The British Left is moving beyond Labour
Keir Starmer should fear the Lib Dems and Greens outflanking him
It is one of the supreme ironies of recent years that, at the very moment Britain’s economic model — scarred by privatisation and outsourcing — comes apart, credible alternatives have disappeared from public view. Food inflation is now close to 20%, while companies such as Shell and BP report record profits. And while many see their living standards squeezed, the managing director of Harrods can openly admit that the “rich get richer” in a downturn. All of this should be fuel for the fire of socialist politics. Yet the two major parties look increasingly indistinguishable as they converge on issues like wealth taxes and public ownership.
There has, of course, been a stunning rise in industrial unrest — but for now this lacks electoral expression. On the contrary, one can argue that Jeremy Corbyn’s ban from standing as a Labour candidate, as well as Diane Abbott’s recent suspension, indicates the extent to which a project that came close to power in 2017 is now dead. The public may be scrambling for ideas after neoliberalism, but the Labour Left has already met its Waterloo.
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And yet the results of last week’s local elections reveal little enthusiasm for Keir Starmer either. Of course, not every electoral triumph needs to resemble the euphoria of Blair or Obama: just ask Joe Biden. But there is a disconnect as both Starmer and Rishi Sunak race towards the centre, particularly on the economy, while the public yearns for change. Most Conservative voters support returning the Royal Mail to public ownership, while a majority of the public backs striking nurses and junior doctors. Yet such sentiments are routinely ignored in mainstream politics.
And so, from the embers of Corbynism, and a seeming ambivalence towards Starmer, an outline for the second half of the 2020s starts to emerge. In it, the Tories collapse — in the Red Wall to Labour and across their own heartlands to the resurgent Liberal Democrats — while the Greens emerge as a serious party across much of England. The principal beneficiary, at least in the short term, would be a centrist Labour government with little or no parliamentary majority. Indeed, yesterday Starmer left open the possibility of a coalition with Ed Davey’s party.
Under such circumstances there would be three forces steering Starmer in a more progressive direction — none of them from the party’s Left. The first is the presence of alternatives, namely the Lib Dems and the Greens, which would extract more concessions from a Starmer government than any dissenters in the parliamentary Labour party. After all, Starmer can’t withdraw the whip from Layla Moran or Caroline Lucas. If such forces are intelligent and self-interested, any deal would focus on electoral reform and tuition fees — two wedge issues of almost spiritual significance among Labour members, but which Starmer has little time for.
Secondly, the managerialism of the Labour leader may quickly prove inadequate given the scale of the challenges confronting him. With a large majority this would be mitigated, but in a coalition it presents a challenge. Ideas, particularly radical ones, can provide a momentum of their own. The vehicle for those is likely to come from thoughtful “soft Left” politicians such as Miatta Fahnbulleh, the party’s candidate in Camberwell and Peckham, and Faiza Shaheen, who is looking to win in Chingford.
Finally, large parts of the electorate which are critical in electing a Labour government are well to the Left of the shadow cabinet on issues like housing and public ownership. They may not be especially political, and were generally supportive of Starmer becoming leader, but there will be immense pressure on Labour MPs, particularly in large cities, to address the housing crisis. If that fails to happen, a deluge of voters, particularly those under 50, will quickly go elsewhere.
So there is still great hope for those causes the Left holds dear. But they are unlikely to find much leadership from within the Labour Party, with a few exceptions. Just as Brexit did for Corbyn, opportunism by other parties — on tuition fees, housing and proportional representation — could be Starmer’s downfall. The Labour leader’s biggest problem could be the quiet radicalism of simply expecting him to solve problems. After all, no prime minister has done that for quite some time. For now what seems likely, particularly given the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats, is that electoral reform is a necessary precursor for more socialist MPs.
It is curious to see that the word, ‘immigration,’ does not appear in this article. Particularly when housing forms a part of the discussion.
More generally I just don’t see this. PR is something that plays big on social media, but not in the real world. And I rather suspect that if serious moves will be made on tuition fees and debt they won’t be coming from the LDP. The Conservatives froze fees and inflation has done its thing.
Starmer is going to have to say something soon. He’s kept his cards pretty close to his chest, which is not totally unreasonable, but in offending no one he’s really not said much about what he will do. The most radical thing he’s done is kneel for BLM – and that image may yet come back to haunt him.
