“ The direction of travel doggedly pursued by Starmer & his allies is failing to build the necessary coalition to win, demoralising Party members & activists – & completely lacking any positive policy platform.”Rachel Garnham, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
By Rachel Garnham, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
The results of the national and regional elections last week could not be clearer. The direction of travel doggedly pursued by Starmer and his allies is failing to build the necessary coalition to win, demoralising Party members and activists and completely lacking any positive policy platform for the necessary rebuilding post-pandemic or to address the climate crisis. The most stark example was the loss of the Hartlepool by-election, winning around 7,000 fewer Labour votes than at the 2019 general election, and 13,000 fewer than the recent high water mark of 2017.
Conversely there were plenty of examples of where Labour put forward a positive, left agenda or were seen to stand up to the Tories and promote a clear alternative agenda, where Labour did well and reversed some of the decline in votes suffered in 2019. The most clear example was in Wales where Mark Drakeford, the Leader of Welsh Labour and known supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, led Labour to its best result for years despite predictions of decline. The ‘clear red water’ most visible in relation to policies on health and education, inspired not only activists to campaign (notably absent in swathes of England) but voters to deliver a positive mandate for further transformative policies, rooted in democratic socialism. This trend was also clearly visible in the North West where Andy Burnham has been visibly anti-Tory in a way that Labour’s Westminster leadership has so damagingly failed; and in Councils such as Preston who have pursued a positive left agenda and been rewarded by voters.
It is clear that the coalition Labour needs to build to be successful – from its successes in places like Cambridgeshire and Worthing, as well as its deep failures in the North East and West Midlands– comprises a broad range of interests that can brought together around popular, green, economic policies for ‘the many not the few’. This coalition requires promoting policies that protect public services, policies that can reverse the horrendous impact of a decade of austerity compounded by a global pandemic, and policies that could reduce the increasing inequalities, compounded by Covid that leave families reliant on food banks, children living below the poverty line and young people unable to access jobs and housing. Our policies set out in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos have been repeatedly shown in polls to be popular – they inspire activists to campaign and voters, especially young voters, to put their cross next to the Labour candidate.
The more we can focus on the positive alternative Labour could offer, and expose the deeply right-wing and reactionary Tories (not just their incompetence) the better we do. Key to this coalition are young people and potential Lib Dem/Green switchers who flocked to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – and are clearly flocking away again at every available opportunity, judging by the number of seats won by the Green Party last Thursday. It also includes the working class – a term much misused and misunderstood it seems in much of the analysis – and in its broadest form, which exists well beyond the ageing populations of the so-called ‘red wall’. In terms of whose working in relatively low income jobs, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn inspired plenty of voters, now sadly peeling away if polls of, for example, young people and healthcare workers are to be believed.
So what can we do?
- Ensure the lessons from the elections are widely learned – Labour in Wales under socialist leadership has done well and is changing lives. Labour in England is haemorrhaging votes and Starmer needs to return to his election pledges sooner rather than later.
- Organise for women’s conference and annual conference to ensure we set the policy framework we need, elect representatives who will stand up for grassroots members, change rules to improve democracy and accountability and not endorse David Evans as General Secretary who has already presided over so many unjust suspensions and selections, organisational incompetence and crackdown on discussion.
- Put pressure on our elected representatives, particularly members of the National Executive Committee, to take action to demonstrate that they truly value a mass membership Party rooted in our communities – for example by publishing the Forde report within weeks, by ensuring democratic selections in which members can fully participate and choose their own candidates and by reversing suspensions that appear designed to crack down on political discussion.
This should be plenty to keep us busy, particularly with key deadlines approaching – 26 May for Women’s Conference and 11 June for Annual Conference. It is clearer than ever that only the left has the answers to reverse Labour’s decline.
- For more info on the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy see www.clpd.org.uk