Category Archives: Elections

Sir Keir’s Tory bigot

Natalie Elphicke is welcomed in. Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott are kept out. Meanwhile, the Corbynista left limps on in 57 insipid varieties, writes Carla Roberts

Sir Keir Starmer had big hopes for the defection of rightwing Tory MP Natalie Elphicke: just after the boost of the local election results and the defection of former health secretary Dan Poulter, he orchestrated a bit of political theatre by having Elphicke cross the floor just before prime minister’s questions, all in front of live cameras.

Starmer’s intention was to prove to the establishment and big business once more that Labour is not just more popular than the Tories at the ballot box, but also very much a safe pair of hands. See, even a rightwinger like Elphicke now finds the Labour Party more attractive than the crazies who presided over the Brexit disaster, crashed the economy under Liz Truss and are now banking all on getting a few hundred traumatised refugees sent to Rwanda! It was also supposed to be a signal to other Tory MPs to jump the sinking ship and join Sir Keir’s merry second eleven.

Alas, he picked the wrong kind of Tory. The press had a weekend of great fun after former justice secretary Robert Buckland (Tory MP for South Swindon) chose to dish the dirt on his erstwhile colleague: in 2020, she allegedly asked him to intervene on behalf of her now ex-husband, Charlie, in his sex assault trial, hoping that Buckland would be able to switch the trial to a different court and a different judge. Buckland now says she behaved “outrageously” – it was “completely inappropriate”.[1]

Not inappropriate enough to report it straightaway, obviously. He and the rest of his Tory chums would no doubt have continued to cover up her behaviour, had she not changed sides. This, and similar tales about her defection being due to thwarted ambition – she was not made a minister – and her ill-considered attacks on her husband’s victims, are supposed to serve as a powerful warning shot to other Tory MPs, some of whom must be toying with the idea of following her example … and perhaps prolonging their parliamentary careers. There are doubtless compromising files in the whips’ office detailing all manner of indiscretions, scandals and missteps waiting to be published. (Despite that, however, rumours are circulating of other possible defectors.)

The press backlash over Elphicke somewhat overshadowed the more obvious point: while Sir Keir welcomes with open arms a particularly unpleasant rightwinger into the party, left MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott remain in limbo land, having had the whip withdrawn over nonsense charges and, in Abbott’s case, an admittedly stupid letter to The Guardian, in which she claimed that white people cannot experience racism “all their lives”. Travellers, anyone? But if stupidity was a crime, the current parliament would be a very empty place indeed.

The Labour left, as far as it still exists, has been relatively outspoken over Elphicke’s change of party. Zarah Sultana MP told the BBC that Elphicke was

a member of the [Eurosceptic] European Research Group; she voted for Liz Truss in the leadership; she’s at odds when it comes to fire and rehire; she has attacked trade unions and their activities; [she’s] not great on the environment either. So, unless she’s had the biggest Damascene conversion ever, I just don’t buy it.


Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Labour-affiliated Fire Brigades Union and, since September 2023, president of the Trades Union Congress, complains in a letter to Sir Keir (published by The Guardian) that the “disgraceful” MP for Dover has spoken “in support of the new anti-union laws and blamed firefighters for the deaths of three people who perished during a national strike”. This is “alarming”, he says,

considering that it is current Labour policy to repeal the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, which effectively bans strike action across parts of the public sector: Labour’s pledge to repeal this authoritarian legislation within 100 days of taking office, alongside the 2016 Trade Union Act, is a crucial commitment. Natalie Elphicke should never have been given the Labour whip, but these remarks further undermine the decision to accept her into the party.[2]

Sir Keir has since promised not to waver on this commitment. At his meeting with trade union general secretaries on May 14 he reaffirmed his pledge not to water down workers’ rights. But we all know that it would not be the first time he has broken a pledge or two, nor will it be the last.

Brother Wrack thinks that Elphicke’s political views make her “incompatible” with being a party member, while the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has produced what might well be the tamest model motion in the history of the soft left: It reads, in full: “This CLP calls on the NEC to consider the party’s membership criteria for the PLP to ensure they are in line with Labour values.” That is it!

Members are further given ‘advice’:

not to mention either Jeremy or Diane when discussing this motion in local party meetings. This because the general secretary previously banned local parties from discussing any individual who is subject to the party’s complaints and discipline processes. The ban is undemocratic and it is applied in a factional way. However, breaching it has led to party members being suspended. So for the present it is advisable to observe these factional restrictions that have been imposed on local party meetings.

Real fighting talk there!

There is, of course, no definition of what such “Labour values” might be and how Elphicke’s views are “incompatible” with them. Historically Labour government values have been to throw a few crumbs to the working class while promoting the interests of British capitalism at home and abroad (including, of course, fighting colonial wars against the uppity natives). However, so supine is Sir Keir, that he promises few if any crumbs when he’s in government.

For example, Labour has just been outflanked on the left by ‘Cruella’ Braverman, who has argued for the scrapping of the two-child benefit limit, which “aggravates child poverty”. No shit, Sherlock. Starmer’s mini-me Wes Streeting, however, has confirmed the decision that a Labour government will not scrap the limit, because capitalism simply “cannot afford it”.[3] Meanwhile, David Lammy has praised the “misunderstood” Donald Trump; Rachel Reeves celebrates Margaret Thatcher as a “visionary leader”; etc.

Clean party

This is all designed to assure the ruling class and soft Tory voters that Sir Keir has now fully cleansed the party of the last traces of Corbynism. It is not surprising that there is very little opposition inside Labour. After all, most members with a spine have long ago been expelled and whoever remains on the left of the party seems to have no problem with keeping their mouths shut – useless.

Presumably both Kate Osamor and Andy McDonald have promised to do exactly that, which is why they both recently had the parliamentary whip restored (having been suspended over their comments on the genocide in Gaza). Shadow foreign minister David Lammy might have been sent out to demand a “pause [!] in the sale of weapons to Israel that could be used in an assault on Rafah” – after US president Biden did the same thing.[4] But that does not mean that Labour Party members or MPs are suddenly allowed to speak out freely in support of the Palestinians. The same ‘good behaviour’ cannot be expected of Abbott or Corbyn, of course. They have proven themselves over many decades to be somewhat more ‘unreliable’, so there is little chance they will get the whip back.

While Abbott seems to be preparing for retirement, Corbyn is, we understand, still planning on joining or leading Andrew Feinstein’s semi-launched party, ‘Collective’ – after the general election: until then, he does not want his prospects sullied by any ‘dodgy’ lefties being involved. Further proof of his lack of leadership skills, if any were needed.

What’s left

Labour’s candidate selection process is now under way for Islington North, Corbyn’s seat.[5] That will put pressure on him to confirm very soon that he will, as expected, run as an independent candidate.

Collective, incidentally, has formed a “political pact” with 14 other groups “in order to stand a single candidate for each electoral seat”. It seems to be working quite closely with the Reliance Party (“Rely on us. We stand for you”) and Assemble – the latest project by Roger Hallam, founder of Extinction Rebellion. Collective’s website features two lists: one of eleven candidates supported by Collective (including Andrew Feinstein and “should he stand”, Jeremy Corbyn); and a list of another 100 ‘independent’ candidates supported by a variety of local campaigns and groups. However, it looks like not everybody is playing ball. Only six candidates of the Workers’ Party (including George Galloway, Chris Williamson and Craig Murray) are listed, and two candidates standing for Tusc. The left cannot even get together for a non-aggression pact, it seems – underwhelming as this one is.

