Britain's main opposition Labour Party named Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions who opposed the country's exit from the European Union, as its leader on 04 April 2020. Starmer worked as a barrister specializing in human rights issues before being elected to the House of Commons in 2015. He served as Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Starmer, who tried to carry the socialist supporters of outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn while also keeping more centrist Labour members on board, beat Rebecca Long-Bailey, an ally of Corbyn, and Lisa Nandy in the contest. He won with 56.2% of the vote by party members and supporters. Starmer is faced the challenge of rebuilding the Labour Party after its historic election defeat, while boosting its presence as the largest opposition party. The new Labour leader used his victory speech to describe Labour's alleged anti-Semitism as a "stain on our party", pledging to "tear out this poison by its roots".
The Labour Party celebrates achievements from its emergence in 1900 as a parliamentary pressure group until the historic landslide victory in 1997. The historic establishment of the National Health Service, the enshrining in law of equality of opportunity for all and the creation and maintenance of an empowering welfare state - all Labour achievements. Equally important has been the development of Labour as a mass membership party in the 1920s and 1930s, the modernisation of our campaigning techniques in the 1980s and the election of 101 Labour women MPs in 1997.
However, the lessons from this history are not all positive. Labour was in government for just 23 of its first 100 years. On occasions the Party has also been the victim of division and disunity which cost dearly in electoral terms. It allowed the Tories to win and undermine Labour achievements.
In the 2015 election the Scottish National Party (SNP) destroyed Labour in Scotland. Labour is a shadow of its former self - the final tally was 232, an astonishing 99 seats lower than the Tories. Labour's future hangs in the balance, and with no alternative candidates stepping up to the mark, 2020 looks likely to provide another thumping. Blairites such as David Blunkett and Jack Straw demanded a return to center ground if Labour was to regain power.
There has been a long tradition of socialism in Britain. It originates from before the work of Karl Marx. However, there are very strong similarities between the two sets of ideas. The main difference is that socialism is an agenda for political action whereas Marxism is generally seen a theory to explain society and social relationships. Socialists believe that capitalism creates inequality; it concentrates all the power and wealth into the hands of a very small number of people. These are the oligarchy. Socialists argue that we all need to work for a fair society in which there is equal access to wealth and power. Just as there are debates within the Marxist tradition, there are debates in the socialist tradition as to how equality can be achieved for ordinary people.
Traditionally the Labour party has been associated with socialist policies. In 1945, the Labour Party was elected to power under the leadership of Clement Atlee. It had a strong socialist agenda and policies that would change the nature of the British state. This government set up legislation to set up the Welfare State: education, benefit systems, the Health Service, pensions and unemployment payment. It also nationalised many struggling industries to preserve jobs and improve conditions for workers: coal mines, gas companies, steel works, telephones, transport and electricity. Less popularly, it oversaw the return of the British Empire to the populations who actually lived in those countries. In the election of 1950, there was a reduced majority and the Labour party were defeated in 1951. The next influential Labour government was that of Harold Wilson in the early 1960s. It was responsible for a number of social policies such as the legalisation of homosexuality, abortion and the abolition of capital punishment. It pushed for comprehensive schools and also set up the Open University.
In 1997, the Labour Party was re-elected in a landslide victory for Tony Blair. Many people hoped that this would see an end to New Right policies, but in reality, very little changed and many of the policies of the previous conservative government were carried on through into the new government.
On 01 May 2008 Londoners went to the polls to elect a new Mayor. Thirteen candidates were running but, the main contenders are "Ken" and "Boris," the Labour and Conservative party candidates who were both on first name terms with the voters.
"Red Ken" Livingstone, Mayor of London for eight years, was behind in the polls and under pressure as the race enters its final weeks. Latest poll figures put his conservative rival, Boris Johnson, at 45 per cent with Livingstone close behind at 39 per cent. The candidates were fighting it out on environmental issues, transport and economic development. Livingstone's combative manner and ability to court controversy, vote-winners in the past, appear this time to be turning voters away. Critics said he is wandering far beyond the issues of concern to a Mayor and he appeared to be suffering by association from Labour's dismal national poll ratings.
