Trust Us, We’re the Centre: Kier Starmer’s Labour Party and the End of Left Wing Politics

There are many times when politics in this country feels like it’s being Americanised. A vital factor of this is the ever shifting of our political parties toward the right.  Of the significant UK-wide parties, the Conservatives look more and more like UKIP every day, the Liberal Democrats are non-existent and the Green Party, though calling for left-wing policies, lacks the power to get their policies across. The last bastion of left-wing hope was the Labour Party – the so-called party of the working person. But if the strikes this summer taught me anything, it’s that the working person can no longer trust Keir Starmer’s Labour to put their interests above elections. 

When asked for a comment, the Bath University Left Union said they “will always promote unionisation and collective bargaining and calls on politicians and those in power to stand in solidarity with striking students”. As shown by this, support for strikes is not only key to being left-wing but something left-leaning voters want. Yet, time and time again, Keir Starmer has implied that the only thing that matters is getting a Labour government. Often, Starmer states that while he supports the right for people to strike, true help will only come from having Labour in power. Statements such as these are already damaging to strikes as it suggests they accomplish little – clearly not true given strikes were responsible for securing minimum wage for coal miners in 1912, a 47-hour work week guarantee for shipbuilders and engineers in Scotland in 1919 and so on. While these statements can be forgiven – after all Starmer still supported the right to strike – actions speak louder than words. In addition to implying strikes do little, Starmer also sacked frontbencher Sam Tarry for appearing on a picket line. This is a clear rejection of strike action. It tells anyone who was thinking of striking that Labour do not agree with this form of protest. If they did there would be no reason to sack Sam Tarry. Since strikes have long been the only way in which workers can get their voice heard, how can the ‘worker’s party’ not support them? 

According to Starmer, Labour has to move on from being the ‘party of protest’ in order to be elected. Unfortunately, if Labour’s history is anything to go by, he is most likely correct. Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, arguably the two biggest pro-protest, most left-wing leaders of the party, both failed to win general elections, while Tony Blair’s centrist, catch-all ‘New Labour’ won in a landslide. However, there is a line to dance here. I firmly believe a Labour government would be far better for the country than a Conservative one. As chair of Bath University Labour Society, Will Moule put the need for a Labour government perfectly: 

“The Conservative government have neglected struggling families by failing to provide adequate support through the cost of living crisis. By insulating 19 million homes, stopping the energy price cap and investing in renewable energy, Labour has a clear plan to tacke the issues our country is facing.”

Keir Starmer does need to do his best to make the party electable. But playing too far into the hands of the anti-protest, right-leaning electorate alienates the left. I have much less interest in voting for the party when they reject their morals and those calling for change in favour of electability. His actions have made me feel unseen by the party that should represent me. This line should have been danced carefully, but by sacking Sam Tarry, Keir Starmer has marched over it. As a result, I question if we can trust Keir Starmer to represent us after election or if being re-elected would immediately become his next priority. 

Speaking in a personal capacity, Dr. David Moon, Senior Lecturer in Politics, and Branch President of Bath University and College Union (UCU), when asked if Keir Starmer’s Labour can be trusted, said:

‘Keir Starmer was elected Labour leader on a set of 10 manifesto pledges that promised amongst other things to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder with trade unions’. During the leadership election he reiterated this pledge on a UCU picket-line, promising striking university workers, “my leadership will be standing with you and campaigns like you”. He has since dropped every single pledge and barred shadow cabinet ministers from supporting striking workers on pickets. Keir Starmer lied to the membership to become leader and he lied to trade unionists about supporting them as leader. A Labour-led government would almost certainly lessen the further erosion of workers’ rights and conditions; however, based on Starmer’s track-record, it would be foolish to trust a word he himself says to become Prime Minister.’

His words encapsulate what I fear most about the current trajectory of the Labour party. Over the premiership of Boris Johnson, this country came to accept that politicians lie, backtrack and u-turn without apology or care for those who suffer because of it. The last thing I want is for the leader of the Labour Party to do the same. We shouldn’t simply accept that people in power cannot be trusted, but when the leaders of both dominant parties make promises they do not intend to keep, what else can we do?

My hope is that Keir Starmer will soon realise that being electable is not simply about pandering to whichever desire of the centre is at the forefront of public consciousness. To be elected, the Labour party also needs to stand for something. The party cannot simply stand as an alternative to the Conservatives because every time they try to make themselves appear desirable to the centre, they become more and more like the Conservative Party. Keir Starmer is going back on promises like the Conservatives. The party is looking for power at the expense of what it right, like the Conservatives. Yes, the Labour Party is still better for the country than the Conservatives. But the way things are going, by the next election, will we have a Labour party, or two Conservative parties?

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