In the meantime, the left outside of Labour is tying itself into ever smaller knots. Two new ‘organisations’ have emerged in the last few weeks – joining the myriad of existing Corbynista grouplets and campaigns.

There is, firstly, the Reliance Party, based mainly in the West Midlands and led by Kamel Hawwash, vice-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who is running against shadow veterans minister Steve McCabe (chairman of Labour Friends of Israel) in Birmingham Selly Oak.[6]

Then there is Laura Pidcock, former MP for North West Durham. She is involved in the ‘Rise Movement’, which was launched on May Day this year and “re-commits itself to the pursuit of working class liberation, socialism and world peace”.[7] Its short programme is somewhat to the left of the countless other Corbynistas, but its structure and internal democracy are much more opaque.

A number of self-declared Marxists and socialists have been meeting in secret for 18 months, we are told, working out Rise’s programme, constitution and membership criteria: just like Talking About Socialism, it wants to build a “mass working class party” for socialism, but does not allow members of other political organisations to get involved, because “we all know they can behave in a sectarian manner”. Differences of opinion “are allowed, but not for public consumption – that’s counterproductive”.

The comrades want to go “straight to the working class” and ignore the rest of the organised left – yet another group based on anti-sectarian sectarianism, in other words. And just like the new and shiny Revolutionary Communist Party (aka Socialist Appeal), Counterfire, RS21, the SWP, the Socialist Party in England and Wales and similar groups who think they are ‘it’, these sects are likely to end up as a short footnote in history (if that).

Despite the mass demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and the obvious discrepancy that the onslaught on Gaza has revealed between the vast majority of the population and the warmongering ruling class, the left in Britain is weaker than it has been for decades. The defeat of the Corbyn movement (in large part self-inflicted) has demoralised many – and given others the idea that all they have to do is put up a version of Corbyn’s reformist programme and the masses will come flocking.

Cue in to Momentum, the most well-known of the pro-Corbyn groups. Co-chair Hilary Schan has just resigned from her position, which will probably lead to the overdue collapse of the organisation founded by the born-again Zionist, Jon Lansman. Schan wants to “campaign for the Green Party and independent candidates”[8] as part of turncoat Owen Jones’ campaign, ‘We Deserve Better’[9]. We certainly do!

General election

Communists will judge tactically who to support in the forthcoming general election – but things look admittedly dire. Where left Labour candidates are allowed to stand – Zarah Sultana, for example – communists should support them critically, while at the same time proposing the immediate demands they should be fighting for: stop arms sales to Israel, for example, plus the ditching of the Rwanda scheme and an end to all immigration controls.

Millions of working class people will be looking forward to the end of the Tory government. Rather than moralistically abstaining from any contact with the Labour Party – which is still a bourgeois workers’ party, due to the affiliation of the major unions – communists should seek an active and principled engagement.

The same goes for left candidates standing, for example: on a platform of opposition to Israel’s genocide; as part of George Galloway’s Workers’ Party; as candidates for the Socialist Party’s Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition; or on any other socialist or communist platform. Where such candidates stand against each other (which, after Galloway’s announcement to stand more than 500 candidates, is now likely), communists should decide according to the programme and the electoral prospects of the candidates.

Should George Galloway stand again in Rochdale, for example, we certainly would call for a vote for him, despite all our criticisms. His election was a victory for the pro-Palestine solidarity campaign, not for his reactionary views on abortion, immigration or trans and gay rights. In other places, a vote for Tusc might be the better call. None of them, we should say, are the kind of principled, partyist, anti-imperialist, Marxist alternative we so desperately need l

[1]. The Times May 11.

[2]. The Guardian May 13.

[3]. The Independent May 12.

[4]. The Guardian May 13.


[6]. The Independent May 10.


[8]. The Guardian May 6.

[9]. See ‘We deserve better’ Weekly Worker March 28:

A tale of three by-elections

Kevin Bean looks at the state of bourgeois politics and the controversy over so-called green policies

Last week’s by-elections show that sometimes in politics events do not always follow the widely predicted course.

On the basis of the opinion polls, the expectations were that the Tories would lose all three seats up for grabs on July 20, with Labour gaining Boris Johnson’s old seat in Uxbridge and Ruislip, as well as overturning a large Tory majority in Selby and Ainsty, while the Liberal Democrats would regain their previously-held Somerton and Frome constituency. In the end it did not turn out like that: the Tories held Uxbridge (albeit with a tiny majority), allowing Rishi Sunak to claim that the long-foretold Tory defeat at the coming general election was not “a done deal” and reassuring his supporters that it was still ‘all to play for’. The weekend press headlines and the lines coming from the political shows followed up on the surprising Uxbridge result and focused on why Labour had not made the expected breakthrough.

What quickly emerged as the widely-held explanation for the Tories holding on to Uxbridge was Ulez (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) – a scheme to reduce air pollution from older vehicles by imposing a charge, which is planned to be extended from central London to outlying suburbs. The Tories had made the charge the single issue in their Uxbridge campaign and essentially turned the by-election into a referendum on the policy. The Tories claimed to be standing up for the poorest sections of society, who own the oldest vehicles, along with those like taxi drivers, small businesses and others who need to drive for work in an area with poor public transport. On polling day, the anti-Ulez campaign and the focus on the London mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, paid dividends for the Tories and ensured that since the by-election Ulez and ‘green policies’ in general have been the centre of political interest.

For Sir Keir the focus on Uxbridge and Ulez seemed, at first sight, something of a setback, if not a PR disaster. While he was up in rural Yorkshire doing a photo-call with the successful candidate (a young, aspiring hack and Labour careerist, conveniently also named Keir) to celebrate overturning a huge Tory majority, all everyone back at Westminster wanted to talk about was Uxbridge. If the Tories and the media were more than keen to big up the success at Uxbridge, sections of the Labour bureaucracy and the Parliamentary Labour Party also tried to turn the situation to their advantage, shifting the blame for the reverse onto Sadiq Khan or the local conduct of the campaign. Starmer and his immediate circle also let it be known that that they were unhappy with Ulez and, in light of the Tory attacks, were considering scaling back even further on Labour’s green policy commitments.

So far, all very Westminster bubble gossip and kite-flying in the op-ed sections of the sympathetic media, which is quite easy to dismiss as mere froth. However, both the by-election results (remember, there were two other seats apart from Uxbridge!) and the reactions of the Tory and Labour leaderships to the outcome do tell us a lot about how the general election campaign might develop and the sort of result that it could throw up.

The general trend in all three by-elections was a swing against the Conservatives, which reflected the widespread anti-Tory mood that has been shown up in the opinion polls and local council elections in May this year. Following the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than the opposition winning them, these results continue to point to a Labour government with probably a working majority.

With the Liberal Democrats posing a challenge in both the West Country and the formerly safe Tory seats in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’, and Labour regaining its ‘traditional’ seats in the north and the Midlands – along with possible gains in Scotland, combined with victories in marginal seats throughout Britain – the chances of the Tories staying in power appear slim. However, this anti-Tory feeling does not correspond to any great enthusiasm for Sir Keir and his Labour Party. By-election turnout remains low and the evidence suggests that the mathematical ‘swing’ was a largely notional one, with previous Tory voters staying at home rather than being sufficiently enthused by Starmer to go to the polls and actually vote Labour. On this showing the next election will be an unpopularity contest between parties and programmes for which the electorate shows no real passion or deep support.

