Keir Starmer’s chief concern in his new mini-manifesto, The Road Ahead, is to persuade capitalists that he is on their side.
The text is full of anxious flattery for the “brilliant, innovative private sector”. In Starmer-thought, government, by contrast, can aspire only to be “modern, efficient”.
Even on climate change, Starmer sees “the private sector racing ahead”, just waiting for government to be more “efficient” and “catch up”. In reality, as Labour Party conference 2010 recognised, and we hope this conference reaffirms, we can mitigate and adapt to climate change only by overturning the capitalist priority of private profit, and replacing it as the yardstick by long-term social and natural welfare.
And workers? Oh, them. In Stormer-world, they can be “hard-working” and then hope for a “fair day’s wage” and their employer to keep to “the rules”. That’s all. In Starmer-world, unlike the real world, workers can’t be “brilliant” or “innovative”. Our role is humble salt-of-the-earth diligence at our jobs and at caring for our families and neighbours.
In capitalism, on the whole, and with exceptions, the more arduous a job, the worse the pay and conditions. The way to redress that and really “level up” is through workers’ trade-union organisation and laws setting minimum standards. Starmer’s text is more detailed on a “new deal for working people” than on anything else. The greater detail makes the omissions stand out more. Nothing about repealing anti-trade-union laws, the Thatcher ones or even the Trade Union Act 2016. Nothing about banning zero-hours contracts. Nothing about increasing sick pay to European levels.
The schmalz about “hard-working” workers and our families begs many questions. What about children, the elderly, the impaired, the sick, and the jobless, who can’t “work hard” for an employer? What about those who choose to work shorter or less arduous hours in order to care for others, or because we value free time?
About the only reference to Brexit is the claim that “the painful debates about leaving the EU are over”. Not even the Tories believe that. They are trying to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol before it is even brought into force, and look like easing entry for EU workers. Britain’s relations with Europe will be a sore issue for decades to come. Labour should press consistently for lower barriers and closer links.
The failure even to mention Labour Party conference policies runs through the text. It’s a manifesto which says: First of all, I want to woo capitalists. I must promise a few things for workers, because I need trade-union support, but I’ll keep them bland.
It’s wretched. We need to turn things round so that the Labour leaders become more concerned about what will serve and win support from workers, less concerned about what will placate capitalists.