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Right and left Labour in the 2024 election

In the third of his four-part series on the general election, PETER KENWORTHY looks at Keir Starmer's moves to shift Labour right, and how some independent candidates used that to challenge the party

UNDER Starmer, Labour has moved to the right – although he recently described himself as a “socialist.” He also said, however, he had “changed this party permanently” and that “a vote for Labour is a vote for stability – economic and political.”
 
Rachel Reeves said during a speech to business leaders at Rolls Royce early in the election campaign that “I want to lead the most pro-growth, pro-business Treasury in our country has ever seen” and that she wanted “a new spirit of partnership between government and business.”
 
In Labour’s manifesto, business is mentioned 60 times while climate change is mentioned four times and inequality is mentioned once. The party also says it “will negotiate additional returns
arrangements to speed up returns and increase the number of safe countries that failed asylum-seekers can swiftly be sent back to.”
 
And during the election campaign, then shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper refused to rule out sending asylum-seekers to another country to have their claims processed. “We would look at what works,” she told the BBC.
 
One of the Labour Party’s affiliated unions, Unite, refused to endorse the 2024 Labour manifesto. Unite, under a previous leadership, had called Labour’s 2019 manifesto, launched by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, “a fantastic offer from Labour to the electorate.”
 
Jeremy Corbyn also self-identifies as a socialist. His Labour 2019 election manifesto amongst other things included bringing forward the UK’s net-zero target, increasing income taxes for those earning more than £80,000, reversing cuts in corporation tax, nationalising railways, postal services, energy and water, increasing the minimum wage as well as scrapping tuition fees.
 
Corbyn was blocked from running as a Labour MP in this election by the Labour national executive committee and later expelled from the party.
 
Starmer had served under him in the shadow cabinet, called him a friend, said he would make a great prime minister and promoted Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto. “That’s what this manifesto is about — real change, ambitious change,” Starmer had said.
 
But as party leader Starmer suspended Corbyn in 2020 over the latter’s reaction to a critical report on anti-semitism in the Labour Party, that Corbyn believed was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” against the left-wing of the party.
 
In the report, the Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded that an investigation “has identified serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling anti-semitism complaints across the Labour Party.”
 
An inquiry by barrister Shami Chakrabarti, set up by Corbyn in 2016, had concluded that ”the Labour Party is not overrun by anti-semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism,” although there were “minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviours festering” and a concern amongst some Jews that “anti-semitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party.”
 
The Forde report — an independent investigation commissioned by the Labour Party’s national executive committee in 2020 — on the other hand concludes that members of WhatsApp groups in the Labour Party “were protecting the party from Jeremy Corbyn rather than helping him to advance his agenda” and that “there was a deep hostility from the majority of the [Parliamentary Labour Party] to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”
 
Leaked documents, emails, video and audio files from the Labour Party obtained by Al Jazeera also revealed how people within the Labour Party attempted to undermine support for Corbyn. According to Al Jazeera, “several supporters of Corbyn were smeared with false accusations of abusive behaviour […] including homophobia and anti-semitism, with the stated intention to suspend or expel them from the party.”
 
“They have created an incredibly hostile environment for anybody – including any Jew – who is in any way critical of Israel,” Andrew Feinstein, who is himself Jewish and was then a Labour-member, said in the Labour Files documentary.
 
Feinstein challenged Starmer in the Labour leader’s own north London constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, where the writer, activist and former ANC MP ran as an independent. Feinstein amongst other things had launched his campaign because of what he called Starmer’s “unprincipled” politics and “lust for power.”
 
Feinstein’s campaign focused on issues such as better funding for public services including the NHS and opposing privatisation. A foreign policy based on human rights and international law and welcoming refugees. As well as taking the climate crisis seriously and bringing back Labour’s previous £28 billion climate pledge. But Starmer won, getting nearly 19,000 votes with Feinstein collecting 7,312 — although Starmer got less than half of the votes this time round compared to nearly two-thirds in 2019 and 70 per cent in 2017.
 
“People are ready for change,” Starmer said after winning his seat. We have to return politics to public service, country first, party second, he added, once Labour was certain of a majority.
 
But Corbyn — who also ran as an independent — ended up beating the Labour candidate in Islington North, Praful Nargund (an Islington councillor since 2022, who runs a private IVF firm, and who had avoided attending election debates with Corbyn) with over 7,000 votes.
 
Corbyn ran on a platform of fundamental redistribution of power and wealth, including a universal basic income, a wealth tax, nationalisation (of energy, water, rail and mail) and a fully public and funded NHS, as well as adherence to human rights and a Green New Deal that includes eg opposing new licences for oil and gas extraction, instead promoting investing in publicly owned renewable energy and rewilding.
 
“The Labour Party has won a very large majority but on a considerably lower vote than was achieved in previous elections. I think the figure is likely to be around 37 per cent of the vote, which is not a great figure on which to have a huge parliamentary majority. It does call into question the first past the post system and that no doubt is going to be a debate,” Corbyn said on the night.

The concluding part of Peter Kenworthy’s analysis of the general election runs tomorrow.

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