Facing both ways

Is Sir Keir concerned by this lack of electoral momentum? Will the failure to gain Uxbridge dictate a change of course? Not at all! It is all factored into his strategy and will actually confirm an important part of his approach towards the election, which has been to dampen down expectations and warn of the dangers of complacency. Far from Starmer’s spinmeisters trying to hype up the opinion poll leads in recent months, they have been extremely cautious in their news management and, in this regard, Uxbridge suits them just fine. It keeps the troops in order and helps to silence even the mildest of criticism, on the grounds that electoral victory is not guaranteed and we all need to rally behind the leader.

Some critics from the official left – yes, a few still exist and can still be heard muttering off-stage, if you listen hard enough – say that Starmer’s lack of radical policies on energy and transport renationalisation or his mean-spirited support for Tory benefit caps will cost Labour a few leftwing votes. That may be so – Starmer’s aides, like his ‘fixer’, Morgan McSweeney, or polling and focus group guru Deborah Mattinson, would doubtless agree, but these are not the voters Starmer’s Labour Party are after nowadays. In a world of focus groups and triangulation, team Sir Keir calculates exactly what will appeal to the ‘target voters’ in the ‘centre ground’ and he duly sticks to the script at all times.

Anyway, channelling their inner Peter Mandelson of the 1990s, his supporters argue, where else do these voters critical of the benefit policy or the other underwhelming positions have to go? Starmer is determined to win the election – but on his terms. That means adopting the most openly pro-capitalist programme in Labour’s history and convincing his two audiences – the centre-ground electorate in Britain and the capitalist class in London and Washington – that he really is a safe pair of hands, who can be relied upon to steady the ship and not be diverted into ‘dangerously radical’ experiments.

Even by the historically low standards of Labour leaders, it is a pretty timid and uninspiring prospectus. Although Labour has been a bourgeois workers’ party from its very beginning and its leaders have faithfully followed the dictates of capitalism at home and imperialism abroad, for the quite mundane purposes of electoral politics the party leadership had to inspire and mobilise its supporters and voters with some kind of radical vision – think of ‘the New Jerusalem’ of Clement Attlee in 1945 or the ‘white heat of technology’ summoned up by Harold Wilson in 1964. Playing the game of bourgeois politics required more than mere competence: Labour leaders had to at least pretend to offer some form of challenge or alternative to the status quo, however token this proved to be in reality.

Not so Sir Keir! His electoral strategy is one of responding to perceived shifts in ‘public opinion’ or the clamour of the media. Instead of trying to shape politics and alter how people see the world, even within the limited options offered by the framework of capitalism, Starmer simply fits in and presents himself as a diligent and conscientious custodian of bourgeois society and the constitutional order. His whole career in the law and the service of the state at the highest level makes him perfect for the role, and it is one that he will play to perfection, when he does finally enter No10. So this will shape his electoral strategy and allow him to take minor upsets like Uxbridge in his stride; indeed, he will even turn them to his advantage to consolidate his position – as we saw at Labour’s National Policy Forum last weekend, where he saw off the rather puny criticisms of left trade union leaders. For Starmer the course is set fair for the next election and so he is determinedly continuing on his way, ignoring what remains of the disorganised and bankrupt official left in the PLP and their faint echoes in the Constituency Labour Parties.

Pause for thought

However, before we wave off Sir Keir on the road to Downing Street, we should also consider the Tories’ reaction to the by-elections and how this might shape politics in the 18 months or so before an election must be called. Rishi Sunak has tried to keep up the flagging morale of his party by suggesting that the retention of the Uxbridge seat was a sign that the tide might turn in the Tories’ favour, while some Conservative MPs argue that the success of the anti-Ulez campaign might be repeated more generally at a general election.

This approach has been broadened by some on the Tory right into a wider attack on green policies and zero targets – claiming that ‘greenery’ is mere virtue signalling, which voters might approve, but are unwilling to pay for through Ulez charges and higher taxation. This all neatly fits into a well-established culture war, based on the claim that metropolitan elites and middle-class greens are waging a war on the motorist and hard-working families. Other elements in this strategy to win back both ‘traditional’ Tory voters and the supposedly socially conservative former Red Wall voters who came over to them in 2019 are a focus on stopping illegal migration, waging a ‘war on woke’ and standing up for traditional values, whatever they are.

Sunak himself has played with some of these themes and they will probably appear in some form in the Conservative election manifesto. But will they be enough to win back disillusioned voters in a period of falling real wages, rising prices and increasing interest rates for homeowners? Uxbridge showed that in a by-election it is possible to mobilise a protest vote around a single, polarising and locally important issue. But will voters feel the same, when it comes to choosing a government in a general election? Will issues like Ulez and cutting back on green policies cut through to an electorate who have more immediate cost-of-living issues on their minds?

While at this stage it seems unlikely that such an amalgam of Tory prejudices and scare stories could offer an effective and plausible manifesto and erode the very deep anti-Tory mood that has been building up steadily since 2021, the Uxbridge result should give the party leaders and all those analysing British politics and the public mood some pause for thought. While the by-election results confirmed what the polls have been saying quite consistently for a few years now, they also show the lack of real enthusiasm for either the Tories or Labour, and certainly no firm preference for Sir Keir as an alternative prime minister.

Understanding and discussing the possibilities for the short term are important: the working class movement should obviously take a sharp interest in the high politics of bourgeois society and adopt its own distinct and independent position towards the parties and the policies of the capitalist class. However, Marxists need to go beyond these immediate issues and point the way to the real politics of transforming society. Above all in the current hiatus for the left, that means not only considering how electoral politics might develop, but also seriously thinking about and actively working to build the type of revolutionary party and programme we need to fight for.

Putting capital and careers first

Starmer’s purge of left candidates shows he is serious about governing ‘responsibly’, says Kevin Bean

Although much of the focus lately has been on the psycho-drama playing out amongst the Tories, on the other side of bourgeois politics Labour leaders have been giving some clear pointers about the shape of the next Labour government, should they win the next election.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, this seems increasingly likely and certainly most commentators and many Tories appear to think that within 18 months Sir Keir and his team will be seated around the cabinet table in Downing Street. It seems that, in this one aspect of bourgeois politics at least, the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them still appears to hold. Although Labour’s lead over the Tories could well narrow as the election campaign hots up, and there are a number of uncertainties which could impact on the actual result, such as new constituency boundaries, most recent polls point to a Labour majority, with some even suggesting a “landslide”.[1]

Another barometer will be the forthcoming by-elections caused by the resignations of Boris Johnson and Nigel Adams – probably followed by another in the autumn, when Nadine Dorries times her departure to cause maximum political embarrassment to Rishi Sunak. Although the unusual circumstances of the by-elections will probably encourage protest votes and so maximise an anti-government vote, which may benefit the Liberal Democrats, the Labour leadership will undoubtedly play up their successes and stress that the electoral momentum now lays with them.

It is important to remember that it is this electoral perspective which dominates the politics and the strategy of Sir Keir Starmer – shaping both his recent policy shifts and the continuing attacks on what remains of the Labour left. As a fully paid-up member of the British bourgeois political class, with a long record of loyal service in the law, Starmer has shown he will always act in the interests of the state, and of capitalism more generally. Reinforcing this image and reminding his main audience – the capitalist class in Washington and London, and their allies in the media – of his proven record as a reliable, safe pair of hands has been absolutely central to Sir Keir’s leadership from day one.

