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There is a lack of leadership from Starmer on the issues that matter – saving lives & livelihoods, by Rachel Garnham, CLPD

“In the Labour Party, we need to hold Keir to his election promises which have been so readily disregarded.”

Rachel Garnham

Keir Starmer must stick to his pledges to oppose the Tories and help Labour win writes Rachel Garnham, Vice-Chair, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

The first week of 2021 vividly demonstrated the value of the labour movement, led by the National Education Union, in saving lives; but shamefully exposed the lack of basic principles on which current Labour Party leadership positions are based. While teachers and other school workers organised through their unions to ensure schools were closed (other than for vulnerable and key workers’ children), Keir Starmer and Kate Green at best prevaricated, most certainly putting themselves on the wrong side of an argument that for most on the left was clear, as teachers and pupils suffered and COVID cases and deaths soared. Now the leadership should be speaking out about the stretched definitions of key workers that make schools still potentially unsafe; and the many open early years settings where social distancing is impossible, and the virus continues to spread. Instead Starmer is wrapping himself in the Union Jack and talking about the family. It’s a far cry from Keir’s namesake leading the Labour Party into parliament to advance the cause of labour.

The lack of leadership from Starmer on the issues that matter, that would protect and save lives and livelihoods, has become sadly familiar – almost unbelievably backing the Tories on hard Brexit and increased defence spending. I am sure I am not the only parent and education professional who has had his Daily Mail ‘no ifs, no buts’ article about schools reopening from August 2020 ringing in my ears for the past few months.  

So the task for the Labour left is clear. While the government and official opposition fail to put forward the measures that would genuinely tackle the virus, we must provide leadership in campaigning for the policies that will save lives, protect the National Health Service, and in the long run be much more in the economic interests of Britain. This means a zero Covid strategy that would put public health first, as has been successfully implemented in countries such as New Zealand, which have effectively eliminated COVID or reduced it to minimal levels. Such a strategy would require the current lockdown to be tightened, including the closure of all non-essential workplaces, full economic support for everyone affected and lockdown lifted only when deaths and cases have plunged to such low levels that tracking, tracing, isolation and vaccination can eliminate the virus.

In the Labour Party, we need to hold Keir to his election promises which have been so readily disregarded. No-one can argue that Labour’s current position represents the pledge to ‘work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people, tackle insecure work and low pay.’ Likewise pledges to ‘defend free movement as we leave the EU’, ‘promote peace and human rights’ in particular in relation to Palestine and Kashmir, ‘increase income tax for the top 5% of earners’ and putting ‘the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do’ appear to have disappeared as fast as the pledge of ‘No stepping back from our core principles’. Many of these are pledges that can unite the Labour Party – although this appears to no longer hold any interest to Starmer in his seemingly craven pursuit of endorsement by a British establishment that backs hard right-wing Tory policies – and could be the basis of real opposition to this awful government and be popular with voters. We should take them through our branches, CLPs, regions and eventually to annual conference, working with trade unions and organising in our communities.

We must also continue to fight back against restrictions on political discussion within our CLPs. The current Labour Party General Secretary’s attempts to stop constituencies discussing key political issues is unprecedented. It shamefully appears to exclude any collective discussion of the outrageous political decision, which we must continue to campaign against, to remove the whip from former Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn MP despite being cleared by the Party’s democratically agreed disciplinary processes.

The subsequent suspensions of key CLP activists suggests an attempt to remove key left-wing CLP officers in advance of forthcoming CLP AGMs, to stop left CLPs organising and potentially engaging with annual conference – first attempting to decapitate our movement, then to repel us from engaging and to defeat us organisationally because they cannot win the political argument. But many of us are not going away willingly because we know that we are defending the values of our Party and our movement, and that it is vital to fight for the election of a Labour government that will end these Tory attacks on the population.

That fight will need to take place on several levels in 2021 – immediately for policies that will save lives and protect our communities; for the transformative policies Britain needs for the future; and to defend Party democracy so that our voices as members and trade unionists can be heard at every level.

MP Portraits Project in The Reasons Room.

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