By Arun Srivastava
Ahead of the British Labour Party conference this weekend, many are hoping for resolution of the inner party crisis surrounding Jeremy Corbyn. The conference scheduled to be held on September 25 would witness a magic leader’s speech to turn the tide overnight. This has gained immense importance as the party has been consistently losing support base under Keir Starmer.
Labour is still three percentage points behind the Tories. It was hoped that Starmer would restore trust in the traditional supporters but it does not appear to be taking place.
Keir Starmer polling well below Boris Johnson has remained relatively unknown, voters are still vague on who he is and what he stands for. The Labour’s challenges to Johnson’s policies remain unknown and unnoticed. If Johnson has turned politics into a game show, the Labour is not on the dance floor. Labour has been found imperfect where the economy bites deep into pockets, with wages falling behind inflation and the cost of food rising.
Political earthquakes do happen. But waiting for a national disaster is a bad look. Labour is doing the same. Voters have yet to decide if Labour is a safe emergency service to rescue the country. Starmer is yet to put house in order. The cost of living is increasing and many are indignant that tax rises have fallen on working people, not the rich.
In his recent speech at the Trades Union Congress, Starmer pledged secure jobs, an end to zero-hours contracts and fire-and-rehire policies, £30bn for green jobs and an end to the freeze on key-worker pay. But the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is yet to define the roadmap.
The conference which runs from September 25 to 29, will be Starmer’s first proper conference since his election as leader. Despite Corbyn being reinstated as a member of the party last November, Starmer has declined to restore the whip meaning he will return to Brighton this weekend as an independent MP. The only success which Starmer has achieved is he has turned Corbyn from being the main event to the fringe event.
He is invited to at least five events in the Labour Party fringe programme and three at the The World Transformed – a parallel event linked to the Momentum campaign group which helped elect him leader.
On the final night of Labour conference, Corbyn is expected to take part in a rally alongside MPs from the Socialist Campaign Group – that includes a number of his former shadow cabinet. The panel from the Momentum leadership will discuss how they can strengthen the socialist movement and why the Labour party is still the best way of achieving it.
Starmer’s supporters are apprehensive that people in the audience may start singing Corbyn’s name during his conference speech. There was always a core that loved Jeremy whatever he does, there was always a core that hated him whatever he did. Nevertheless Starmer’s supporters claim that if Jeremy tries to damage conference in that way, a lot of people who supported him previously will be bitterly disappointed, because that would be a very un-Labour, and in Labour Party terms, un-comradely, thing to do. Ironically they do not say that it would manifest disapproval of the leadership of Starmer.
A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said: “Jeremy Corbyn is visiting Brighton to speak at a number of important events relating to this work as a prominent campaigner for peace and justice, including on the need to tackle climate change, lessons of 20 years of the ‘War on Terror’ and in defence of workers’ rights.”
Meanwhile Starmer’s team had faced a mounting backlash after the chair of Young Labour, Jess Barnard, complained she had been told Corbyn would not be allowed to speak at the group’s conference event. Labour sources said the Young Labour event was a formal part of Labour conference, and as such the speakers would have to be vetted separately.
Corbyn supporters had warned that Starmer must not create any problem for Jeremy. “He is a Labour member: he should be entitled to attend any meeting in the conference zone,” said Richard Burgon, the Leeds East MP who chairs the Socialist Campaign Group of leftwing MPs. He said; “If the leadership decided to bar him from the conference, they would be doing so as a provocative act towards the membership, hoping that more leftwing members leave”.
The annual conference is being billed as a chance for Starmer to relaunch his leadership and set out a clear picture of the direction he wants to take Labour. But he also faces challenge from the left of the party, who are increasingly open in their dismay at what they see as his abandonment of key elements of the Corbyn programme and sidelining of Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Events listed for activists at The World Transformed include “Do socialists need their own party?” and “How should the left engage with the Labour leadership?”.
Meanwhile sources maintain that Starmer in a discrete manner is contemplating not to allow Jeremy to attend the Brighton meet. Starmer is scared of the situation when the members would seek a clarification about his election pledges to retain policies developed by his predecessor, organisers said they hope to use this year’s event to “discuss and plan the future of the post-Corbyn left” and “channel the energy that emerged under Corbyn’s leadership”.
Left-wing Labour MP Zarah Sultana said: “Whether it’s deepening inequalities, racial injustice or climate breakdown – the major issues facing our society and our world today require nothing less than bold, transformative solutions. Every year The World Transformed provides a crucial space for activists from across the UK and beyond to discuss and debate socialist ideas, learn new skills and collectively shape the future of our movement. I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation at this year’s festival.”
Starmer is expected to re-open a bitter internal dispute just days ahead of his party’s conference. In a risky move, he will try to convince trade unions to back a plan to scrap the leadership rules which enabled predecessor Jeremy Corbyn to get elected. Currently grassroots members elect the leader – a system introduced by Ed Miliband. But Starmer wants to return to an “electoral college”, where ordinary Labour Party members would only account for a third of the votes in a future leadership contest.
Though Starmer has been striving hard to erase the image of Jeremy from the minds of the members, it is a paradox that he continues to instil fear in him. Those under left-wing leadership see the proposed rule changes as an attempt to “de-Corbynise” the party – reintroducing rules which gave MPs too much say at the expense of the members. In fact MPs have opposed Starmer’s move saying;”This proposal to reduce the membership to one third of the vote, while inflating the vote of Labour MPs, is unfair, undemocratic and a backwards step.”
Despite the promise to continue with the legacy of his predecessor, Keir Starmer’s first twelve months in office have been characterised by glaring attempts to distance his ‘new leadership’ from the last vestiges of Corbynism. The difference between Corbyn and Starmer becomes even more pronounced if one looks at internal party politics.
One of the most striking features of Labour Party politics during the years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was the recalcitrant lack of cooperation that he received from many Labour MPs, even after his remarkable success in the 2017 general election. Less than a year after a majority of them had tried and failed to remove him as Labour leader, Corbyn secured an outcome which almost every member of the parliamentary Labour Party had believed impossible under his leadership.
The fact is though the MPs represented Labour, they were against Left and did not subscribe Marxism. Even today the hostility of the leaders towards Corbyn owes much to this. Corbyn’s election as leader represented the most decisive leftward shift in the party’s history. (IPA Service)