Being radical in problem -solving is easer than one might think, it’s making it stick that matters. Jeremy Corbyn did have some interesting ideas about corporate governance reform, worker representation and sectoral bargaining – but he (or perhaps more likely, the people around him) just got wrapped up in ludicrous spending commitments that fooled no one. Criticise Theresa May all you like, she was the first PM in a very long time to confront voters with the link between social care and house price inflation. She was broadly right, but couldn’t make it stick.
Public ownership of things is more I think of a possibility than credited, but I suspect it won’t have as big an impact as its advocates think it will.
The best case for Keir Starmer as PM is he picks 3 or 4 things and solves them. He wouldn’t even have to get it totally right – just keep the focus. I could absolutely see how a Labour government with a strong focus on a low number of things could work. Worst case is he becomes Justin Trudeau Mark 2. Sadly I fear the latter is more likely.
How do you solve the housing problem without cutting through the planning restrictions that are the sacred cows of the Lib Dems and the Greens?
Netzero immigration is also not an option the left can choose.
The housing problem won’t be solved by the Tories, or by Labour, or by any permutation of Lab/Libdem/SNP/Green.
We all know why population goes up year after year, and no party intends to stop it.
I’ve made this point on here before, but project management has the concept of the cost, quality, time triangle. As focus on one of those traits increases, concessions in one, or both, of the other traits must be made.
A very similar concept can be drawn up for migration, net zero and land/resource consumption. We cannot have high levels of immigration, net zero and no (or limited) additional land use. Maybe if a genie is pulled out of a hat, and we crack nuclear fusion on an industrial scale within a decade but I wouldn’t be counting on that if I was Keir Starmer.
To me, this suggests our political class are suffering from an enormous case of cognitive dissonance or are simply lying to us.
So which point of the triangle will be sacrificed for the other two? If I was to bet, it would be land use and resource consumption. The other two are sacred cows and the ultra rich have discovered that neoliberalism and consumerism have already done their job.
Nuclear fusion no. But AI productivity in certain domains yes. I find the immigration numbers in this context puzzling.
It is ridiculous how housing would be solved by the Green Party as all “Greens” demand heat pumps, insulation/renovations and other burdens for landlords. Everybody can take a look at Germany, where the Greens are in government. Housing shortage is getting worse, partly caused by the huge immigration influx (which the Green Party supports) , and also because nobody can afford their crazy policies. Even new buildings with heat pumps are in trouble, as there is literally not enough electricity for the huge energy need of a highly industrialised country. Private houses are now converting to pellet boilers, which emit higher CO2 than coal and are polluting the air with particulate matter. Parts of forests in Norway and the US/Canada are cut down, shipped by diesel fuelled ships to Europe. This policy is rationalised that new trees, which take decades to grow, will absorb the emitted CO2.
Why destroy the beautiful
Countryside to house illegal immigration ?
Dear God. I have a pragmatic get-it-done approach, and am suspicious of ideologies in general. I also have a weakness for off-colour and un-PC puns at inappropriate moments, especially if I can see someone getting hot under the collar. I wouldn’t last a wet week in politics, and i suspect many commenters here would have a similarly short shelf life. What do you think? Could you be an MP? Not me. What an awful job.
Hear, hear! – as i’d never be caught dead saying in the HoC.
The winning formula is simple: no eco zero rubbish, no diesel petrol car ban, no more hate crime, no bias towards laws for lgbt, no special treatment for racial minorities, low taxes, tax haven attraction for new inwards capital, long bond special fund for infrastructure road/rail/water/ electricity, estuary/water power, nuclear power, and a new North Sea oil and gas initiative, accountable police, more defence, tax relief for health insurance…. Simple…result? Landslide victory.
Unfortunately you’ll more likely see free ranches on the Moon in the major manifestos
Then you wake up and realise it was a dream.
Do please elaborate?
So putting on my pessimistic glasses, Rishi Sunak cannot solve the problem of the BBC and Keir Starmer can’t solve the problem of the NHS – because both are too ‘sacred’ for their supporters.
That’s what happens when your MPs are managerialists rather than idealists. It’s true that idealists can be dangerous but we have not had any in power for a long time. The Establishment doesn’t take kindly to being told what to do.
It’s always a bit of a daring enterprise to compare one country’s politics to another. But reading this article, a possible parallel jumped out: the current “traffic light” coalition in Germany, comprising the SPD, the liberal FDP and the Greens.
It’s been a bit shaky tbh. They’re always arguing. Like Starmer, Olaf Scholz doesn’t really inspire a great deal of…well, anything. He’s not a very good leader: he’s just there. The Greens seem to be dying a death for one reason or another. Not least due to a graft scandal surrounding former star pupil Robert Habeck. Looks like the halo-bearing Greens are just the same as all other parties when they get to the top of the greasy pole of power.
