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“BETTER fewer but better” was a slogan advanced by Lenin when discussing the type of men and women the new Soviet state apparatus required.
It was therefore startling to hear it reprised by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves last week, since neither Reeves’s firmest friends nor her sternest critics have ever identified her as a Leninist.
Nevertheless, Reeves told the Financial Times that it was great news that Labour Party membership was declining — plummeting in fact — since many members were the wrong sort of people.
“Membership in my constituency is falling and that’s a good thing,” she told the FT. The people who left “should never have joined the Labour Party.”
That is indeed how the Starmer leadership has viewed the party, but it is unusual to have it confessed so brazenly.
Reeves did not advise how many members have departed in her Leeds West seat, but if it is in line with the national trend it would be around one third of the number Starmer’s Labour inherited from Jeremy Corbyn’s.
Estimates for those heading for the exits country-wide thus far range from 150,000 to 200,000.
Reeves said that the membership drop was a price worth paying for ridding Labour of anti-semites. That is an astonishing insult to throw at tens of thousands of socialists.
It is beyond absurd to allege that anti-semitism had such a hold on the party’s membership, but then in another interview Reeves asserted that the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into Labour had found the party guilty of “institutional anti-semitism,” which is also untrue.
This further opens Reeves to charges of hypocrisy, since she championed memorialising Britain’s first female MP, Lady Nancy Astor, without acknowledging her rabid and unbending Jew-hatred in the 1930s. Reeves is no anti-semite, but one can readily imagine the reaction had Corbyn been guilty of such an omission.
Nor was Reeves correct in claiming that Corbyn’s team left Labour’s finances in a parlous state. The opposite is true and an aspirant Chancellor of the Exchequer really does need to get financial facts straight.
The charge of mass anti-semitism diverts attention from the real causes of the rapid evaporation of the Labour Party on the ground. Here Reeves offers more useful clues.
Labour is now a “pro-business party” she reassured the FT’s readership. She speaks the truth on all evidence.
Reeves and Starmer have committed themselves to Treasury orthodoxy in handling the public finances and have effectively ditched Corbyn-era commitments to public ownership of the energy and water companies, their continuing failure in private hands notwithstanding. City of London heads sleep easy on their pillows once more.
So when Reeves says that the departing members “never shared our values” she may not be entirely wrong. The hundreds of thousands who joined Labour between 2015 and 2019 did so precisely because Labour had moved away from Reeves’s pro-capitalist values.
Now that Labour is busy returning to the mildewed centrism of the New Labour years, they see no reason to remain. Anyone fancy joining a “pro-business” Labour Party? Thought not.
To be fair to Reeves, she did tell the FT that “Labour is a pro-worker party” as well as a pro-business one. That one can be both is surely the hoariest exhibit in social democracy’s archive of illusions.
But if Reeves is serious and still in a Leninist mood, she might like to ponder another of his famous aphorisms: “Who whom?”
Lenin was asking which side will beat which in the class struggle. It seems clear which team Reeves is rooting for here, if only the bothersome Labour membership would get out of the way.
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