The Labour leadership has also carried out a charm offensive, targeted at the City and ‘the markets’, to dispel any lingering fears that a Labour government would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ and would undermine the public finances by either raising taxes on the wealthy or borrowing extravagantly to fund its manifesto commitments. The Starmer project has generally been positively received by the key sections of the capitalist class, although, as ever, they want the Labour leader to go further in order to make the party even more ‘electable’ in their eyes.[2] So close has this relationship become that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rowed back last week on a major plank of Labour’s economic policy – the £28 billion ‘green prosperity plan’ – because of hints that it was unacceptable to ‘the markets’.[3]


If Sir Keir’s main audience – the capitalist class – are more than happy to see him as prime minister (especially after the bizarre chaos and farcical musical chairs at the heart of the Tory government since 2017), his other audience – the electorate – seems less than impressed by what is on offer. The coming election is unlikely to set anyone on fire, so we can expect both lacklustre political campaigning and widespread apathy on the part of voters. Given this, one possible outcome could still be a Labour victory, but, rather than the predicted landslide, it could instead be a much more modest majority which, some commentators have suggested, would make a Starmer government potentially susceptible to pressure from left MPs.[4]

The model for this scenario is the role of the Labour parliamentary left during the late 1960s and 1970s and its ability to restrict some of the more anti-working class policies proposed by the Labour governments in this period. Whilst there are obvious and striking differences between that period and today – not least the considerable influence exercised by the ‘official’ CPGB over the Tribune group in parliament, the trade union left and rank and file activists in the CLPs – Starmer is not leaving anything to chance. He is getting his retaliation in first by ruthlessly purging the left during the candidate selection process.[5] Changes in constituency boundaries and thus the possibilities of ‘deselecting’ existing left MPs are also being used to weed out anyone deemed unreliable by the leadership, as the recent examples in Birkenhead, Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon show. Reports also suggest that a similar stitch-up will be attempted to get acceptable candidates in place for the by‑elections caused by Johnson and co’s resignations.

After the Corbyn years, it seems to be a case of ‘never again’. The selection of candidates has been handed over to Matt Faulding and Matt Pound – with able assistance provided by NEC member Luke Akehurst. Faulding was once deputy director of the Blairite think tank Progress, while Pound used to run Labour First under Akehurst. These three are the Machiavellis of the Labour Party. Behind the scenes they are deciding the composition of the PLP in the next parliament.

Akehurst is a driven man. A fervent Zionist, he is a director of British Israeli Communication and We Believe in Israel. Combining stints with being a Hackney councillor, working for the Labour Party and the BBC and running Weber Shadwick, a global PR company, it is clear that he enjoys extraordinarily good connections … presumably including with Mossad, the CIA and MI5. But what really marks him out is his deep, enduring almost visceral animosity towards the left. The IHRA so-called definition of anti-Semitism has been a weapon wielded with the greatest passion. As a current NEC member – he topped the poll in 2022 – Akehurst, of course, chairs many of the panels which bar the objects of his hatred.

Naturally, Labour First is pro-Nato, pro-Israel, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-constitution and pro-Ukraine – so Paul Mason would find himself at home. Labour First is not just rightwing, it is militantly rightwing and considers the left an obstacle to achieving what it calls ‘Clause one socialism’; ie, a Labour government fit to serve capitalism and which puts good career politicians like themselves first. Labour as a broad based party has no place for the irresponsible, unpatriotic, left.

Right unite

Directly after the election of Sir Keir as party leader, Labour First combined with Progress to found Labour to Win, and under that umbrella they dominate the NEC politically and, naturally, promote their pals as parliamentary, assembly, mayoral, etc, candidates.

More than that, Labour to Win is attempting to “fundamentally reshape” the culture and politics of the Labour Party. Take that to be something like completing the Blairite counterrevolution, delabourising Labour, repairing the split in liberalism.

Sadly, Sir Keir, Labour to Win, Akehurst, Faulding, Pound and the Labour right are having it easy – because of the supine nature of the official Labour left. During the Corbyn period there was a willingness to sacrifice leftwingers to appease the pro-capitalist right in the PLP. This resulted in waves of suspensions and expulsions. Perhaps more importantly, it provided the ideological ground for Starmer’s current purge by conceding what should have not been conceded: the big lie that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

The record of the official left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs in collaborating with the witch-hunt and generally keeping their heads down does not inspire us with confidence that they would do very much to resist Starmer’s pro-capitalist agenda, even if the parliamentary arithmetic were to give, say, 30 determined MPs a greatly enhanced leverage.

Starmer can probably rest easy on that score, although it seems he is taking no chances when it comes to parliamentary or other selection contests. In the new north-east region mayoral constituency, Labour’s long list excludes current Labour mayor for North Tyneside, Jamie Driscoll – a pretty mild municipal socialist who supports the IHRA and whose only crimes are to be tagged ‘the last Corbynista in office’ and to appear at an arts event in a Newcastle theatre with that ‘non-person’ Ken Loach.

It is possible that the SCG really is keeping its powder dry and waiting for the day when it can call the shots in parliament. Perhaps its MPs are secretly a very disciplined and highly organised group who are only awaiting the right moment to strike and sound the clarion call for socialist politics. We all may yet be surprised, but, if their record and narrow Labourist politics tells us anything, I would not hold my breath!






Witch-hunt grows

While some on the disorientated left will support ‘anyone but Labour’, writes Carla Roberts, Momentum and what remains of the official Labour left beg Sir Keir for unity

Labour did well in the local elections – but not well enough to avoid the potential of a hung parliament at the next general election. For John McDonnell this presents a golden opportunity to once again bang on about the need for Labour to become – you guessed it – “a broad church”, where “there is respect for a whole range of views across the political spectrum within the Labour Party”.[1] He rather amusingly describes how “young left radical MPs have appeal across the board. If we don’t use that resource, we lose the opportunity of mobilising some of the key votes”.

Who are those mysterious ‘young left radical MPs’ that he wants to see on the front benches? Well, there is Nadia Whittome (fellow traveller of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), the tame Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the middle-of-the-road Olivia Blake and – last not least – Zarah Sultana. The latter is the only one of this bunch who could be described as potentially radical – but Realpolitik in parliament has certainly made her a very quiet warrior. All of these ‘radical’ MPs are members of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs – which has still not managed to put out a statement in support of its own Diane Abbott, now suspended from the party. Clearly, none of them fancy ending up next to Diane Abbott or Jeremy Corbyn. Better to keep heads down then.

From a careerist point of view, this is entirely understandable: the swift disciplinary action taken against Abbott for her admittedly extraordinarily stupid letter to The Observer shows that Sir Keir continues to be on the warpath against the left. Politically of course, the despicable opportunism of the SCG is exactly what has put the left in the position it is today – entirely defeated. Instead of at least trying to take on the right, the official Labour left has tried to appease it, begging for forgiveness for the entirely fake ‘mass anti-Semitism problem’ of the party. It is now so weak that Starmer can pick the remaining ‘left’ MPs off one by one, without little or no opposition.


Last week’s coronation stressed this fact once again – not only did the Labour Party’s official social media outlets sycophantically declare that “Labour celebrates the coronation of His Majesty The King”, while crying “God save His Majesty The King”; we were also reminded that the anti-monarchy group, Republic, is part of Labour’s new blacklist of 12 organisations that Constituency Labour Parties have been banned from affiliating to “without approval from the NEC”, since “To do so would breach party rules.”

