With the pound and the Tories’ polling figures plummeting in tandem, there was a mood of optimism amongst the Labour leadership at this week’s annual conference in Liverpool.
As incoming prime minister Liz Truss and her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, crash the UK economy into a ditch, the Labour Party feels increasingly confident that they will form the next government.
Keir Starmer can gain little credit for this, however. If Labour wins the next election, it will be by default; the result of a collapse in the Tory vote, rather than any groundswell of support behind Labour.
In truth, there is little enthusiasm amongst workers for the prospect of a Starmer government.
Nor was there much attention paid to this year’s Labour conference by grassroots activists, who are instead focused on the upcoming wave of coordinated industrial action and protest, starting this Saturday.
Starmer has consistently refused to back striking workers; he has actively purged all remnants of Corbynism from the party; and he has rolled back on all the left-wing pledges that he ran on to become Labour leader, including his commitment to public ownership.
Events at this week’s Labour conference only reaffirmed this stance, with further suspensions and expulsions against left-wingers, and with big business sponsors and corporate lobbyists welcomed back with open arms.
Some left commentators, taking a microscope to Starmer’s keynote speech yesterday, tried to find signs of a leftward shift from the party leadership.
This speech from Keir Starmer is... fine, if I'm honest?— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) September 27, 2022
It has basic class politics in it - pitching Labour on the side of working people rather than the rich; opposing trickle-down economics; good announcements on a sovereign wealth fund and a publicly owned energy company.
But the truth is that there has been no change in the Labour leader’s position. He remains, as ever, a loyal servant of the establishment.
Whilst paying lip service to ‘working people’, and denouncing the Tories as a government of the rich, it is clear who Starmer’s speech was aimed at: big business.
Both the Labour leader and his shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, peppered their talks with mentions of how the party would be financially “responsible” if given the chance to govern, providing a “framework of sound money”.
Labour could again be “trusted” with the economy, they assured. All decisions would be taken in the “national interest”.
Such euphemism, in reality, means being ‘responsible’ to the capitalists: ‘sound’ with their money, and ‘trusted’ to act in their interests.
“We’re determined to reduce debt,” ‘Sir’ Starmer stated. “Every policy we announce will be fully costed…[This] means not being able to do things as quickly as we might like.”
In other words, the working class should expect further austerity to balance the budget under a Starmer government. There may not be tax cuts for the super-rich – but it is clear who will be asked to pay for the crisis.
Much of the conference was devoted to the party’s slogan of a “fairer, greener Britain”, with pledges from Starmer and Reeves to promote investment in renewable technologies and industries.
But such promises amount to little more than offers of state support to big business; an industrial strategy designed to provide stability, security, and profits for British capitalism.
The capitalists will remain untouched. It will not be government investment, but a “partnership with business”. And all of this will be funded, not by expropriating the billionaires, but through a ‘National Wealth Fund’ based on further borrowing.
The Labour leader, for example, promised a publicly-backed energy company: ‘Great British Energy’ – another example of Keynesianism-meets-patriotism, following on from last year’s farcical announcement about the ‘British recovery bond’.
Notably, however, there was no mention of nationalisation when it comes to the profiteering energy monopolies that are currently lining their pockets whilst millions freeze to death.
Despite all the fanfare, then, Starmer’s latest Big Idea is effectively just a state-supported start-up to help grow Britain’s green industry – hardly a solution to the global energy crisis and climate catastrophe.
Starmer and the right wing will no doubt be celebrating their defeat of the left, and the potential downfall of Truss’ Tories. But all the jubilation and grand plans will quickly turn to dust if and when Labour enter office.
No matter who is at the helm, British capitalism is a sinking ship. And the world economy is heading into even-stormier waters.
Like their Tory predecessors, therefore, a Labour government would be one of crisis from day one. With the UK economy collapsing, inflation rising, recession looming, and anger amongst workers and youth building, any honeymoon period will be extremely short-lived, if it exists at all.
Workers are already mobilising, with coordinated action underway, and national strike ballots taking place across the public sector.
The scene is set for a showdown between the bosses and the working class. Even the Murdoch press is declaring ‘class war’. And Starmer has already made it clear whose side he will be on in such a battle.
Forced to carry out deep cuts on behalf of the capitalists, the right-wing Labour leaders could even follow the footsteps of Ramsay MacDonald in 1931, and reach out to the Liberals and a wing of the Tories to form a national government.
This, in turn, would cause further convulsions in the labour movement, leading to even-greater polarisation and radicalisation.
Workers and youth should therefore have no illusions in what a Starmer Labour government would offer. Instead, we must rely only on our own strength, and fight to transform society along socialist lines. There is no alternative.