A well-known figure in London politics for more than 20 years, Ken's initial popularity rested on his image as a political maverick: Margaret Thatcher's Government and his own party hated him in the '80s when he was known as "Red Ken" for his extreme left-wing views. And his refusal to toe the party line endeared him to Londoners who voted for him in droves when he ran as an Independent candidate in London's first Mayoral elections in 2000. Livingstone ran as independent because then-Prime Minister Blair would not endorse him as Labour's candidate.
Until the 1980s, the British left was broadly pro-Israel. By 2016 the Left was almost entirely anti-Zionist; and with the rise of Momentum, veering towards bigotry against Jews. The left-wing embrace of the Palestinian cause, which later led to Labour anti-Semitism, had its roots in the now defunct Young Liberals, the youth wing of the party. Heading the campaign was the one-time chair of the Young Liberals, Louis Eaks, who died in the early 1990s. Anti-Zionism began as part of liberal, anti-apartheid, anti-colonial sentiment. But what started as pro-Palestinian ‘anti-Zionism’ grew into ill-concealed anti-Semitic Jew hating.
BREXIT and Labour
In the wake of the 23 June 2016 Brexit referendum, which turned British politics upside down, most international attention focused on the turmoil in the ranks of Britain’s ruling Conservatives and their Game of Thrones style, treacherous leadership contest to replace Prime Minster David Cameron. But the country’s main opposition party, Labour, was also tearing itself to shreds, deeply divided between mainstream Labour MPs and the younger generations of leftist party members.
Only 10 of Labour’s 229 MPs supported the Leave campaign, but studies suggest that majorities in 70 percent of districts won by the party in the 2015 general election voted for a break with the European Union.
John McDonnell, a fellow MP from the hard left who served as Shadow Chancellor, was the only likely contender whose views mostly align with Corbyn’s. He coupled his socialist politics — like Corbyn’s unsullied by a career largely free of compromise until he took office — with a stronger tactical sense than Corbyn. Margaret Hodge, a former minister in the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon, is well-known in Westminster circles but probably wouldn’t be the obvious choice for opposition leader.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and once known as an arch-plotter (he was one of Gordon Brown’s closest allies in his attempts to force his frenemy Tony Blair out of office), was Labour’s Deputy Leader. He backed Prime Minister David Cameron in his support for renewing Britain’s “Trident” nuclear deterrent regardless of how pro-disarmament Corbyn voted. Dan Jarvis, a rugged former soldier who entered parliament in 2011, as a potential future leader predate Corbyn’s ascendency. Chuka Umunna, a polished London MP who was once a leading contender to succeed Ed Miliband, pulled out of the last Labour leadership race, citing undue intrusion into his family and private life. His associations with the old Blairite wing and criticism of Corbyn could prove a challenge.
Often floated as a potential post-Corbyn unity candidate, Shadow Energy Secretary Lisa Nandy’s “soft-left” politics could put her in line with both pro- and anti-Corbyn voters. Hilary Benn, son of Corbyn’s greatest political hero, the late Tony Benn, had long been known as further toward Labour’s pro-intervention right than his father. His passionate speech in favor of launching air-strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, in defiance of his leader, earned near-hysterical praise from pundits and pro-strikes MPs.
Jeremy Corbyn said he would not resign after Members of Parliament (MPs) in his party overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence in his leadership. Corbyn lost a confidence vote on 28 June 2016, with 172 of his Labour Party's lawmakers voting against him and 40 in favor. The motion was tabled in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union and backed by many who felt he had not campaigned hard enough to keep the country inside the EU, and would not be able to win a future election.
Friend turned on friend amid claims of bullying and even of death threats. Much of this was played out in the genteel surroundings of parliament – a kind of political Agatha Christie mystery. By 2016 many among the party’s lawmakers and other Grandees feared that Labour is facing its biggest challenge since Ramsay MacDonald split and nearly killed the party in 1931, forming a national government with Conservatives. Lawmakers accused Corbyn of failing to provide a clear, unambiguous pro-EU message and say his office sabotaged the Remain side in the EU campaign.
