Batley & Spen By-Election — Editorial II

Labour has held on to the Batley & Spen parliamentary constituency with the slenderest of majorities.  Labour got 13,296 votes while the Conservatives got 12,973 votes, giving Labour a 323 majority.  George Galloway, whose main point in standing as a candidate for the Worker’s Party, was that the Labour Party under Keir Starmer no longer represented working people, got 8,264 votes.  

It should not be forgotten that in 2017, when the party, under Jeremy Corbyn, fought the general election on a left manifesto and a commitment to implementing the Brexit referendum result, it won  29,844 votes and a 9,000 majority over the Conservatives – some 30 times its current majority.  

Given Labour’s victory, there is now unlikely to be an immediate challenge to Keir Starmer’s leadership.  But the large drop in the Labour vote and Galloway’s 22% share of the vote have sent a strong signal that the Labour-voting electorate are not impressed by Starmer’s leadership.

We are not hopeful that Starmer’s leadership of the Party will improve.  Starmer fought his leadership campaign in 2020 with a bold 10 point program that could have been penned by Jeremy Corbyn.  Since winning that leadership campaign, he has been largely silent on his 10 point program.  He feels more comfortable criticising the Tories from a right-wing perspective (wasting tax payer’s money) than from a left-wing perspective. 

A good case in point is social care.  On the issue of social care, there are suggestions that Labour has decided that it would be unwise to advocate a state funded social care system, as that might leave them open to the charge of increased state spending and profligacy.  Anneliese Dodds has been given the task to producing the policy documents on which Labour will fight the next general election.   Dodds is on the left of the Party.  The policy she produces on social care will be a good indicator of the direction in which the Party is going.

Throughout this year ‘Labour Affairs’ has been making two connected arguments.  The first is that the UK state is a currency-issuing state and is, therefore, not financially constrained.  National debt is not something it should worry about.  The second is that the UK state is resource constrained.  We are using the term resource loosely.  It could be the lack of a raw material, the lack of facemasks and ventilators or skills like plumbing or heavy-goods-vehicle driving.

The Labour party should focus completely on fixing the resource constraints that might hinder it achieving its social and economic goals, strengthening the productive powers of the economy, creating skills and jobs and enabling enough goods at affordable prices to be produced.  In doing this, it should ignore the size of the national debt.

The state has the power to revive local economies and communities if the government and local and regional institutions work together. The Labour Party, working with unions and other civil-society institutions, can work out what is needed most, what inhabitants want most and propose solutions. A Labour government can provide the money, prioritise resources, advise on feasibility, advise local bodies to avoid duplication of effort and co-ordinate national with local and regional priorities.

That is the substance of the message that should be embodied in Anneliese Dodds’ policy documents.

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