The future of UK Labour and what it means for Aotearoa

Written By: - Date published: 10:09 am, April 2nd, 2024 - 55 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, Keir Starmer, labour, Left, uk politics - Tags:

Over in the United Kingdom it is clear the Conservative Government is on its last legs.

There are predictions that not only will it lose power but there are some suggestions that the loss could be catastrophic, with the party winning fewer than 100 seats and even the Prime Minister Richi Sunak being under threat.

From the Guardian:

The Conservatives are on course for their worst election result, winning fewer than 100 seats, according to a new poll.

The seat-by-seat analysis gives the Tories 98 constituencies compared with Labour’s 468, giving Sir Keir Starmer a 286-seat majority, the Sunday Times has reported.

The 15,000-person poll, conducted by agency Survation on behalf of Best for Britain, gives Labour a 45% vote share with a 19-point lead over the Conservatives.

Rishi Sunak’s party is on track to win 98 seats with none in Scotland or Wales, according to the research. It also suggests the prime minister is at risk of losing his own constituency, the new Richmond & Northallerton seat in North Yorkshire, to Labour with his lead less than 2.5 percentage points.

A brief review of the history shows clearly the reasons for the Conservative Party’s plunge in support.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility Brexit has been a disaster. Who can forget Boris Johnson’s leadership duing Covid where an inept response caused many unnecessary deaths. Or Partygate where he breached well published rules and then deliberately misled Parliament over what had happened. Or the short yet destructuve rule of Liz Truss which led directly to the UK economy crashing because of doctrinaire commitment to tax cuts for the wealthy?

Richi Sunak has stopped the bleeding of support. But clearly the past few years have caused more than a flesh wound to the Conservative Government.

To confuse things however Keir Starmer has tacked Labour to the right.

I don’t know why he thinks this is strategically let alone morally a good thing to do. But refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to stop Israel’s genocide of Palestinians has surprisingly not gone down very well with activists. And backtracks on green investment and the mistreatment of former leader Jeremy Corbyn and former front bencher Diane Abbott have seen a bleeding of membership. Under Corbyn in 2019 the membership was 532,000. The latest figure suggests that it is now 366,000 and that numbers have declined by nearly 24,000 in the past couple of months.

This is jaw dropping.

And the drop is not only because of people leaving in disgust. There has also been an active program of getting rid of members who think the Labour Party should actually be a left wing party.

From the Guardian:

Four in five Labour members back Keir Starmer and believe he will win a majority at the next election, according to private polling that shows the transformation of the party’s grassroots.

Two polls shared with the Guardian demonstrate how the composition of Labour’s membership has changed since Starmer was elected leader in April 2020.

Since then his advisers have embarked on a mission to change the party, starting with the proscription of several far-left groups that had been supportive of Jeremy Corbyn.

“There has absolutely been a deliberate strategy to change the membership,” one Labour official said. “The proscription of those groups was absolutely key because it sent a message that if you’re in any way affiliated with them, this is not the party for you.”

The United Kingdom’s first past the post system clearly gives the major parties considerable extra power. Unlike New Zealand under MMP disaffected members have nowhere really to go.

But this particular approach is converting Labour into nothing more than a franchise with some historical good vibes being used by those with little appreciation of its raison d’être but seeking to maximise their power.

And diminishing your membership means that you are more and more reliant on donations from wealthy benefactors, most of which are designed to maximise access and affect policies to their benefit.

Give me a mass membership noisy passionate and sometimes unpredictable movement any time.

I appreciate that careerist politicians think that their position should entitle them to a career.

But us activists are not interested in giving them privilege.

They are given the benefit of our support to do a job. If they are unable or unwilling to do this job then they should seek alternative employment. And make way for others that will do their best to advance the progressive cause and make the world a better place.

I suspect that Starmer will be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and lead a labour lite Goverment which will be a pale immitation of its predecessors. New Zealand Labour should not think that this is a blueprint of what will work here in Aotearoa.

