Britain's government in disgrace, but Labour offers no alternative

By Robert Griffiths
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 30, 2021
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer leaves after casting his vote at Greenwood Centre polling station at St Albans Church, north London, in the local and London Mayoral election on May 6, 2021. [Photo/VCG]

Britain's main Opposition leader Keir Starmer gained a reprieve in the Batley & Spen by-election in July, when Labour held on to the parliamentary seat by the skin of its teeth. Thus, the calls for him to resign have died down for the time being.

Yet, dissatisfaction with his performance continues. A majority of Labour supporters, and an even bigger proportion of the general public, believe he is doing a bad job in providing a clear alternative to the Conservative government and its policies.

At the same time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has slipped a few points in the opinion polls of late, his party's lead over Labour narrowing, while still substantial. There is still plenty of time for the electoral arithmetic to change before the next election, although Labour has a mountain to climb if it is to take office after more than a decade out of it.

The next election is not due until 2024, although the government intends to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This would enable the Conservatives to call an earlier election, perhaps bringing it forward before Chancellor Rishi Sunak raises taxes and cuts state pensions, benefits and public services in order to pay for the COVID bail-out of big business.

The prospects for Johnson's government are not very bright. Currently, he has been able to ride a series of scandals about improper government contracts and his own callous remarks in private about COVID deaths. This is because people are relieved that Britain's mass vaccination program has drastically curbed coronavirus hospitalizations and fatalities.

However, the rapid abandonment of most anti-infection measures could unleash a fifth wave of infections, inflicting huge pressure on the National Health Service. 

Furthermore, the promised public inquiry early in 2022 into how the authorities responded to the COVID-19 pandemic will remind many people that Conservative government failures led to Britain having the highest mortality rate of all the G7 countries except Italy. 

In particular, tens of thousands of residents were sent to their deaths in elderly care homes, having been transferred from hospitals untested and without adequate protection from infection.

Nor should the government find much comfort in the prospects for Britain's domestic economy. The "furlough" Job Retention Scheme is due to end in October, leaving millions of workers vulnerable to cost-saving redundancies. 

Unemployment is already running at almost 5%, while labor shortages are hitting key sectors of the economy such as health and transport due to COVID-related illness, absenteeism and the post-Brexit return of migrant workers to eastern Europe.

Official forecasts indicate the British economy is set to slow down significantly in 2023 and 2024, returning to less than 2% growth a year, even before factoring in the full impact of a new round of austerity cuts in public sector expenditure.

The question therefore arises: What is Labour's alternative? At the moment, Starmer and his Shadow Cabinet ministers complain about government sleaze and corruption. They point to the irresponsibility of an early exit from COVID safety restrictions.

However, they offer no bold alternative economic strategy. Instead, the Labour leadership is keen to distance itself from the left and progressive policies of its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The myth is that Corbyn's policies of progressive taxation, lower military expenditure, renationalization in the transport and energy sectors and massive investment in a "Green New Deal" program to slash carbon emissions and create jobs, cost Labour the 2019 General Election.

In fact, the biggest factors in Labour's defeat were the change of policy on Brexit insisted upon by Starmer – to hold a second referendum instead of implementing the result of the first one – and the atrocious media campaign of character assassination against Jeremy Corbyn, aided and abetted by many of his own Labour MPs.

In truth, public ownership of the railways and energy utilities was and is a popular policy, as would be the reversal of privatization in the NHS. This is even more so in light of recent scandals. Financial penalties totaling more than £500 million have been imposed on the Southern Water consortium of banks and asset management firms for knowingly polluting rivers, beaches and surrounding seas with billions of liters of raw sewage and on seven pharmaceutical companies for systematically defrauding the NHS over a 10-year period.

Unfortunately, rather than campaigning against such deceit and corruption, Starmer's Labour has chosen to intensify the purge of socialists from its ranks. Alongside the continuing exclusion of Jeremy Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party, four left-wing organizations have now been declared no-go areas for Labour members. These new bans will swell the current exodus of 120,000 members from the party, adding to the financial crisis now gripping Labour's apparatus and staff.

On the other hand, no action is being taken against those Labour MPs who have joined the Liberal Democrats and Greens to campaign for an electoral alliance against the Conservatives at the next General Election. It would call for a voting system of proportional representation and for Britain's return to the EU or at least to its Single Market and Customs Union. 

Such an electoral pact would mean Labour giving the center-right LibDems a clear run in up to a hundred constituencies, instead of giving an independent Labour voice to workers and their families.

Starmer will probably prefer to maintain his current course: marginalizing the left, moving to the political center, saying little or nothing about the EU, and hoping that Johnson and the Conservative government make enough mistakes to lose the next election.

Robert Griffiths is a former Senior Lecturer in Political Economy and History at the University of Wales and currently the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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