Friday, 24 July 2020

Would it Really be so Terrible if Labour were to Split?

Labour's internecine warfare reached new heights this week after Jeremy Corbyn accused Sir Keir Starmer of making a political rather than a legal decision in compensating some of those named in the Panorama antisemitism investigation. Some journalists were reporting from anonymous sources that Starmer is strongly considering withdrawing the whip from the former Labour leader. Whichever side of this argument you fall on, you must surely agree the divisions within the party are now too great to heal. 

Going forwards, I see three possibilities: 

1. One faction gains full control of the Labour Party and the other faction is purged of all bar those who fall in line. The losers and their supporters become marginalised.

2. Labour stays as is, and the two factions continuously disagree on policies, even taking their differences to court. The media gleefully reports on the infighting for the next four years and Labour remains unelectable.

3. The Labour Party splits and both sides put their arguments before the electorate to see whose manifesto truly represents the British left. I see this as the most democratic option.

But hold on a minute... Why can't the two factions just get along, you may ask. Well, the answer is quite simple: their ideologies are almost completely incompatible with one another.

The Starmerists are market-driven neoliberal imperialists who think the current economic system more or less works, with only minor tweaking required. On many key issues, Starmerists are closer to the Tories than the Labour left, and they neither want radical change nor believe it could be achieved.

The Corbynites are socialists who recognise Britain needs fundamental change throughout our society. They feel our economy has become too marketised and profit is now put before human well-being. They want to permanently alter existing power structures: democratising workplaces and the media, fully nationalising key public services, and tackling the problems we face, from crime to poverty to the climate crisis without compromise.

Starmerists believe Corbynite goals are unachievable. Corbynites believe Starmerists are protecting the establishment they seek to dismantle. Both sides now struggle to hide their contempt for one another.

A political party is founded so people of similar political goals can work together to achieve a particular vision. The problem is we now have two competing Labour visions for Britain that massively differ from one another. When both factions think the other is crazy, it's reasonable to ask why they remain in the same party. And it's not unreasonable to point out Starmerist goals are indistinguishable from Liberal Democrat goals. They are quite literally neoliberals.

Labour was founded to be a socialist party that reclaims the means of production for the workforce. It was never meant to be an imperialist party that protects the wealthy and maintains the status quo, justifying their inaction with modest increases in public service investment. Socialism is about so much more than the Sure Start centres New-New Labour loves to brag about. I'm not even knocking Sure Start centres here, they were a great idea, but they offer nothing for someone like me who was a homeless teen under Tony Blair.

I remember walking into the council office the day I became homeless and being advised by a staff member there was a 7 year waiting list for council houses and I was not a priority case. I was given a list of landlords and promised all of these would accept DSS tenants. So I called all of them and guess what every single one said? No DSS.

That is the glorious free market that neoliberals so strongly believe in. It does not cater for human needs. It is driven by profit and casts people like me aside. Blair was not investing in council housing, nor was he intervening in the market to ensure rents or mortgages were affordable. He was enabling a free for all for the haves at the expense of the have-nots, and then telling us how marvellous his Sure Start centres were. 

What I heard is that toddlers matter, which is great to know, but people like me, who had a terrible start in life, we were just rubbish to be discarded. I drifted for years through low paid temporary jobs, often treated like dirt by whoever I was calling boss at the time. I participated in drug trials to get money when I was unemployed which was 80% of the time. I would see people do something as simple as walk into a coffee shop and think that was out of reach for me! I could not even afford a coffee, let alone visit pubs and night clubs like some of my old school friends.

Prior to this, I was forced to drop out of college because the state would not support me through my studies and I could not find stable employment. No one was willing to give me the sure start I so badly needed.

In Blair's Britain, I felt surplus to requirements, like I could never be part of society, and I thought this was maybe the way things had to be. But then I heard about places like Scandinavia with their left wing governments and high social mobility and living standards and realised I had been sold a lie. I had been so enthused about the possibility of change when Blair came into power in 1997 and then I was so catastrophically let down by him.

Given all of the above, I think I can be forgiven for having no interest whatsoever in another neoliberal government. They are slightly gentler Tories who love to boast of their competence as they build an economy on the fresh air of the financial sector, and they love to boast of their altruism when they give us Sure Start centres. Meanwhile, northern Europe gets on with eradicating the crime and poverty and unfairness that neoliberals disregard to preserve the integrity of the free market - which is free only for the wealthy and pretty damn restrictive for the rest of us.

So, the free market is what the Starmerists prefer and that's fine. It's a perfectly valid political position which works quite nicely for the middle class and above. But what about the working class and the underclass? We are the people Labour was founded to represent, and yet we see Starmerists sneering at us and calling us a rabble. Don't we deserve political representation too? 

The neoliberals have two major political parties in Labour and the Lib Dems now. Three, if you count the Tories who are marginally to the right of them. But what about this gaping chasm on the left filled by people who won't vote for New-New Labour under any circumstances. Where is our socialist alternative? Why don't we have a nationwide party unapologetically fighting for socialism? After all, that was Keir Hardie's vision for Labour - a vision which was stolen by a neoliberal fifth column.

People will say Labour can't split because neither party could win a general election, but I would offer several counter arguments:

1. The current Labour Party is arguably unelectable as it stands. Starmer is 8-10 points behind the Tories in the polls during his honeymoon period so why continue with unelectability out of fear of unelectability? It makes no sense.

2. A new socialist party would receive many votes from people who are refusing to vote Labour, and left wing voters focus on policy rather than brand. If a new party offers socialist policies, socialists will come.

3. It's unhealthy for democracy to disregard the left half of society, especially given socialist policies like nationalisation of key services are supported by 2/3 of voters. The future of the British left should be decided at the ballot box. Infighting is simply wasted energy.

I say let the Labour Party split. My prediction is Starmer's Labour would fight a losing battle with the Tories for older voters and maybe take a handful of votes from the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, the younger generation so enthused by Corbyn and his manifesto would join the new party in huge numbers. I could be wrong, of course, because these are turbulent political times and anything can happen. No one expected Syriza to rise to power in Greece in 2015 but they did. A new socialist party could provide a viable alternative for those like myself who feel completely unenthused by the establishment and will settle for nothing less than a radical transformation of society.

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