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Editorial: Give the Tories a kicking – but remember elections are just part of the fight

LOCAL elections in Scotland, Wales, London and many English urban centres take place tomorrow.

At Westminster ministers are forcing down public-sector pay and declining to take action to control prices.

At Holyrood the Scottish National Party fiercely condemns the Conservatives for policies driving the increase in poverty, while starving local authorities of funds and seeking to incorporate private-sector commissioning models in promised new institutions like the national care service. 

Only in Labour-run Wales, where the Labour-Plaid Cymru governing agreement backs rent controls and establishment of publicly owned construction and energy companies, do we have anything approaching a progressive programme being enacted.

Of course, these national governments are not standing — and many votes will be cast on local issues.

In many places who to vote for will be a vexed question. 

There can be no doubt that the Tories need to be given a kicking in the locals — not just to remove councils from their control where possible, but because maximum pressure on ministers to act on the cost-of-living crisis means making them fear for their seats.

In most places that means voting Labour, but support for the party led by Sir Keir Starmer will be deeply problematic for many socialists.

The last time most English seats up for grabs were contested, in 2018, the party was led by an unashamed socialist.

The BBC assessed the Conservatives and Labour as “neck and neck” after the results of that contest, though this is often forgotten as history is rewritten to dismiss Corbyn’s Labour as an electoral basket case.

Actually, its policies for public ownership, redistribution of wealth and peace are even more urgent now than they were then.

On all counts, Starmer’s Labour fails to measure up. 

He rejects public ownership of energy, though it is conference-endorsed Labour policy, popular with the public and a commitment he signed up to when standing for the leadership.

He refuses to throw Labour’s weight behind workers striking for higher pay.

And he is so anti-peace that he has taken the unprecedented step of seeking to outlaw opposition to the US-led Nato war machine within the party, threatening — so far successfully — MPs with anti-war records into silence at a time when their voices are needed more than ever.

The Pope’s much-publicised remark that Nato was culpable in the run-up to the Ukraine war for “barking at Russia’s door” should serve to emphasise quite how artificial Starmer’s supposed pro-Nato consensus is.

This is a deeply authoritarian leader so afraid of debate that he tries to ban viewpoints held by tens of thousands of Labour members, millions of citizens and billions around the world.

This is dangerous. 

Labour loyalists will object that such talk feeds into Tory hands, but recognition of the dangers posed by Starmer’s Labour does not detract from the more immediate danger we face from our current government, which is both inflicting untold economic harm on millions and pushing through grotesquely authoritarian legislation attacking our rights.

Rather, it underlines the fact that the electoral battle is just one part of a much bigger struggle.

Except in a minority of wards where voters have a genuine left option such as the Communist Party, whose candidates are pressing the case for peace and social justice, a vote for Labour remains the logical choice, to inflict maximum harm on the Tories.

But that must be combined with a determination to intensify the struggles for fair wages, better public services, proper housing and peace and disarmament after the election, and to confront the policies of a right-wing, authoritarian Labour Party just as we do those of a right-wing, authoritarian government.

The new deal for workers will not be delivered by “official” politics, but by an upsurge in industrial and community militancy across these islands.

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