Most of the party’s "shadow Cabinet" quit. They argued Corbyn was ill equipped to be party leader and must share the blame for the Brexit referendum result. They wanted Corbyn, who appeared to have the backing of the grass-roots party membership [soem of whom are far-left activists], to resign. There are people around him, some who were members of far-left Trotskyite parties - the so-called Loonie Left - who were determined to hijack the party.
Labour's social foundations – the unions, heavy industry, the nonconformist church, a deference to the big state that has long evaporated – are either in deep retreat or have vanished completely. Its name embodies an attachment to the supposed glories of work that no longer chimes with insecure employment and insurgent automation.
The split between party members of older generations and the young Corbyn loyalists in parliament and in the constituencies is clear. Corbyn loyalists focused on issues away from the workplace and the traditional Labour politics of hearth and home. They concentrated on gay rights, climate change and gender equality, and their bid to bring about a progressive Rainbow coalition of diverse and very London-based far left and social justice groups. For working-class folk beyond London living in the hollowed-out industrial, steel and mining towns of Britain devastated by globalization, the nativist message of the anti-immigrant UKIP resonated.
Richard Seymour observed " Journalists steeped in the common sense of Westminster, assumed that it was all over for Labour’s first ever radical socialist leadership. ... The putschists’ plan, such as it was, was to orchestrate such media saturation of criticism and condemnation aimed at Corbyn, to create such havoc within the Labour Party, that he would feel compelled to resign. The tactical side of it was executed to smooth perfection, by people who are well-versed in the manipulation of the spectacle. And yet, in the event that Corbyn was not wowed by the media spectacle, not intimidated by ranks of grandees laying into him, and happy to appeal over the heads of party elites to the grassroots, their strategy disintegrated. This was not politics as they knew it.
"... the decline of the Left’s fortunes and the rampant success of the neoliberal centre was also concurrent with a growing crisis of representative democracy, as more and more of the state’s functions were taken out of democratic control and handed over to Quangos, businesses, and unelected bodies. Millions of people, no longer seeing much real choice on offer, began to boycott the electoral system. Party elites retreated into the state and into the manipulation of news cycles, having less and less to do with mass politics.
"In the context of the Labour Party, the result of this was that a generation of political leaders emerged who were experienced as special advisers, think-tankers, policy wonks and spin doctors, but had little real understanding of how to motivate activists and communicate with the broad public."
Corbyn, who supported the Remain camp ahead of the Brexit referendum, was challenged by former Work and Pensions Shadow Secretary Owen Smith. Veteran Labour Party's parliamentary member Sir Tam Dalyell said 22 August 2016 that he would no longer support embattled party's leader Jeremy Corbyn in the ongoing leadership contest over the Brexit issue. "When Owen Smith says that he will campaign against Brexit I will vote for him because I think that is the most overwhelmingly important issue of our time," Dalyell, who had been the member of Parliament for 43 years, said.
Veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected head of Britain's Labour Party on 24 September 2016, defeating a challenge to his year-old leadership of the divided opposition party. Corbyn won almost 62 percent of the more than 500,000 votes cast by Labour members and supporters. Challenger Owen Smith got 38 percent in a result announced at the party's conference in Liverpool, northwest England.
In 2019, although Labour lost far more votes to pro-Remain parties than pro-Leave parties, the bulk of the seats that were lost were in majority Leave-voting constituencies, particularly in the Midlands and the North. It’s possible that some of these could have been saved if we’d had a clearly pro-Brexit position. Not every battle is winnable. The election was called specifically to resolve the issue of Brexit, which is something that divides Labour’s support base and that doesn’t meaningfully divide the Tory support base.
