Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party was built as a mass movement of the left, anti-austerity movements, based in the unions, the young and our diverse communities. Brexit and a hostile media combined to derail its electoral success in 2019, but in 2017 it was the largest Socialist party in Europe and 12,874,985 people voted for its radical and popular manifesto.
From 2017 onwards the left was successful in taking control of the party’s structures and used its influence to ensure the selection and election of some excellent candidates who now represent their communities in Westminster and local government. The party campaigned locally and nationally and drew thousands of new supporters to rallies, demonstrations, picket lines and meetings.
The 2017 and 2019 manifestos were drafted and informed by Unite’s industrial and political strategy. That radical legacy is partially set out in Starmer’s leadership ten core policy pledges. These gains are a commitment to common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water, an end to outsourcing in the NHS, local government and the justice system, an end to benefit sanctions, repeal of the Trade Union Act, abolition of the House of Lords and promotion of equalities.
Starmer’s unnecessarily provocative decision to suspend Corbyn is of course a blow to the left, and anger from within the mass membership is to be expected. But the startling incompetence and cronyism of the Tory government is plain to see, and this is not the time to indulge in factional infighting or mass resignations.
The health crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic is on the cusp of turning into an economic depression of a depth not seen since the thirties with mass unemployment and economic stagnation. Capitalism’s inequalities are in the spotlight and class, race and region are determinative of whether you must choose between your livelihood and a home or your life. This is the time to be at the table negotiating our demands for fair support for those thrown out of work, the sick, and those under the threat of being made homeless from our leaders not shouting from the side lines.
It is the time for Unions and the party to come together to plan for alternative economic models for work and social care. Dividing the Labour movement now is playing into the hands of the Tories. It is a massive distraction from their failure to manage the Covid crisis, prepare any working plan for Brexit or to save the economy. We do not have time to build another mass party of labour. History since the 80’s is littered with defunct breakaway groupings that achieved very little.
Starmer’s desire to deal with antisemitism has led to heavy-handed treatment of good colleagues Long-Bailey and Corbyn. This has understandably caused anger and frustration from their friends and allies. However, both of them have supported the call to stay with Labour and fight, as have the leaders of seven Labour affilitated trade unions, including Unite’s Len McCluskey.
Mass left membership has changed the party and its policies, and that mass membership will not allow a return to the failed “centralism” of Kinnock.
As members we have a duty to stay and fight to support those people we encouraged to stand to represent our class and to carry on with transformative ideas. We owe that to the millions who voted for and campaigned for the party.
We need to stay to use the party’s structures as a platform to continue to campaign for socialist policies and a Labour Government. It is about the next five years, not the last.
Brentford and Isleworth CLP
Chair of Unite London & Eastern Women’s Committee