The email goes on to list the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War Coalition, London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Jewish Voice for Labour, Somalis for Labour, Sikhs for Labour, All African Women’s Group, Health Campaigns Together, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group, the Peace and Justice Project – and Republic (more on the latter below).[2]

This list clearly contains a few innocent bystanders who are being hit by ‘friendly fire’, so to speak. It is chiefly Jewish Voice for Labour and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that had to be dealt with, because they continue to be a thorn in Starmer’s side by challenging the big lie that ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’. As both contain large number of Jewish members, Starmer probably felt that he could not simply add them to the growing list of organisations that have been proscribed outright, which means that members, sympathisers or anyone liking one of their Facebook posts are automatically expelled: he could and would have been accused of anti-Semitism (something that JVL has pointed out many times). This blacklist is a more ‘elegant’ weapon.

Though the other groups on the list are mostly quite harmless they do have a symbolic value. Stop the War Coalition, for example, stands for social-pacifism in the midst of a Nato proxy war in Ukraine that is supported just as much by His Majesty’s loyal opposition as his government … and it is only a step, a logical one, from suspending branches affiliated to StWC to expelling MPs speaking on StWC platforms, signing petitions or acting as sponsors. Having CLPs sign up to Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project would, of course, be a minor embarrassment for Starmer, but if Corbyn stands as an independent it sets the stage for witch-hunting anyone who dares to leaflet, canvas, post or even speak in his support.

Labour CND and Abortion Rights, are, of course, run by the shadowy Socialist Action sect, which also effectively steers the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. It might strike some as curious that, just like Momentum, they have both been left off any blacklist … so far.


The Guardian quotes a “Momentum source”, who says that the organisation “is making a ‘strategic’ retreat to local government, focusing less on the parliamentary party and more on a ‘growing appetite for change and ambition in local communities’.” According to the article, Momentum also wants to “focus on renewing a broader alliance of the left and soft left within Labour”. If Whittome and Blake are the “left”, we shudder to imagine which MPs they might consider on the “soft left”.

Momentum is, of course, picking up on the fact that most leftwingers have now left the Labour Party, with some celebrating ‘anyone but Labour’ candidates winning seats in the local elections (or even standing against Labour). The political confusion on the left following the defeat of the Corbyn movement is so immense that it matters not that most of these candidates stood on a localist programme which can only aspire to the heights of ‘motherhood and apple pie’.

Mandy Clare – former leading lady of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy before jumping ship to join Chris Williamson in the Socialist Labour Party – has won a council seat as part of the ‘Winsford Salt of the Earth’ group – which has campaigned on the slogan, “People before politics”. It has taken control of the local town council, wiping out Labour.[3] Let us see what ‘non-political’ things our ‘Salt of the Earth’ friends do with their clear majority.

Jo Bird, the well-known former JVL member and a supporter of Labour Against the Witchhunt, has won a seat in the Wirral council on the Green ticket (she now wears only green clothes instead of red ones!). She is one of many former Labour members who have joined the Green Party, especially in the wake of Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is, sadly, an indication of the lack of appreciation on the ‘left’ of the Green Party’s role as a pro-capitalist, pro-business organisation.

We might also take issue with Alan Gibbons, who, together with Sam Gorst (another former supporter of LAW) and Lucy Williams (who has not been known for her leftwing politics), won council seats as Liverpool Community Independents. As a former CLP secretary of Liverpool Walton, Gibbons was known for keeping his mouth firmly shut during the witch-hunt of the Corbyn years and refused to speak out (or even table motions) in support of the Wavertree Four, who were expelled on fake anti-Semitism charges. When he was the leading member of Momentum’s national constitutional committee on the Forward Momentum ticket, he refused to stand in solidarity with those expelled over the anti-Semitism smears and only criticised the suspensions of those who were victims of the ‘second’ wave of the witch-hunt, after Corbyn’s defeat. And, when he himself was finally expelled, he had to, of course, leave Momentum because of the witch-hunting rule he himself had continued to enforce! He now says he left Momentum because it was becoming ‘ineffective’! The man is clearly no hero of the left.

Of course, socialists and communists engage in local politics. But without a UK-wide, mass Marxist party of the working class that can effectively tackle bigger issues and engage coherently with national and international politics, such local ‘leftwing’ councillors are likely to end up focussing on issues that do not go much beyond the ‘litter-picking and dog-poo’ category. Even the much-celebrated ‘Preston project’, while useful in some respects, suffers by necessity from severe limitations.


The inclusion of Republic in Labour’s blacklist deserves a closer look. It is rather puzzling, seeing as it is hardly a radical organisation or one which has caused Sir Keir any problems whatsoever. Perhaps he is trying to overcompensate for his former republican views by stressing his monarchist credentials – which is rather tricky when there are video clips out there of him calling for the abolition of the monarchy.[4]

In the wake of the coronation, Republic happily reports a massive growth in membership and donations. No doubt fuelled by the heavy-handed approach of the police, which arrested almost a dozen Republic organisers (as well as at least one royalist bystander), the group’s membership has almost doubled from 5,000 to about 9,000 in a few days, with donations of over £100,000 coming in.[5]

The fact that Republic has a chief executive, Graham Smith, and no democratic structure shows what kind of organisation it is – more like a charity. Its website has a cross in the patriotic colours of the Union Jack. Tame campaigners like citizen Smith might have learnt a sharp political lesson over the police arrests of them and other anti-monarchist protesters, but the group’s programme is very limited indeed, focussing its critique on the cost of the monarchy and replacing the king with a president, as in the US and France – ie, an elected monarch – while leaving pretty much the rest of the state and the capitalist mode of production untouched. If The Guardian were to launch a party, it would look like Republic.

Nevertheless, its recently published short statement on ‘Why we protest’ is interesting.[6] It starts, sickeningly enough, with the platitude that “This great country of ours is full of creativity, potential and possibility” and that democracy is important “in creating a prosperous and fair society”. Capitalism would just work a lot better without the preposterously expensive and irrational monarchy, you see.

However, the next sentence is interesting: “The campaign for a republic is about democratic reform, democratic principles and ridding the country of an institution that serves itself and those in power – the few, not the many” (my emphasis). Now where have we heard that one before? It is, of course, based on Percy Shelley’s poem, ‘The mask of anarchy’, but has gained immense popularity by its use by a certain Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s 2017 and 2019 election manifestos. Perhaps this explains the inclusion of Republic in Labour’s ‘naughty list’.

[1]. The Guardian May 15.

[2]. The Guardian May 4.



[5]. The Guardian May 14.


On course for №10

Labour had a good night, the Tories a horrible one. But, asks Kevin Bean, should we aim for a Labour Party mark 2 or should we aim for something higher, something far more useful?

The May 3 local elections in England generally went as expected, with Labour making big gains both in seats and the number of councils it controls. Yes, the Lib Dems did relatively well, so did the Greens, but what interests us here is the coming general election and who will be the next prime minister. That is much more important than who will implement cuts and closures at a local level.

The outcome of the local election was fully in line with the opinion poll lead that Labour has built up in the last 18 months and suggests that Labour under Sir Keir is on course to win the next general election. Although he routinely warns his people not to be complacent, it is clear that the Labour leader believes his political strategy is working and that he expects to get that invitation from Charles Windsor to form a government sometime in 2024 or early 2025.

In this Sir Keir is probably correct. Despite the usual caveats and warnings from the pollsters and political analysts about how far trends in this year’s local elections in England could follow through into a general election throughout the country, the story of Labour gains and Tory losses does seem set to continue. Although the elections did not include Scotland, Wales, London and many areas of England, the pattern does seem clear, with Labour regaining support in areas of the north and the Midlands, where it had lost out to the Tories in 2019 – whilst also making gains in the south, such as in Medway and Swindon. If repeated across the country, this could well produce a Labour majority, although its size remains unclear.

