The Labour Party is in a parlous state and something needs to be done. On Monday, Labour general secretary David Evans told staff there would be mass redundancies, with approximately a third of Labour HQ staff having to leave. The party’s poor financial state is a result of drastic membership decline and the settling of antisemitism cases. With perhaps only a couple of years until the next general election, Labour is being reduced to a husk. This can’t be allowed to carry on.
It didn’t have to be this way. Back in 2018, The Guardian named Labour the “richest party in Britain”. Our coffers were full as hundreds of thousands of people joined the party, bringing numerous small donations with them. Not only did it put us in good financial stead, but it also meant the party didn’t have to rely on the donations of rich individuals with interests opposed to ours. We were the envy of social democratic parties across the continent as their memberships shrunk, while ours ballooned.
Of course, we were beaten amidst a wave of Brexit populism in the 2019 election, and Keir Starmer won the subsequent leadership election with a large majority. His pitch was Corbynism-lite, pledging to stick broadly with the policy agenda developed between 2015 and 2019. Tens of thousands of members voted for him on that basis. But over a year and a half later, that radicalism has evaporated. His tenure has been characterised by a tentative, softball approach to opposition and an aversion to proposing anything that could be seen to address Britain’s dramatic wealth inequalities.
Starmer’s timidity on policy contrasts sharply with his attitude to party management, however. Here is where the Tony Blair comparisons made by many on the left ring true. The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, the shutting down of local party chairs who convened meetings to discuss the suspension, the total disregard for the mandate given to him by the members when they voted him in – these are the actions of a politician who sees no value in the movement that put him there.
A Labour Party without its mass membership is finished as an electoral force. Members bring energy, ideas, campaigning ability and a knowledge of what it’s like to live in the communities that we want to change. They are an asset to the party. The greater power they have and the greater democracy there is in the party, the stronger our movement is to take on an ascendant hard-right Tory government. Who is more likely to be successful: an empowered mass membership in the hundreds of thousands, including all wings of the party, working towards a Labour victory, or a demobilised membership led by a tiny, embattled clique?
Starmer’s team have banked on the latter – but now their chickens are coming home to roost. Their repeated disdain for the wider movement has led to tens of thousands of people leaving the party. The consequent drop in revenue should be no surprise. This is no way to run a democratic socialist political party.
We cannot pretend that the task of taking on the Tories is going to be easy. The 2019 election defeat is a reminder of that. Labour is facing a series of historic challenges that cannot be solved easily: an ageing population shifting towards the Conservatives; a democratic and economic system in crises; a trade union movement at a historic weak point; and a resurgent right now united in one party.
But the fact is that Starmer has shown none of the boldness and vision needed to confront these challenges head on. He has also shown zero willingness to bring together the different wings of the party, displaying an inability to compromise and reach out to build alliances – essential qualities for any Labour leader.
The unjust mass suspensions of members simply for passing motions in support of Corbyn, the shameless abandonment of the pledges on which he campaigned to be Labour leader, the absence of almost any socialist MPs in the shadow cabinet and the closure of the Community Organising Unit are just a few of the many indications that Starmer has given that his preferred politics is a hollowed out version of New Labour. And now this brand of politics is leading the party to financial ruin. If he keeps this up, Keir Starmer is more likely to be King of the Ashes than Prime Minister.