55 comments on “The future of UK Labour and what it means for Aotearoa ”

  1. Rose 1

    It gets worse. This from the BBC.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-lancashire-68707225

    Sounds like the UK Labour Party wants centralised control. Now where have we seen them try that before?

  2. mike 2

    good idea to put the boot in before they've even been elected.

    can anyone imagine that happening on the other greedy and incompetent side?

    who needs an opposition when we can provide a home grown one for ourselves?

    • mickysavage 2.1

      I don't think that criticism in the Standard in Aotearoa will adversely affect in any way UK Labour's chances.

    • James Simpson 2.2

      Because we should always call our government to account and push them to be courageous. Especially when they fail to do things that they promised to do or when they fail to do things we would expect of a left wing government.

      In a democracy it is our role to be critical of, and to challenge the government, regardless of who that government is.

      A left leaning government shouldn't get a free pass from us, simply because they are from our side. This isn't a sport where we simply cheer them on.

      In fact I'd go further and say our voices should be loudest when our side is in government. A right wing government will ignore our opposition, but it is my hope that a left wing government will react to what we have to say.

  3. Nic the NZer 3

    I think it should be made more clear that the Labour party move to remove left wing members is synonymous with the anti-semitism allegations. This suggests one of the basis for Starmer's extremely politically clumsy support of Israel is to maintain the narrative that the anti-semitism purge was justified. However its become clear enough to state in public that the main difference between those party members targeted and not targeted was their left or center politics, with the goal of purging the left candidates from the party. It should also be understood that if Starmer takes a public position against Israel then the same influence who smeared his opponents could probably destroy his reputation.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    Starmer is almost guaranteed to be the next UK PM. Unfortunately, he is a chinless wonder who entirely inhabits the narrow fantasyland of Westminster lobby politics.

    The most likely character of a Starmer government will be an ineffectual, tinkering Tory lite administration – a soi-disant social democratic party more interested in policing the remnants of the Corbyn left than effective government and one with no answers to the deep and systemic problems facing a post-North Sea oil, deindustrialised and massively unequal United Kingdom.

    My prediction is all a Starmer administration will achieve is to finally discredit democracy as an engine of change in the eyes of the UK electorate and to be swept aside in five years by a far-right, authoritarian Conservative party remodelled by someone like Suella Bravermann in the image of Hungary's Fidesz.

    The big worry for me though is the outsized influence UK politics seems to hold on NZ politicians imaginations. Luxon and Willis are clearly inspired by Osborne and Cameron, and I fear the biggest lesson Hipkins will take from Starmer's sleepwalk to victory is to reassure himself that simply being a small target and not being the other lot will work as an electoral formula for NZ Labour as well – despite the 2023 defeat saying otherwise.

    • SPC 4.1

      All somewhat so, but 5 years of Labour government rather than a continuation of the status quo is a short term good.

      The objective is to state clearly that the UK circumstance is poor and the problem requires a long term fix (two terms minimum) by those who not make the mess.

      People before the economy – well being budgets etc.

      And bravely bringing in electoral reform – preferential voting in electorates (50% to win) and SM seats (0.8% for one party list seat – 120 of those). As I recommended to Tony Blair in 1998 (only Jenkins seemed to get it).

      • Sanctuary 4.1.1

        FPP will not be replaced under Starmer, all the increasingly ridiculous and anachronistic political trappings of British power like the bloated monarchy will be retained. Even reform of the House of Lords is certainly a bridge to far for Starmer, because the HOL is too useful as a pay off for friendly political operatives to reform. Arise, Lord Akehurst of Haifa, etc etc etc.

        Whatever you thought of Corbyn and his policies his destruction at the hands of an united establishment where Oxbridge liberals at the Guardian joined hands with the far-right smear merchants of the Daily Mail to see off the insurgency says the most important thing for the London ruling elites maintaining their status and privileges is far, far, far, far more important than doing anything that might help reversing the UK's decline.

        • SPC 4.1.1.1

          One the current decline path Northern Ireland will join Eire (higher GDP, a better passport and no EU border issues). Continuance of the existing co-rule arrangement within Eire might well be enough to secure consent.