Labour in 2017
Many observers thought an early general election would likely see Labour wiped out in the heartlands of northern England by the nativist UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Tens of thousands of new members had flocked to Labour since was first Corbyn was elected, many of them young and enthusiastic. Corbyn draws big crowds to rallies and meetings, and his supporters were a formidable force on social media. His followers - dubbed Corbynistas - see Labour as a mass movement for social justice, similar to Spain's Podemos, rather than simply a machine for winning elections. Other Labour members, and most of the party's lawmakers, want power and think Labour can't win it while Corbyn was in charge. They argue that his policies - including re-nationalization of the railways and unilateral nuclear disarmament - don't speak to ordinary voters.
By late 2017 moderate Labour councillors were being written off as "zombie Blairites" as Jeremy Corbyn's left-wing supporters carried out an "aggressive purge" of party moderates. Councillors across the UK faced deselection in favor of candidates more closely aligned to the Momentum movement, laying bare party divisions ahead of 2018 local elections.
Corbyn then presented the most radical and socialist manifesto in Labour’s post-war history to the electorate in the snap General Election called by Theresa May in 2017. The powerful and the privileged were in a state of fear and alarm at the prospect of a Corbyn led government introducing legislation that will actually compel the millionaires and billionaires to pay higher taxes.
Corbyn’s socialist manifesto in 2017 proved that radical ideas of wealth redistribution, re-nationalisation of public assets like gas, electricity, water and railways and forcing big business and millionaires to pay more taxes were actually very popular policies. After nearly a decade of austerity cuts for the millions but tax cuts for the millionaires, many people wanted to see fairness and justice, not more of the same old Tory policies designed to serve the wealthy and powerful. In England and Wales, the increase in the Labour share of the vote was the biggest since 1945.
For years Corbyn had been attacked as being anti-British, anti-monarchy, anti-business and anti-Semitic. Labour battled accusations of anti-Semitism for over two years. Accusations of hostility toward Jews had riven Labour since left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians, became party leader in 2015. In 2009, Corbyn called Hezbollah and Hamas his friends, adding that the Hamas is “an organization that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about peace and social justice.”
Nine lawmakers quit the party, citing the leadership's handling of anti-Semitism in the ranks as well as its Brexit stance as their reason for leaving. Corbyn's opponents say criticism of Israel by some Labour members — especially those who joined after Corbyn took the helm — had strayed over the line into anti-Semitism and claim the party has not taken the issue seriously.
Labour Party was in turmoil after a television documentary renewed allegations 10 July 2019 that anti-Semitism is rife within its ranks. In the Panorama program on BBC, former staff members of the party recounted receiving anti-Semitic abuse and alleged that senior party officials interfered in complaint investigations.
The reputation of the Labour Party “has been shredded by a Hard Left establishment that has proven apparently incapable of addressing the endemic racism within. Their reign must be quickly and efficiently ended,” Labour Against Anti-Semitism, an internal party group, wrote in a statement following the airing of the show.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said anti-Semitism was “a sickness in our party” that had to be dealt with. Watson told the BBC there was a feeling “that there's almost a permissive culture that people can use anti-Jewish, racist language both in our meetings and to each other on social media. And we've failed to address that properly.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission began a probe of Labour in early 2019.
According to quantitative research, the 500,000 strong membership of the Labour Party are less likely to be anti-Semitic than members of the Tory Party or the general public and anti-Semitic views have actually reduced substantially within the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Less than 1% of Labour Party members are subject to anti-Semitism complaints.
Labour in 2019
In 2019 a YouGov poll surveyed some 1,100 grassroots members of the UK Labour Party against the backdrop of Party infighting and Brexit turmoil. The survey was commissioned by Ian Austin led Mainstream, formed to campaign against political extremism. Austin, who quit the party in February and now sits as an independent, said: “The party of today is not the one I grew up in. It has been consumed by a culture of extremism and intolerance. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become a safe haven for antisemites. Those who have taken a stand against this corrosive evil within have been intimidated and even driven from the party but we will not be silenced.”
