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Editorial: Owen Jones tearing up his membership card indicts Starmer’s Labour

Owen Jones’s decision to abandon the Labour Party after 21 years of membership will surely resonate.

The commentator has a vast social media reach and attained near-iconic status with his books on class and his activism, particularly during the years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The reasons for his departure are shared by the hundreds of thousands of former party members who have preceded him through the exit during the years of Keir Starmer’s leadership.

His indictment of Sir Keir has three elements:

First, he obtained the Labour leadership by lying, making a host of pledges he has since abandoned, and has maintained his grip through an authoritarianism without precedent in the party’s history.

Second, his offer to the electorate is now virtually indistinguishable from the Tories, reducing the gap between the two parties of government to the point of invisibility, particularly on economic and social policy.

Third, the Labour position on the Gaza crisis represents a moral collapse worse even than its Blair-era support for the Iraq war in that it involves endorsing a genocide occurring before our eyes.

It is a formidable list, posing a huge challenge to any socialist wishing to advocate a Labour vote in the forthcoming general election.

Jones has set up a campaign fund — We Deserve Better — to support independent left and Green Party candidates in that election.

It acknowledges that Labour is nevertheless likely to win by default due to Tory collapse, but that the left needs to offer a genuine alternative.

His proposal does not create a new party or alliance, but seeks to strengthen those forces already in the field.

It joins a number of other initiatives recently taken to challenge Labour at the hustings. The most significant are the “no ceasefire, no vote” movement launched by local councillors who have left Labour and the Workers Party, with a new spring in its step after George Galloway’s victory in Rochdale.

There are also long-established electoral campaigners to consider, including the Communist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

With a few exceptions, however, the candidates with a chance to make a significant impact will be standing as local left independents.

Obviously, the Green Party will be serious contenders in some seats, the more so since Starmer abandoned his green investment plans. However, the Greens plough their own furrow electorally, sometimes with weak candidates as in Rochdale.

Socialists have therefore created a number of electoral umbrella initiatives — but as yet no umbrella. The only figure who could impose a degree of unity on these efforts is Jeremy Corbyn, who has given no indication that he wants the role.

He has yet to declare his own intentions regarding a possible candidacy in Islington North, having been blocked from continuing as a Labour MP by the Starmerites.

And it must also be acknowledged that many on the Labour left will not be following Jones. Momentum, at its recent conference, recommitted to fighting within Labour for socialist principles.

Momentum’s membership is not what it was but, at 10,000, it is larger, at least on paper, than any left-of-Labour organisation.

So socialist electoral challenges need to leave the door open to continued co-operation with the Labour left, particularly since there is no indication of much trade union support for non-Labour candidates outside certain very specific circumstances (such as Jamie Driscoll’s mayoral re-election bid in north-east England).

Given the likely character of a Starmer government, in the service of the City and imperialism, that unity will be vital.

The immediate hope must be that the political energy unleashed by Corbynism and intensified by the mass movement of solidarity with the Palestinians, can find some unified expression.

Perennial weaknesses of the left — personalities and sectarian squabbling — must not stand in the way.

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