Starmer addressed his first Labour Party conference as Labour leader in September 2020. He stated there that ‘it’s time to get serious about winning’. In the Hartlepool bye-election on 6th May, a year after Starmer took over the leadership from Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour vote declined by 45%. It is interesting to compare that result with Corbyn’s result in the 2017 general election. In Hartlepool, in 2017, the Labour Party, under Corbyn, increased its vote by over 50%.
Starmer’s statement at the September 2020 Labour conference was the beginning of a false narrative of why Labour lost the 2019 general election. Labour almost won the 2017 general election on the basis of a radical policy manifesto and a commitment to implementing the 2016 referendum result. Labour suffered its biggest loss of seats in decades in the 2019 general election on the basis of a radical policy manifesto and a commitment to attempting to stop Brexit by holding a second referendum.
Keir Starmer was the architect of this ‘Let’s Stop Brexit’ policy which the Leave voting electorate comprehensively rejected in 2019 and the Tories ended up with an 80 seat majority in Parliament.
Rather than accepting what happened, a false narrative has been created that it was the radical 2019 manifesto that was the problem. It is doubtful that Labour will ever regain those red wall seats if they do not again embrace that radicalism. Radicalism is what the electorate want to see. We saw that in the Labour results in Manchester and Salford and in the Conservative results in Tees Valley.
If Labour, under Starmer, do not re-embrace that radicalism they will go the way of the SPD party in Germany. 50 years ago the SPD ruled Germany. They abandoned their radicalism in the 90s. Now, the SPD are expected to come behind the Greens in the elections in Germany this September.
This magazine has argued consistently that the Labour Party must clearly differentiate itself from the Conservative Party by reclaiming the role of the state to advance the cause of working people. A currency issuing state must not let considerations about the size of the fiscal deficit or national debt influence its policies. It should, instead, focus its attention on the issues of unemployment and precarious employment, which have blighted the lives of working people since the 1980s.
The role of the state in managing a capitalist economy was abandoned by Thatcher in 1979. She argued that an unregulated market would produce much better results. That impoverished political philosophy was largely accepted by Labour under Blair, Brown and Miliband. It was thoroughly rejected by Corbyn who demanded that the power of the state be used to protect working people. Corbyn may have lost the 2019 election but he substantially changed the parameters of the political debate. The Tories, under Johnson, have grasped this more clearly than Corbyn’s own party. The Tories have rediscovered the critical role of the state. Public money will pour into the ‘red wall’ seats, while Starmer focuses on the wallpaper in Downing street. The critical role of the state in managing crisis-prone capitalism must be reclaimed by Labour. Otherwise, the party will follow the German SPD into oblivion.