          Starmer should adopt a flexible approach on referendums – allow the people to decide by choice of passport (when a majority have Irish passports the area transfers to Eire).

          And Scotland could well join the EU.

          Starmer would be wise to form an English parliament as a repository of its nationalism apart from the Commons of the UK government, it is the failure to do this that led to Brexit.

          That and progressive government that improved well being for the people might keep the island of Britain united, that and constructive relationship with the EU – as its reliable defence partner.

    • Rose 4.2

      In Starmer there is an acknowledgment that in most western democracies the majority oscillate around the centre. When there is a desire for change there might be slight movement to the right (as in NZ) or a slight movement to the left (as there will be in the UK.) Generally there is no desire in the majority to sharp left or sharp right. And there in lies the challenge for Hipkins / his successor. Does he seek to out left TPM or the Greens with more extreme wack policies or seek a path back to power with a continuation of the left / right tinkering we’ve had in NZ since 1984?

      • Sanctuary 4.2.1

        This comment is nonsense, have you even studied UK politics since the GFC?

        The Tories have retained power not by an appeal to the centre but with divide and rule via series of culture war distractions. Brexit, immigration, transphobia, Islamaphobia, cancel culture, "woke" etc etc etc. The big reason the Tories are now facing electoral catastrophe is their increasingly desperate attempts to use the levers of culture war to save them are no longer working or are actively backfiring because after 14 years, they've run out of people to blame.

        Starmer will sleepwalk to victory on the back of an exhausted, corrupt and distracted Tory party so bereft of answers that even the Murdoch press can no longer defend them. Starmer's polcy proscriptions, such as they are, amount to the weakest manifesto in modern times. Under Starmer, labour has been gutted of any vision or mission and it exists almost entirely as a vehicle for the Byzantine ambitions of the Labour right – they'll do nothing of substance in power and then once they lose in 2030 they'll all fuck off to the House of Lords and various private sector sinecures where their supine lack of activity will be amply rewarded by the UK plutocracy.

        • Rose 4.2.1.1

          have you even studied UK politics since the GFC?

          Yes, extensively.

        • Dolomedes III 4.2.1.2

          You have serious problems with reality if you actually believe that the Tories have stayed in government by "divide and rule via series of culture war distractions". The 21st century British Tories – much like the 21st century NZ National Party – has been reluctant to fight the culture war. Despite their mediocrity and rudderless confusion, they've stayed in power for yonks mainly because UK Labour has been in even worse shape. Hysterical outbursts by the likes of Angela Rayner haven't helped. And Brexit wasn't a culture-war move by the Tories – have you already forgotten that pig-lover David Cameron called for a referendum on Brexit to silence the eurosceptic faction in his party, because he was confident of a "remain" outcome?

          What other "culture war distractions" you have in mind? Efforts to stop illegal immigration? Surely that's a reasonable and necessary objective. Telling UK universities they must allow freedom of expression on campus? And what is this "transphobia" you allege? Shutting down a clinic that was mutilating and de-sexing vulnerable young people? What would you say to Keira Bell about "culture war distractions"?

          You're right about one thing at least – Keir Starmer is indeed a chinless wonder. Though curiously you failed to mention two notorious examples of his chinlessness – his craven “taking of the knee”, and his prolonged difficulty in deciding what a woman is.

      • Drowsy M. Kram 4.2.2

        Does he seek to out left TPM or the Greens with more extreme wack policies…

        More extreme wack policies, eh – such as a wealth tax or universal free dental care?

        All depends on your PoV – if one prefers the self-serving pro-feudal mindset of the landLord class, then NAct pollies are your go-to guys. Make hay while the sun shines on spaceship Earth – global warming and ecosystem collapse are not their ‘problem’.