While doubts about the extent of a Labour victory have raised the possibility of a hung parliament or some form of coalition, formal or otherwise, this seems unduly cautious – or perhaps part of a political strategy by Conservative supporters to flag up the possibilities of a minority government and a ‘coalition of chaos’ resulting from Labour advances at the polls. So, as per the normal conventions of parliamentary and electoral politics, Sir Keir is justified in having his moment of glory and enjoying Tory discomfort about the failure of Rishi Sunak to restore Tory fortunes.

It seems that on all sides the political course is set fair for the next 18 months or so: despite predictable calls for the return of Boris Johnson or tax cuts from the Tory right, Sunak’s ‘sensible’ strategy of ‘sound management’ and ‘stability’ will continue, while Starmer will also carry on doing something of the same by demonstrating to both the ruling class and the electorate that he, too, is a safe pair of hands who can be trusted with the affairs of the nation. After the alarums and excursions of the last few years, for both the Tory and Labour leadership it is boring ‘competence’ and ‘safety first’ all round.

If the campaigning and results point to the broad patterns of politics up to the general election, there are a number of features that might be emphasised. Starmer is right to warn about complacency: for all the talk of Labour’s ‘triumph’, the results show a widespread anti-Tory mood rather than a positive endorsement of Sir Keir’s politics. Labour’s share of the poll did not actually increase and Tory losses in parts of the south resulted from their voters switching to the Liberal Democrats and Greens. Leaving aside any ‘natural laws of political science’ that posit voter hostility to governments in their mid-term, the cost-of-living crisis, the bleak economic outlook and the housing crisis facing both renters and mortgage-holders alike would suggest significant losses for the Tories, irrespective of the alternative posed by opposition parties. So, rather than any positive endorsement of the main opposition party, that is what happened in these elections.

But the low turnout and the rather underwhelming response of the electorate will not deter Sir Keir from his chosen path. He will continue his cautious way, stirring up apathy and dampening down any expectations of radical change. The Labour leader’s two main audiences are the bourgeoisie and the largely mythical ‘centre ground’, and it is to these targets that he will continue to appeal, as the general election gets closer.

The arguments of the official Labour left that Starmer was so obsessed with ‘factionalism’ and smashing what remains of the Corbynista rump that he preferred to risk electoral defeat rather than ‘unite’ the party are wide of the mark. What is actually central to his electoral strategy is creating the widest distance between yesterday’s Labour Party and today’s, establishing his credentials with the state and the capitalist class generally, and so confirming that Labour is an acceptable second eleven once again. His ‘transformation’ of the Labour Party seems to have paid off handsomely for him.

As with Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 general election, Sir Keir has worked hard to positively guard against any enthusiasm about the prospect of the next Labour government. Unlike 2017, and to a lesser extent 2019, there is no possibility of a ‘crisis of expectations’ for the bourgeoisie to fret and worry over with Sir Keir. Boring is reassuring.


The next Labour government looks set to be the most rightwing and most openly pro-capitalist in history. Starmer and his leading shadow ministers have constantly flagged up a ‘pro-business’ agenda and reassured the City and the capitalist class that there will be no dangerous experiments or straying from the established consensus, whether at home or abroad. Whether it is ‘reforming’ the national health service, law and order, dealing with ‘excessive’ trade union demands, implementing ‘responsible’ fiscal and public spending strategies or supporting Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine, Starmer’s government can be relied upon to do the right thing, as far as British capital is concerned.

Although Labour will benefit from the general anti-Tory mood and hopes of some concessions on living standards and democratic rights, from what we know about the state of British and global capitalism the incoming Labour government has very little room for manoeuvre. So the ‘spirit of 2025’ will not echo the ‘spirit of 1945’. If anything, Sir Keir’s government will be closer in spirit to the dismal 1924 and 1929 governments of Ramsay MacDonald.

Such a prospect has led many on the left to argue that, because Starmer has shifted Labour much further to the right than Blair ever attempted and, in so doing, has effectively ‘de-Labourised’ the party, it can no longer be described in the classic formulation as a bourgeois workers’ party. While that outcome is possible, if Starmer continues on his present course, so long as the organised working class – crucially in the form of the big trade unions – remains affiliated, and it retains its mass working class electoral base, whatever the overtly pro-capitalist nature of its leadership, it still has the contradictory character of precisely a bourgeois workers’ party, which it has had since almost its inception.

Although currently hardly featuring in terms of initiative at the moment, the trade union link does at least raise the possibility that in the future there will be a revival of the Labour left. At the moment though, the trade unions, despite the rash of strikes and ongoing pay disputes, have been content to leave high politics to Sir Keir and his shadow front bench. Unite, GMB, Unison, RCN, PCS, NEU, RMT, Aslef, etc, have largely confined themselves to the narrow trade union-type politics one would expect from a self-interested bureaucratic caste … but serious rank-and-file organisation and pressure could bring about dramatic change. It is, of course, an open question.

So what are the options and possibilities open for the left? Firstly, it is clear that the official Labour left – whether in the form of the misnamed Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, the Labour Representation Committee, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy or what remains now of Momentum – has been safely neutered. Membership has declined massively – indeed in the case of the LRC it now more or less exists in name only. Momentum activity, where there is any, consists of a few dozy apparatchiks giving election advice, plaintively asking for suggestions and boasting about how x, y and z ‘leftwinger’ got under the radar of the Blackfriars Road HQ and became councillors in the May 4 landslide. That is what passes for hope.

In light of this, the elections also underlined once again that putative attempts to establish a Labour Party mark 2 to replace the actual existing Labour Party mark 1, have proved stillborn. Tusc, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, stood quite a number of candidates, but generally recorded a very low percentage vote. On average 2%-3% – the normal level of statistical error. Of course, that is not the main point. No, it is the piss-poor politics of Tusc that are the problem. What we have is the narrow politics of trade unionism: opposition to pay cuts, the call for house building, reducing the energy consumption of schools, etc. In and of themselves, all perfectly worthy and supportable. But nothing, not a thing, on Nato’s proxy war, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords or the fight for republican democracy and socialism.

Undaunted, Hannah Sell, general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Tusc’s principal sponsor, continues to call for trade unions to disaffiliate from Labour (Socialism Today May 3 2023). As if the lesson of the brief years of the Corbyn leadership was that things would have gone swingingly if only Len McCluskey’s Unite had followed the example of RMT and PCS. The idea of Sharon Graham’s Unite disaffiliating from the Labour Party is not inconceivable. But to what effect? Sir Keir might actually be perfectly happy with such a move. We might finally see the de-Labourisation of Labour and a return to Lib-Labism – the two-capitalist-party system of the 19th century.  Hardly a step forward in historic terms.

But would a disaffiliated Unite throw its weight into Tusc and, if it did, what would be the political effect? It would surely be, once again, the trade unionist politics of the working class: ie, the “bourgeois politics of the working class” (VI Lenin What is to be done?). Again, hardly a step forward in historic terms.

Wherever the forces of the left develop in the next few years (more likely to be outside Labour rather than inside), the issue of programme and party will remain the central question. So, while we would undoubtedly support Jeremy Corbyn if he stood as a non-Labour Party candidate in Islington North, there should be no illusions that this would constitute a real step forward for the working class. Naturally, we oppose Sir Keir’s ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ purge, which went on entirely unopposed under Corbyn till he himself, inevitably, fell victim. Nor do we give any truck to auto-Labourism.

