Why socialists can’t abandon Labour to the centrists


Keir Starmer “appears as a captive of a small group of Blairites undoubtedly calling the shots.”

Steve Howell

As part of Labour Outlook’s “Why Socialists…” forums, we hosted Steve Howell, Deputy Director of Strategy and Communications for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, for an important discussion on the future of the Labour Party. Patrick Foley of ‘Labour Outlook’ reports:

Thousands of activists from around the country took part in – or have since tuned in to – the recent discussion on “Why socialists can’t leave Labour to the centrists.”

Steve Howell started the discussion by referencing Kier Starmer’s “A New Chapter for Britain” speech, where the Labour leader talked in “glowing, completely uncritical terms” about business on the same day Barclays Bank accounted “obscene bonuses on average £630,00o each.”

While the speech contained some brief criticism of the Tories ideologically driven pandemic failures and mentioned the fragilities in our economy exposed by the virus, there was “hardly anything specific on anything, frankly.”

Highlighted a key point from Kier’s speech “the only way to deliver social justice and equality is through a strong partnership with business,” Steve asked whether that is really the only way – “not through progressive taxation then? Not through a wealth tax? Not by restoring corporation and capital gains tax? Not by strengthening trade union rights? Not by expanding public ownership and having more of the economy run for need rather than greed?”

Instead, the Labour Party will be attempting to bring about social change through a “vague partnership in much the same way as Teresa May’s War on Plastic.” A voluntary partnership with no legal force and little effect – “the plastic keeps piling up.”

Steve Howell then explained that history has shown us that “sucking up to big business” will not force a positive change, because the system is designed to pursue profits relentlessly.  

“The capital flows to where the profits are greatest and the shareholders demand their dividends.” Using the example of George Osborne’s corporation tax cuts for big business from 28% to 18%, Steve showed that rather than leading to an investment boom as was claimed, “dividends paid out annually to the FTSE 100 shareholders doubled.”

The former Deputy of Communications then made the point that although he doesn’t expect the Labour Leadership to be specific on everything, at the very least there need to be explanation that “a Labour Government will expect its relationship with business will be a two way street. Greater equality is never going to happen through a lovefest with bankers and billionaires.”

Moving to the 2020 leadership election, Steve asked whether Kier Starmer was sincere in the ten pledges he made during campaign. Instead, it appears as if the Labour Leader is a “captive of a small group of Blairites undoubtedly calling the shots.” He explains that this was the case in the suspension, reinstatement, and subsequent removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn.

“We now have the absurd situation where Jeremy is a party member but deprived of the whip by a rouge PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party).” Furthermore, the General Secretary, who’s salary is paid by the members fees, bans any discussion on the issue and suspends CLP officers who allow it. “It’s undemocratic, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s made all of us very angry and frustrated” Steve added.

Despite all of this, “we can’t afford to let emotion get the better of our political judgement.” The millions of people suffering in the pandemic “need a strong and united Labour movement fighting back against the Tories.”

He went on to explain that there that are groups encouraging Labour members to leave, but none of them have the capacity to unite the coalition that supported Jeremy Corbyn. “Our best chance of advancing the politics that Jeremy stood for” he added, “is by sticking together, by continuing the fight for those policies within the party and building mass movements beyond the party.”

We should not take our achievements for granted, Steve explained, talking about the achievements of the left over the last five years – creating new organised social movements, new media outlets, new issues-based campaigns, and more to change the narrative.

To take the example of Bernie Saunders in the US, he was always clear that his two presidential campaigns weren’t an end in themselves. “They were about being a catalyst to encourage people to organise… they were about creating a movement.” He argues that we need to continue to build our movement so that it becomes so strong “that no number of right-wing shenanigans or media hostility can defeat it.”

Further topics and questions discussed with our panelists included the historic battles for the party’s soul; building resistance against the Tories; building political education, campaigns, and organisations within the Labour Left; and much more besides.

Steve ended with both a positive note and a warning – “I think we’ve achieved a remarkable amount, don’t let anyone provoke us into throwing it away.”

  •  Steve Howell is also the author of “GAME CHANGER: Eight Weeks That Transformed British Politics” with his new book “Collateral Damage” coming out in the Spring. The meeting was chaired by Ruth Hayes, Unite the Union.
  • FORUM: Why Socialists Are Anti-Imperialists. Saturday April 24, 14:00. Register here // RSVP, Share & Invite hereWith: Andrew Murray, one of the founders of the Stop the War Coalition & author of “The Fall & Rise of the British Left.”
  • You can watch the full meeting on the Arise Festival YouTube channel here.

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