Labour members need democracy to hold Starmer to left policies

By Dave Kirk, Leeds West CLP and Unite activist

Keir Starmer was supported in his leadership bid by many MPs and organisations on the hard-right of the Labour Party. Their support was at least partially based on the idea that he can be pressured to return the Labour Party to New Labour-type neoliberal policies.

However, Starmer could not have won the clear, indeed overwhelming, victory he did by getting only right-wing votes. He was undoubtedly supported by many who backed Jeremy Corbyn. He won their support in part by pledging to stick to a lot of the policies that the left won Labour to after 2015.

In his leadership campaign he made ten policy pledges.

Starmer’s pledges are surely inadequate even from a social democratic viewpoint, but they do represent continuity with Corbyn’s policy programme.

He talks of higher taxes on the richest 5% and corporations. He promises to abolish Universal Credit, end the benefit sanctions regime and abolish tuition fees.

Interestingly for those who peg him as a Blairite, he does talk of “no more illegal wars” and a “Prevention of Military Intervention Act.” He talks of the “common ownership” of rail, mail, energy and water and ending the outsourcing in the NHS, local government and justice system.

He talks about defending the free movement of EU nationals after Brexit and closing detention centres.

The use of “common ownership” rather then public ownership suggests he is looking at models that fall short of the democratic public ownership with workers having a say that Corbyn and McDonnell sometimes talked about. His talk of ending outsourcing excludes obvious areas like education, the DWP and the civil service.

He talks about a Green New Deal but doesn’t really give much detail on what he thinks this means. He talks about repealing the 2016 Trade Union Act but not the other anti-union laws. (And so on…)

Whatever it means, Starmer’s victory does not mean the membership has moved to the right on policy. Polling of Labour members on the eve of his election suggests strong support for policies that go significantly beyond his pledges.

I would say there are two conclusions for those who want a genuinely radical Labour government:

Firstly, we need to hold Starmer to the left-wing commitments he made during the leadership campaign, through initiatives like this.

Secondly, to do this effectively, we need to get serious about fighting for Labour Party democracy and, above all, a sovereign conference which decides the party’s policy and direction. That is the mechanism through which we can hold the leadership to left policies and get the party fighting for them. That should be a central focus in the months ahead.

If we had fought for and won this principle under Corbyn, we’d be better off now – but we need to recommit ourselves to rallying the left for this fight.

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