Another future is possible – for our country and our party

Keir Starmer

All of us are hurting after the general election result. The sense of loss the labour movement feels runs deep because we know it will be our communities that are going to suffer the most.  Thousands left on the streets; families getting their tenth Christmas dinner from food banks; an underfunded NHS. More than four million children living in poverty is set to rise to more than five million in just the next two years. Time is slipping away to confront the climate crisis and save our society from chaos.

We put our heart and soul into winning this election but we fell short and now we cannot help those who need a Labour government most. Our movement is hurting – from the activists who spent countless hours in the wind and the rain knocking on doors to MPs who lost their seats and their staff who lost their jobs. Everyone worked so hard precisely because the stakes were so high.

We know it wasn’t a fair fight. The Tories adopted a strategy of outright lies that represent an assault on democracy and a press that were prepared to amplify them. It is shocking that independent research showed 88% of Conservative adverts were misleading or untrue, but that this did not stop social media giants from making money from them.

We must learn from our defeat and understand the complex reasons for it. But as we seek to learn the lessons, we must never let go of our values. In the last few years, our party reaffirmed its purpose and rediscovered its radicalism. The deep injustices in our economy, society and world were not erased by the election result.

We are a party that opposes austerity, supports common ownership and public services, and stands up for peace and justice around the world. We will defend every member of our diverse community, including migrants. There is no going back.

The reasons for our defeat have deep roots and many of them go back decades. Working class communities, the nations and regions of our country feel voiceless and locked out of power.  Today’s working class includes people marginalised in small towns and people struggling to survive in our big cities. It includes young people trapped in precarious work; and many from minority communities who are excluded from opportunity. Power is concentrated in Westminster and in the hands of those whose wealth is unimaginable to most people.

We have a fossil fuel economy that is hurtling our world towards catastrophe. Only the power of democracy can confront it, decarbonise our economy and set it on a path of social justice and sustainability. I’m proud to have been part of a Labour frontbench that, within months of the IPCC’s demand for urgent action on net zero carbon, wrote it into the heart of our party’s programme. It’s only Labour that can turn a green new deal from an aspiration into reality.

We have a welfare system that humiliates people and destroys their spirit. Disabled people are abandoned without hope. Last year alone, more than 700 homeless people were left to die on the streets. My case file, and that of most Labour MPs, is filled with the cases of people suffering stress, anxiety and hunger because of universal credit.

I don’t just want Labour to be the party that speaks for them. I want to transform our party into a movement that empowers them to speak for themselves. To do that, we must open up power like never before. An inequality of power underpins the inequalities of wealth and opportunity that scar our country. The trade unions were founded to give power and a voice to working class people. They founded the Labour Party, and by winning power we built the NHS, free state education and the welfare state.

The rich and privileged have always had the power they need to shape their lives and to shape world in their own interests.  Labour’s historic task is to open up power to everyone else so we can build the fairer world we believe in. We call it socialism because we believe in the transformative power of society and communities. That historic mission remains our mission today.

But we can’t do it on our own. The point about a movement is it brings everyone together in a common cause. Labour must learn from the social movements that people create to fight injustice: renters’ unions, delivery drivers’ unions, movements to prevent social cleansing of estates. We need to embed this party deep into the everyday lives of people in areas that feel hopeless and abandoned.

Our immediate job is to defend those under attack from this hard-right Conservative government and to resist a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year. But we must also build a new more open, participative, values-driven politics that can win power for the future and harness the energy of the digital age.

This Christmas, there are groups all across our country that are making change on the ground. Food banks making sure families don’t go hungry. Volunteers providing shelter for the homeless. Climate change activists marching through the streets to save our planet. This is the energy Labour must embrace, and the foundations we must build on.

I stood on the picket line at Wapping as police on horseback charged the peaceful protest. I defended the Poll Tax protesters that helped bring Margaret Thatcher down. I fought legal battles for miners and defended activists from “McLibel” – a 10-year battle against the overweening power of a giant corporation – to those protesting against American bases in Britain. I’ve always known the importance of our movement in the struggle for a better future.

In the wake of this historic defeat for the party, the solidarity of our movement must take centre-stage. We must draw on the energy, the vision, the creativity that exists across our party and breathes life into our values. I don’t just want a member-led party – I want a people-powered country.

Brexit was a symptom of deep-rooted problems, not their cause. This Conservative government will take us out of the EU on January 31st, but that won’t solve our country’s problems – because they were caused in Westminster, not Brussels.

Our task is to rebuild Labour around a radical vision for the future, and to remake the Labour party as an organisation that can take its radical vision into the everyday lives of people. We must open up power not just for ourselves but for everyone and every part of our country.

Make no mistake, this election defeat was catastrophic. But we’re still here. I still hold on to the hope that led our founders to set up the Labour Party over 100 years ago, the hope that brought hundreds of thousands of new members into our party in the last few years, and the hope that brings thousands out to march against climate change, against war, and to give their time to help the most vulnerable in their communities. That hope is still there, inside every one of us in this great party. It binds our movement together.

I still believe another future is possible. We can confront the climate crisis with a green new deal, where rapid decarbonisation and social justice go hand-in-hand. We can promote peace and justice around the world with a human rights-based foreign policy, and a principled policy on security and defence, so our country is always a force for good.

We can build a new economic model to replace the failed free-market one – to reduce inequality, not accelerate it, and to empower workers and trade unions. We can renew our democracy to spread power to every community and to halt the rise of racism and authoritarianism.

Another future is possible for our party, too. We can put rancour, division and factionalism behind us, unify around a radical programme, and harness the talents across our party. We must treat each other with respect and look after one another in the struggles ahead. We must listen to our members, and give them the power to shape policy and strategy. And we must make unaccountable power a thing of the past in our party: all decisions should be made democratically, transparently and with respect for those who disagree.

Our party must move forward; there can be no going back. Another future is possible, but we need to fight for it. The Labour tradition has never drawn from a single ideology: at its best, it is an alliance of different traditions. The challenge of leadership is to draw out the best from them, and get them working towards the single goal of an electoral majority.

We have so much more in common than that which divides us, and each of us has something to teach and something to learn. With the whole party and whole movement pulling together rather than pulling apart, we can, and we will, win.

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