Labour leader Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves on their way to back big business (Picture: Keir Starmer on Flickr)

The speeches and decisions at Labour Party conference in Liverpool this week made clear its leaders want to win the backing of bosses and business. 

With Union Jacks plastering its stage, Labour continued buddying up with corporations and banks such as Barclays and Mastercard.  Coupled with the corporate sponsorship, Labour leaders showed they won’t be on the side of ordinary people. 

On Monday shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves wouldn’t commit to lowering taxes for ordinary people. “I’m not going to play fast and loose with the public finances and make any promises I won’t be able to keep,” she said. 

She had already  ruled out a wealth tax on the rich. Reeves also wouldn’t commit to renationalising energy or interfering with capitalist priorities.

Instead, her solution is to look for “partnership” with big business.  Her relentless message of economic growth is in reality a determination to create the conditions to persuade bosses to invest.

Last Sunday deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said she would “stare right back” at the Tories “looking down” on council tenants. 

Rayner claimed Labour would deliver “the biggest boost to affordable and social housing for a generation”. To do this, Labour will “reform the planning system”. 

It plans to persuade developers and profit-seeking builders to produce 1.5 million new homes over five years. This leaves the market to decide and is based on the sort of trickle-down fallacies that have utterly failed ordinary people.

Labour should have proposed a mass council house building and action on rents.

And instead of coming up with a viable plan to save the NHS, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting hopes health workers will sign up for more overtime and weekend working. This is supposed to clear the backlog and waiting lists.

That’s an insult to NHS staff who already do vast amounts of unpaid overtime. And if he does extract  more hours from existing staff then it increase the punishing stress and overwork that already exist. 

It’s empty to talk abut solving the NHS crisis without backing the strikes by doctors and other workers. Labour refuses to support the BMA union’s demands.

But there was support for boosting Britain’s imperial presence.  John Healey, shadow defence secretary, said Labour would “accelerate” the £2 billion arms shipments to Ukraine. 

And shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said he would reconnect Britain with “security and prosperity”. There were more signs that Labour in government will confront workers and unions. 

Lord Peter Mandelson is a former cabinet minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and unofficial adviser to Starmer. 

He said that Labour shouldn’t “tilt too far” towards the unions and must not reintroduce workers’ rights that will upset bosses.

Labour must make some promises to be different to the Tories to win the nest election. But at every step it shows it will not be fundamentally different.

World Transformed festival fails to come up with an alternative

Left activists restated their commitment to remaining in the Labour Party at the World Transformed festival, held in Liverpool at the same time as the Labour Party conference. 

In sessions on imperialism, racism, strategy and strikes, there wasn’t much outrage at how Keir Starmer had dragged Labour rightwards.  Instead the focus was campaigning together and fighting the Tories. 

Then once Labour is in government, the goal is to push Starmer’s government leftwards. 

One attendee, a Labour councillor, told Socialist Worker, “Things that are done at the top level of the party are not done in my name. My desperate hope is that policies will change once Labour is in.

“That’s why I say to people don’t leave—inside we can still make meaningful change.”  But not all attendees were happy to wait. 

After a session on refugees one woman said, “We can’t wait for Labour to get in. We need these campaigns to start challenging the Labour Party now.” In meetings about strikes, people rightly spoke about needing grassroots networks. 

And there was discussion about still having to fight and strike under a Labour government. But this plan saw strikes as primarily a way to win votes, not as the central method of struggle. 

Overall some felt that Starmer might be a price worth paying for Labour to enter Downing Street. 

One attendee told Socialist Worker, “Corbyn was absolutely brilliant, but he was never electable—we won’t get a government elected on a left-wing platform.  “Starmer is vile, but he’s electable. We need Starmer in, then when he’s on his knees, we can replace him.”

The councillor added that Starmer wants to “distance himself from the left. He wants to show that the days of Corbyn are over,” she said.

This is the logic of labourism, that sees parliament and elections as the crucial arena of struggle.  The battering the left has taken inside Labour—often with hardly any response—should make clear that Starmer won’t be listening to socialists if he’s prime minister.

The hope for the left and socialism is to fight for real change on the streets and in the workplaces—not through the manoeuvres inside Labour.

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