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Even the commentariat agree, Labour needs a new radical vision – Gaya Sriskanthan, Momentum

“Whilst our leadership struggle to articulate a basic left platform, the pandemic profiteers have been on a rampage… the Tories have used the crisis as an opportunity to gift huge PPE contracts to their billionaire mates while outsourcing the crucial track & system to a corporation that couldn’t track or trace.”

Gaya Sriskanthan, Momentum

There is a consensus emerging amongst the commenteriat that Keir Starmer’s approach to opposition is falling short. “What is Labour’s economic policy?” writes George Osborne in the Evening Standard, as he laments the Labour leadership’s approach of providing “a daily commentary on events” rather than a clear political alternative. And for the first time ever, I agree with him. 

In the Guardian, centre-left commentator John Harris bemoans Starmer’s lack of vision. “If a moment of crisis, institutional failure and rising despair is not a time to think big”, asks Harris, “When will be?” The very same talking heads who ridiculed and attacked a political movement that provided exactly this kind of big thinking are now pining for radicalism. Now that a movement that demands the transformation of society in the interests of ordinary people is no longer on the verge of forming a government, they can go back to posturing as progressives. But the saddest thing is, they’re right. Starmerism lacks vision, and everyone can see it.

Whilst our leadership struggle to articulate a basic left platform, the pandemic profiteers have been on a rampage.  While talking boldly of ‘building back better’, the Tories have used the crisis as an opportunity to gift huge PPE contracts to their billionaire mates while outsourcing the crucial track and system to a corporation that couldn’t track or trace. For the elite, it’s just more business as usual – making themselves rich whilst throwing us to the wolves. 

In a crisis, the potential for radical change increased hugely: when there is no possibility of going back to normal, we have to find new answers. The socialist left of the party has a programme of policy ready to hand – from universal free broadband to reversing privatisation in the NHS – which could have been put to good use. We’ve started to fight for these inside and outside the party, with Momentum’s Eviction Resistance campaign taking practical steps to mobilise in support of renters unions and fight for a socialist solution to the pandemic housing crisis. Sadly, at exactly the moment when left policy was most needed, the leadership have embarked on an anti-democratic crackdown on members who support exactly those policies.

But it’s not too late. While the attitude to radical change in the leader’s office is fairly timid, the Labour Party at large is brimming with transformative ideas and the energy needed to take them to the country. This is why Momentum is launching our very first policy primary ahead of Labour Conference 2021. Our members will put forward policy proposals through their local groups – alongside affiliates and unaffiliated campaigning organisations – and then vote on the 8 best proposals to take to Conference. This way our movement can collectively vote on and campaign for a strong left platform. There is a void at the heart of the party – and if the leadership won’t fill it, then we will.

This leadership has been defined by a focus on Tory incompetence. But Labour can’t win an election by promising to be better managers of the same rigged system. Yes, the Tories have disastrously misjudged the pandemic response, with colossal negligence creating the conditions for a colossal death toll. But if we want to set the terms of debate, we need clear ideas for what we would do to fundamentally change Britain so that in future crises our response can never again be dominated by profiteers and their pet politicians. 

If we enter another fight over who pays for the cost of the bail-out and how we respond, we need to be armed not just with arguments for why the rich should pay, but a vision for the type of society we want, and a strategy for building a majority around that vision. Our movement has developed a huge body of ideas that address these questions – from universal basic services to the four day week and a green new deal. It’s time to put them to good use.

MP Portraits Project in The Reasons Room.

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