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Editorial: Keir Starmer's speech – continuity capitalism

KEIR STARMER’S speech to Labour conference was as offensive as it was empty: a string of platitudes laced with contempt for the members and activists who make up the labour movement.

Six years ago when Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership, thanks partly to the huge numbers of socialists who rejoined a party that had seemed irrevocably lost to the neoliberal right, he said to those socialists: “Welcome home.”

Starmer offered those same words to the wreckers who sabotaged Labour’s chances under Corbyn as he name-checked the Blairite Louise Ellman in his opening remarks. It was an aside all the more insulting given he did not bother to even mention the fact that an entire affiliated union representing low-paid working-class people in the food industry have been made so unwelcome that they voted to disaffiliate one day earlier.

The Labour leader is as dishonest as he is disloyal, and his calculated insults to Corbyn reflect that mendacity. 

If working-class people were saying, as he stated, that their grandparents would have turned in their graves rather than vote Labour in 2019, how much did that have to do with a betrayal of the vote to leave the European Union which he masterminded in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet — and how much to do with a five-year daily media onslaught on a Labour leader who actually offered real change? 

Starmer is not unaware of this. He spoke of the disgraceful misrepresentation of Corbyn in the media when he was running to succeed him and needed socialist votes. The poise was as meaningless as the one he took when posing in 2019 with a bakers’ union banner calling for fast-food workers to be paid £15 an hour — something we learned this week he has fought to deny them.

The left and trade union movement must keep this focus on precise demands, because this is a Labour leader who will wriggle through any loophole — and his “policies” are full of them. 

What use is his call for delegates to “ring out approval for NHS staff” when he declines to back the pay demands of the unions representing those workers? When a “triangulating” Labour was so pathetic in its opposition to a Tory pay cut – waffling that nurses deserved more than a 1 per cent raise but refusing to specify what their raise should be – that it is wrong-footed by the Conservatives just weeks later when they offer an insulting 3 per cent that is still better than what Labour proposed?

The problems in Starmer’s speech are familiar. Labour is no longer challenging the ownership and control of the British economy. It is “back in business” — or back in big business’s pocket. 

It will invest in industry and tackling climate change, Starmer asserts — but what is distinctive about that? The Conservatives have already shifted to support for state-led investment in industry, partly as a result of the Corbyn movement’s success in asserting that there was an alternative to austerity and free-market fanaticism. 

We know that the Tories “invest” public money in enriching private firms at everyone else’s expense. But so will Labour on this prospectus. 

A national energy crisis where bills are soaring and petrol pumps running dry, combined with a conference decision to support nationalisation and polls showing that this has overwhelming public support, do not prompt Starmer to call for public ownership of this or any other sector. No, Labour is “back in business.”

This is a Labour leader who has no answers to the crises facing Britain and the world. His continuity capitalism is a dead end for Labour and the labour movement. 

But we saw on the conference floor this week that a large, combative left in Labour still exists and can beat the right.

Starmer’s long dirge may seem funereal, but our job remains clear. Don’t mourn. Organise.

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