But life demands more. We have had enough of halfway houses, lowest common denominators and the senile disorder of broad frontism. Respect, the Socialist Labour Party, Left Unity and Tusc each provided, at best, a site of struggle, but in reality they were barriers to what is really needed: a mass Communist Party committed to a programme of republican democracy and the global supersession of capitalism.

Without such a party, without such a programme, there is the risk that a generalised nuclear exchange or runaway global warming will, in the not too distant future, see what passes for human civilisation give way to an almost unimaginable barbarism.

Hollow man for hollow times

With Labour facing a string of defeats on May 6, Derek James looks at the continuing problems facing Keir Starmer

It has not been a good few weeks for Sir Keir Starmer. On April 19 he was unceremoniously booted out of a pub in Bath, with the landlord reportedly saying that Starmer “has completely failed as the leader of the opposition.” He has “completely failed to ask the questions that needed asking …”1

This very public PR disaster, straight out of the classic political comedy, The thick of it, could not have come at a worse time for the Labour leader, as the party faces a series of important elections on May 6. But Starmer’s altercation with an irate publican is not his only problem. As he was marking the first anniversary of his election as Labour leader, rumours and press speculation suggested that senior figures in the Parliamentary Labour Party were dissatisfied with his performance as leader of the opposition and that moves were afoot to oust him. Various names were put forward as possible replacements, including Angela Rayner, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.2 Although there were the usual public declarations of support and disavowals of any leadership ambitions, it is clear from these well-placed stories that ‘leading figures’ are involved in manoeuvres and jockeying for position in any future contest.

This discontent at the top of the party is not coming from what passes for the left in the PLP – the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs has long been cowed into acquiescent silence. Rather the unease about Starmer’s leadership, and Labour’s electoral prospects, comes from the Labour right, who see their own careers and opportunities for personal advancement stalled by yet more ‘wasted’ years in opposition. So these rumblings of discontent are not about matters of principle or political direction: leaving aside the obvious differences in personal style and image, there are no fundamental disagreements between Starmer and his potential rivals in the PLP. The ‘responsible opposition’ and ‘quiet radicalism’ that are the hallmarks of his strategy are still widely supported by Labour MPs.3

The main problem for the Labour right is the opinion polls and what they tell us about the party’s electoral chances next month. Thursday May 6 will be the first major electoral test since the general election of December 2019, with elections being held for local councils in England, local and combined authority mayors, the mayor of London and London assembly members, police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, the Senedd Cymru/Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament – not to mention the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election.

The latest opinion polls give the Tories a nine-point lead over Labour (43%-34%) – a gap which has been opening up over the last three months as the Johnson government’s ‘vaccine bounce’ has become clearly apparent in the figures.4 Similarly, Boris Johnson’s personal approval ratings have grown over the same period (54% approval, 46% disapproval), whilst Starmer’s have ‘tanked’ into negative territory (33% approval, 42% disapproval) after a strong showing last year following his election as Labour leader.5

For a new leadership that plays up Starmer’s quiet competence in contrast to Johnson’s showy boosterism and Corbyn’s extremism, these figures are worrying. For all the promises ‘to bring Labour home’ and regain its lost ‘traditional’ supporters, Starmer’s appeal to the mythical ‘centre ground’ so beloved of bourgeois politics has appeared, for the moment at least, to have largely fallen on stony ground.6

This strategy, targeted at so-called ‘Red Wall’ voters who went over to the Tories in December 2019, will be put directly to the test in the Hartlepool by-election on May 6. This North East constituency has almost the classic ‘Red Wall’ profile of a ‘left-behind town’ which voted heavily for Brexit and where Labour’s electoral base has been declining steadily over the last 30 years.7 In line with the national picture, the latest opinion polls give the Tories a seven-point lead in the constituency – a result that, if translated into votes on polling day, would be a disaster for the Labour leadership.8 Although opinion polls are only a snapshot, not an infallible guide, and given that the wide variety of electoral contests, from devolved parliaments down to district councils, will inevitably produce different local variations on May 6, it is still likely that the results will be disappointing for Labour.9


How will the Labour leadership react to a poor performance? More importantly, given the media speculation and the well-placed stories about unease on the back benches, will Starmer face a leadership challenge if there is an electoral setback next month? What are the options open to them?

A leadership challenge is not really on the cards and, should anyone from the Labour right attempt it, it would be a career-wrecking folly on their part. From the point of view of further ascending the greasy pole, far better to wait, especially if Johnson maintains his opinion poll lead and calls an early election in autumn 2022 or spring 2023, when the Tories can still benefit from ‘the vaccine bounce’ and before the post-Covid economy moves back into recession.10 So any manoeuvres currently being undertaken by the aspiring careerists of the Labour right are directed at the medium term rather than immediate gain – a jockeying for position, following what is expected to be another general election defeat for Labour, whenever it comes.

For the Labour right – the overwhelming majority of the PLP – these careerist calculations are inextricably linked to their wider political function in bourgeois politics. Labour’s historical role as a bourgeois workers’ party has been to maintain the capitalist status quo by containing and diverting working class struggle into safe, constitutional channels, The Labour leadership, the PLP and the trade union bureaucracy act, in Daniel de Leon’s memorable phrase, as labour lieutenants of capital within the workers’ movement, and police its politics to create a reliable ‘second eleven’ for capitalism.

In this process, maintaining tight control over the politics and the organisations of the Labour movement is vital – which is why the Corbyn movement and the potential challenge it might have posed to politics as usual was such a fright for both the ruling class and the Labour right. A strong, determined Labour left, committed to democratising the party and clearing out the openly pro-capitalist politicians from its ranks, would have meant the end of the careers of the Labour right and the loss of Labour as a pliable instrument for maintaining capitalist constitutionalism. That, of course, did not happen, but the memory of that potential remains as a warning to both the capitalist class and the Labour right to never again relax their grip over the party.

Starmer is perhaps the personification of the determination to heed that warning, with his numerous political and personal connections with the state and the legal system: his whole career to date has bound him hand and foot to the ruling class and the higher echelons of the state establishment more openly than any previous Labour leader.11 As far as capitalism is concerned, he is the safe pair of hands par excellence.

At the moment the same goes for the Labour right: although he has not turned out to be the Wunderkind they hoped would revive Labour’s electoral fortunes and reset their parliamentary careers back on the right track, Starmer is the best that they can hope for at present. He has proven effective in corralling what remains of the official left in the PLP and maintaining the right’s control of the party machine. He has kept up the attack on the left in the Constituency Labour Parties and continued with the smears and slanders against socialists and anti-Zionists. On that score there is little for either the Labour right or the ruling class to complain about – job done!

However, the problem that Keir Starmer and the Labour right now face is much more fundamental than the swings and roundabouts of opinion polls and normal electoral cycles. It is that Starmer and his ilk offer nothing to working class voters, other than pious platitudes and a ‘programme’ that is a pale imitation of that of the Johnson government.12 He does not even pretend that he can offer us even the most limited social democratic reformism.

So, despite all the talk of ‘new leadership’ and rejecting ‘business as usual’, Starmer has revealed that he truly is a hollow man for hollow times, and that the bankruptcy of the Labour right and its pro-capitalist politics really has found its perfect embodiment in the shape of the Right Honourable Sir Keir Starmer, PC, QC.13

Meanwhile, albeit with a heavy heart: vote Labour on May 6, but redouble efforts to build a viable revolutionary alternative to all the rotten manifestations of Labourism.