I think the conservatives will see a resurgence at the next election. The AfD are doing well in the polls.
It might be interesting to see if such a coalition in the UK exhibits the same trends. I’m still thinking the conservatives could squeak a victory though, if they get a demonstrative win or two under their belts in the meantime.
I’m glad Shell and BP are so profitable. It shows that those companies are efficiently supplying needed products. The profits can finance future investment and reward savers, helping to maintain the value of the shares that people buy to finance their retirement.
Even Adam Smith recognised the dangers of rent-seeking and cartels, of which there are far too many around these days as a result of the privatisation of core supply industries. Healthy profits are not always a badge of an efficient market.
I know. But let the case for profit appear in print just this once. Rent-seeking by cartels is a bad thing but outright expropriation by the state (e.g. windfall tax) is worse.
Oh I agree with that. I think windfall taxes are theft.
True. But the rent seekers and cartels are not the oil companies. They went through many very tough years before the oil price spike. It’s a cyclical business (some are) and there are fat years and lean years.
I like Aaron Bastani – but he’s living in the past.
Tuition fees? We should be closing most universities and replacing only some of them with MIT style tech centres, not encouraging middle class kids to go on wasting three years of their lives learning the stupidities of post-modern ideology by paying the bill for them. Scholars no longer need to be in the same room to communicate with one another, we have the Internet.
It’s also fatuous to talk about a ‘housing crisis’ or the crisis in public services without talking about immigration – yet Bastani, like every other commentator on the left, simply doesn’t have the cojones to go anywhere near the subject.
Plus, if the left think they can deal with public concerns about their racialisation of society or the ‘women with penises’ nonsense just by not talking about these issues or by shouting people down, then they are deluding themselves.
“Electoral reform is a necessary precursor for more socialist MPs.” Such would also suit what the so-called left (supported today by multi-national corporations, bankers, the civil service, and other establishment bastions) call the populist right. For example in 2015 proportional representation would have returned something like 70 UKIP MPs.
And a lot fewer SNP MPs. The most over-represented party in parliament.
“The British Left is moving beyond Labour”
The British left no longer exists Somebody tell Aaron.
Whether or not it exists, all three major parties have adopted its policies.
I regard left and right as obsolete terms. All three main parties are part of the liberal elite — see Matthew Goodwin
Brexit didn’t “do for Corbyn”. Being a thoroughly unpleasant middle class typically hypocritical leftie [email protected] did for the snivelling little racist.
What a load of utter garbage. I do hope we’re not paying for this.
“Yet the two major parties look increasingly indistinguishable as they converge on issues like wealth taxes and public ownership.”
No. They don’t agree on these things. Labour absolutely want to punish the rich and success (ludicrous policies like restoring the Pension Lifetime Allowance – effectively punishing people for successfully investing for retirement and not being a burden on the state – classic politics of envy).
“stunning rise in industrial unrest”
None of the strikes are actually “industrial” in any meaningful sense. People in genuinely industrial jobs are largely getting on and doing them.
Very few people really care about who owns Royal Mail
Interesting. I can see a semi-moderate Labour being pulled in all directions and devouring itself. The bond markets will pull one way, the Greens and every other zealot will expect their demands to be met. Every public sector employee will expect a pay rise in return for doing less. It’ll be great.
No,the Greens and Lib Dems might be superannuated half answers to dissatisfaction with Labour. They are not though the primary threat to the Tories. That threat is from the Right and these has-been parties are far too much big-State socialists. Only arrivistes like Reform will benefit from the Tories ceasing to be a conservative party.
Two key policy areas that could make a real difference but would require some bravery
(1) NHS – increased earmarked funding. Legalise cannabis and use the taxation for the NHS – as in get more tax that people will be willing to pay. Start health insurance at a low level initially, with gradual increases so that people can adjust
In other words stop assuming nobody, apart from the rich, will have to pay for better services.
(2) Repeal legislation that allows the sale of social housing. Start building up a stock of affordable social housing. This will also help alleviate poverty because of reduced housing costs, compared with private landlords.
I’ll leave my thoughts on education (schools and universities) for another day
All the evidence shows that throwing more money at the NHS is making it worse. We’ve been doing that for decades. Without some sort of fundamental change, nothing will ever improve. The major problem is clearly not money or resources – it will absorb whatever you throw at it and more.
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