity and anti-war candidates will be standing under a common banner. Some, including Socialist Party members, will stand as TUSC but others, as in May’s local elections, will stand as independents, or under the Workers’ Party and other banners. Had the general election been in the autumn there would have been more time to organise discussions in the local trade union movement to democratically decide the strongest workers’  candidate in a particular area. Nonetheless, we will fight for the maximum achievable possible cooperation, in order to have the strongest possible socialist challenge at the ballot box in preparation for the battles ahead under a Starmer government.