Fewer than 30 percent of Labour members blame Islamic terror groups for attacks in the UK. And 29 percent mostly blamed Daesh* and Al-Qaeda for jihadist terrorist attacks on British soil with 40 percent saying they felt both sides were equally to blame and 28 percent chiefly blaming the UK and her allies. They also blame Britain, rather than the IRA, for terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland. Some 32 percent of respondents blame the British government for atrocities in the Troubles such as the bombings in Warrington and Birmingham, with only 27 percent blaming the IRA.
A huge 70 percent of those polled agreed with getting rid of Britain’s nuclear weapons. The UK conducted its first nuclear test on 3 October 1952, with the British delivery method sea based, through Trident submarines. On other issues, 15 percent described themselves as “proud” of British history with 43 percent saying they are “ashamed,” while 62 percent said Britain ought to become a republic.
The original part constitution, written by members of the Fabian Society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1917, committed Labour to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". The British Labour Party decided in 2019 to get back to basics and revise changes in the party's constitution made by former leader Tony Blair in 1995 when he moved away from a commitment for the nationalisation of the "commanding heights" of the economy as one of the party's primary goals. The national executive committee (NEC) of the party, controlled by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, ordered the creation of a working group to examine the changes.
Clause IV of the Labour constitution originally stated : "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Blair replaced this aim with "a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs".
If approved, the nationalisation may be applied to major industries such as coal, steel, telecommunications and railways, as well as the Bank of England and principal utilities.
In 2019 Labour had a leadership which, in addition to being pro-working class and pro-poor, was solidly anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-racist. A left Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, would constitute an unprecedented opportunity for the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements. It would put their ideas at the heart of government. And what’s more, these positions are backed up by the bulk of the membership. When Labour had sided with imperialism, it has been following a path of class collaboration.
The present leadership team had a well-known record of opposing imperialist wars. Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell are among the very small handful of MPs that loudly stood up against war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya and in Syria. Jeremy Corbyn has been a prominent member - Chair for several years - of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception in 2001. He’s been involved with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for decades. All three of them have supported progressive movements and governments in Latin America - in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. They’re longstanding supporters of Irish unity and self-determination - a key anti-colonial litmus test for the British left.
Corbyn was an energetic campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. The three of them are lifelong campaigners against racism. They oppose NATO, they oppose nuclear weapons. A left Labour government would do everything it could with Iran to defuse tensions, to avoid war, to oppose sanctions, and to bring all parties back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It would work to reduce tensions with Russia. It would oppose regime change efforts in Venezuela. It would be much less likely to take aggressive action against Syria or Korea. It would pursue fair and balanced relationships with Africa, Asia, Latin America.
Labour’s membership had increased over 2.5-fold since 2015. It is the largest political party in Western Europe. And anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist policies are popular at the grassroots level. Even many of the trade unions are starting to shift in the direction of class struggle, and that means shifting in a direction of internationalism, breaking out from the ideological umbrella of the ruling class and taking up a position of solidarity with the workers and oppressed peoples of the world.
Labour went into the election with a powerful manifesto - a set of commitments that would have made life significantly better for millions of people, a platform from which to develop a peace-oriented multilateral foreign policy, a Green New Deal that could turn Britain into a trailblazer in the global fight against climate breakdown. Had Labour emerged victorious from the elections, the British government would have been led by some of the most consistent socialists in the country’s history; people who have fought against all types of discrimination and injustice their whole lives; people who taken the side of the oppressed and challenged the elite; people who have stood in solidarity with Palestine, Ireland, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.
Corbynism differed from ‘Old Labour’ specifically in its internationalism, in its opposition to wars, in its rejection of empire nostalgia, and in its consistent fight against racism, sexism and homophobia. This is what made Labour in its new incarnation qualitatively different.
Labour lost 60 seats and the Conservatives ended up with an overall majority of 80 seats (in spite of only having increased its vote share by 1.2 percent). It didn’t taken Tony Blair long to offer his opinion as to how Labour’s fortunes can be improved: “The takeover of the Labour party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government… Corbyn personified politically an idea, a brand, of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to western foreign policy. This never has appealed to traditional Labour voters, never will appeal to them, and represented for them a combination of misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting.”
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|