  9. It is clear that this wide range of quite different electoral campaigns will throw up quite different results on May 6. For example, in Scotland, and to a much lesser extent in Wales, questions of independence and the nature of devolution will be important, whilst in England the local elections can be taken as a verdict on the Johnson government’s performance. Alongside this, many contests will also have a specifically local flavour. Thus, the Liverpool mayoral contest will give voters a chance to express their opinions on Labour’s record in governing the city and the crisis following mayor Joe Anderson’s arrest. For events in Liverpool see ‘Careerism on the Mersey’ Weekly Worker March 11.↩︎
  13. See ‘Hollow man for hollow times’ Weekly Worker February 25.↩︎

2019 elections: Not impossible for Labour to win the most seats

What seems to happen in elections nowadays is that Labour starts off way behind and then catches up over the course of the campaign – the reasons are doubtless complex, but a combination of dogged class loyalty and surging hope for the future delivers millions of unexpected votes. This current election seems to be conforming to that pattern – the commanding lead previously held by the Tories appears to be dwindling, meaning that it is quite conceivable that Labour could end up with the most seats in the House of Commons.

Going back just a bit, the near sensation on November 27 of YouGov’s constituency-by-constituency poll made seductive reading for the Tories and appeared to be very bad news indeed for the Labour Party – it predicted a big win for the Tories with 359 seats (an extra 42), giving Boris Johnson a majority of 68 to “get Brexit done”. As for Labour, it was back to 211 seats – a result in line with the fairly disastrous 1983 election.

As pointed out by YouGov’s political research manager, Chris Curtis, the “only silver lining” for Labour is that there are still 30 seats where it is currently 5% or less behind the Tories – meaning it might be able to “paste over the cracks” in the so-called “Red Wall”.

But, rather wisely, perhaps, Dominic Cummings – the supposed cunning mastermind – warned about the dangers of complacency in a typically lengthy blog post: “Trust me,” he writes, “as someone who has worked on lots of campaigns, things are much tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament.” Cummings recommends that the “most useful thing” people can do is “make the time to speak to friends and family” and convince them to vote for Boris Johnson – anything else means a “Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance controlling Downing Street”, which would be a “disaster”.


Cummings’ fears can be seen as realistic when we look at a couple of the latest opinion polls, which represent quite a contrast from the week before. Of course, the unexpected can always happen – the same for spectacular cock-ups or idiotic gaffs (here’s looking at you, Boris). Events can undermine even the most brilliant-looking strategy.

Coming out just after the YouGov MRP survey, a poll conducted by the BMG group for The Independent paints a different picture. The Tories are now on 39% – down 2% compared with the last BMG poll published on November 23 – while Labour is on 33% (up by 5%). Then the Lib Dems are down 5% to 13%, with the Brexit Party languishing on 4% – coinciding with the general picture of the party more or less disappearing for the purposes of this election. Needless to say, this was precisely the calculation of Team Boris and Dominic Cummings – which is turning out to be a pretty reasonable assessment. Lastly, in terms of the BMG/Independent poll, the Greens are stuck on 5% (out of kindness we will not even bother mentioning the UK Independence Party or Change UK).

Clearly, 39% is a significant drop for the Tories – going from a fairly consistent 14%-15% lead down to a mere 6%. Journalists who had been writing confidently about a Tory majority of over 50 are now penning articles discussing how we could be facing a repetition of the last election – it being generally accepted that a lead of 7% or less for Boris Johnson means we might be heading towards another hung parliament.

This poll suggests that Labour’s bounce, if that is what it is, is attributable to a growth in support among ‘remain’ voters, with 49% saying they will vote for the party – a 10-point rise on two weeks before. By contrast, just 21% of ‘remain’ backers say they will vote for the ‘revoke now’ Lib Dems, down from 24% in a fortnight. Not that surprisingly, there has also been a solidifying of Labour’s support among those who backed the party at the last general election, with 77% of those who previously voted Labour now saying they will do so again – up from 69% in the previous Survation poll. Maybe crucially, 13% of Labour’s 2017 voters remain undecided, compared to 8% for 2017 Tory voters – figures which could make all the difference, when it comes to who ends up in No 10.

Making the election result even more uncertain, BMG found 30% of people said they would be “voting for the best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike” on December 12 – which is a lot of people going for the ‘lesser evil’. This is significantly up from 22% at the start of the election campaign, and 24% in an identical poll last week. Only 51% of voters said they would pick “the candidate/party I most prefer, regardless of how likely they are to win”. The pro-EU campaign group, Best for Britain, calculated last week that just 117,000 voters in 57 constituencies have the chance to change the course of the election by voting tactically. In 27 of these seats, it seems, it would take less than 2,000 tactical votes to prevent a Tory victory. Best for Britain believes that, if anti-Brexit voters deny the Tories victory in all of these 57, Johnson would wake up on December 13 with just 309 seats – a dozen short of a majority (whilst Labour would be on 244).

With a week to go before election day, it is timely to remember that in 2017 there was a last-minute surge towards Labour. We also have to take into account that between the election announcement and the deadline more than 3.1 million people have registered to vote. According to official government statistics, 660,000 people registered on the day of the deadline – of these people the vast majority were young, with 252,000 in the under-25 age bracket and another 207,000 between 25 and 34. Now, were these young people frantically registering at the last moment in order to vote for Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, heroes for their generation? The question answers itself – no, it is highly likely that Labour will benefit.

Either way we say this: vote Labour but without illusions.

What if?

Things could still go disastrously wrong for Labour, it goes without saying, but the line of march seems pretty clear. For a perspective, look at the strategy pursued by Team Boris – which was based on the premise that the Tories are prepared to lose some seats in the south-east, but that would be more than compensated for by gaining Labour seats in the Midlands and the north. That is beginning to look decidedly ropey, especially when it comes to the northern seats.

What seems to be happening is that Labour’s much derided “ambiguous” stance on Brexit seems to be paying off, though by how much is yet to be decided. Rather than securing the vote of the 51.9% who voted Brexit, the Tories are losing ground to a Labour Party promising a second referendum and a ‘Brino’ (Brexit in name only) – which effectively means staying within the structures and regulations of the European Union. But, of course, the argument is not just about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s professed neutrality on the issue, but also Labour’s manifesto – its ‘extravagant’ spending promises and ‘broadband communism’ garnering a level of support from the electorate – certainly not antipathy. Jon Cruddas helpfully reminded us recently that Harold Wilson effectively ‘did a Corbyn’ during the 1975 referendum, letting the cabinet fight it out, whilst taking an Olympian view himself – nobody at the time thought Wilson was crazy or a cowardly fence-sitter.

As this paper has pointed out on many occasions, the main question we face, should Labour emerge as the largest party – or even it were to win an overall majority – is, would that necessarily mean a Corbyn government? The two main fears of large sections of the ruling class are, firstly, even if Corbyn can now be largely controlled from their point of view, would his election provoke a ‘crisis of expectations’ among the working class? Secondly, if Labour’s proposed second EU referendum produces a victory for his proposed Brino deal, how would British capital view such a removal of UK influence in EU decision-making? Surely a safer option would be a straightforward ‘remain’?

If it turns out there shall be a clear ‘remain’ majority in the new parliament – why not install a cross-party national government that will not only reverse Brexit, but ensure that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be prime minister? And there might well be more than enough rightwing members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who would be prepared to go along with that. After all, they too not only oppose Brexit, but are desperate to see Corbyn removed as leader.

The failure of the Labour leadership to give the membership the power to deselect these pro-capitalist traitors means that such an outcome would be more than possible.