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Editorial: 'Clause IV on steroids': what does Starmer's speech tell us about his project?

KEIR STARMER’S planned “Clause IV on steroids”-style reshaping of the Labour Party points to the problem his leadership poses for organised labour.

His weekend speech was Blairite both in content and ambition. 

Like Blair, he seeks to don Tory clothing to win Tory voters: “if that sounds Conservative... I don’t care.”

Blair dreamed of Labour displacing the Tories as Britain’s “natural party of government.” Starmer’s vow to “protect and preserve” a British way of life the Tories have let down aims at the same.

It is ambitious in party terms, but not in what it offers to the country. Labour becomes the natural party of government by abandoning the cause of real reform. 

A status-quo party like the US Democrats, it would compete with the Tories for ruling-class confidence rather than express the interests of a different class. And like parties of the ruling class everywhere it would cloak this in an appeal to a national interest that supposedly unites “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate.”

The trade unions have no place in Starmer’s vision of a Labour Party whose “entire culture, our DNA” he vows to jettison.

Starmer scents Tory weakness. Millions-long NHS waiting lists appal Tory as well as Labour voters; the scandalous pollution of our waterways has enraged traditionally Conservative-voting constituencies.

But his actual offer is even less ambitious than Blair’s. 

It acknowledges problems, but not their cause in decades of neoliberalism and deregulation. 

The NHS faces a staffing crisis caused by underinvestment, low pay and a parasitical private sector: but Starmer will not open “the big government cheque book” or offer restorative pay awards, and Labour wants to increase its reliance on private-sector provision. 

Our water industry’s casual abuse of our countryside is rooted in ownership by foreign conglomerates interested only in how much profit they can squeeze out of our natural resources; but Labour is not offering to change that.

Indeed, the change Starmer promises is actually more of the same. His claim that people “no longer have faith in an unreformed state” is used to justify continuing the privatisation drive that has been government policy since the 1980s, even though polling clearly shows majority support for public ownership of services and utilities.

He cites working-class anger at “the traditional Westminster way of doing things” but his authoritarian project has been all about purging Westminster of any grassroots voices — including those of the unions, whose endorsement is now the kiss of death for any prospective Labour candidate.

It’s ironic that the most recent evidence that Labour could make real inroads into “Tory” territory was the 2017 election, in which the party significantly raised its vote both in its old heartlands and in rural areas such as Cornwall and the Cotswolds. 

The reason for weaknesses in the Tory support base is actually the increasing inability of the capitalist system to meet people’s expectations on quality of life — whether measured in terms of spending power, access to services or enjoyment of the natural world. 

This undermines a New Labour Mark II’s chances of success. Starmer will not be able to provide the “stability and security” he promises unless he confronts the market, which he will not do.

Alienation from Westminster politics is a product of an economy that delivers for fewer and fewer people, not simply Tory mismanagement. 

There is fertile ground to take a socialist understanding of this problem to new audiences. It is already the case that the public are to the left of Westminster (and Holyrood) on public ownership, on equality, even on immigration. 

But Starmer’s speech confirms his goal is not to harness those feelings, to turn discontent into a movement for real change, but precisely to prevent that, to circle the wagons around the way things are. Our whole movement surely has an interest in stopping him.

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