        Gareth Vaughan on the RBNZ's competition reticence, landlordism & the housing crisis, Biden's crisis management blueprint, SWIFT & CBDCs, Germany's €23b green experiment [31 March 2024]
        Where Adam Smith and Karl Marx found common ground was in the idea that everyone’s interests are aligned against landlords: they are an economic deadweight. Even if we leave aside the appalling conditions and precarity that private renters face, anyone with an interest in lower taxes, lower wage bills and increasing the number of first-time buyers must equally be interested in smashing the private rented sector to bits. Homebuyers are now forced to compete with landlords, who chase sensational yields in our unregulated rental market, and £85.6bn a year (which comes, of course, from wages and taxes) is wasted on rent. A renewed collapse of landlordism would represent not just the tenants’ revenge for the housing crisis, but a much broader and more valuable moment of social progress.

        Bano has a book out. It's called Against Landlords: How to Solve the Housing Crisis. I imagine ACT leader and impending Deputy Prime Minister David Seymour won't be reading it. It was Seymour, after all, who upon the Coalition Government's formation declared they'd be restoring landlords' dignity.

        Restoring landLords' 'dignity' laugh That's a good one – one day early.

          • KJT 4.2.2.1.1

            In other words aiming towards it while developing capability is definately possible. And I suspect, would have majority support.

            Unfortunately NACT do not do "building capability"!

            • Traveller 4.2.2.1.1.1

              If the policy was truly for 'universal free dental care’, it is bats. No amount of 'developing capability' can hide that.

          • Drowsy M. Kram 4.2.2.1.2

            Just a matter of funding 'prioralties' smiley – oral health vs welfare for landLords.

            Well, yeah.

            Yeah, well – and good (oral) health to you too.

            Greens' free dental care policy doesn't go far enough – expert
            [7 Aug 2023]
            NZDA chief executive Dr Mo Amso told Breakfast he welcomed the Greens' policy for "getting the conversation going", calling it "a long time coming".

            "They have identified as well that there are other barriers to accessing dental care," he said.

            "They're tackling the biggest barrier, which is cost. But they also, in their policy, recognise that there are other barriers such as rurality, where you live, that can significantly determine whether you can access dental care or not."

            However, Amso said the policy doesn't go far enough to address long sought after public health initiatives around disease prevention, sugar reduction, water fluoridation in schools and other social barriers to accessing care.

            He said there was an "undeniable link" between people's overall well-being and their oral health.

            Single-step move to universal dental care cost-prohibitive – Grant Robertson [15 Nov 2022]
            The [Labour] government is under renewed pressure to invest heavily in dental care after a report found treatment was so expensive some people were resorting to pulling out their own teeth.

            The Tooth be told report, commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said free or subsidised access to dental care in Aotearoa would save millions of dollars in healthcare over time.

            The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

            But even a single step would be too much for some – unless there’s a buck in it.

            • Traveller 4.2.2.1.2.1

              "Just a matter of funding 'prioralties' smiley – oral health vs welfare for landLords."

              No, just a matter of not wanting to waste money give welfare to the wealthy.

              "Universal dental care is a nice thought, but I don't think that is something that is achievable and don't think that is something a Government would be willing to fork out."

              Dr Russell said a targeted, subsidised approach would make a "huge difference to a lot of people's lives".

              Free dental care for all 'absolutely not possible', NZ Dental Association says (1news.co.nz)

              • Drowsy M. Kram

                No, just a matter of not wanting to waste money give welfare to the wealthy.

                Agreed, wealthy Kiwis get plenty of welfare, and our self-serving CoC govt is bent on serving them so much more.

                Your 1NEWS link (“absolutely not possible“) is over 4 years old – for a more up-to-date view of the NZDA's position, try this link – it’s not too taxing.

                Greens' free dental care policy doesn't go far enough – expert
                [7 Aug 2023]
                NZDA chief executive Dr Mo Amso told Breakfast he welcomed the Greens' policy for "getting the conversation going", calling it "a long time coming".

                "They have identified as well that there are other barriers to accessing dental care," he said.

                "They're tackling the biggest barrier, which is cost. But they also, in their policy, recognise that there are other barriers such as rurality, where you live, that can significantly determine whether you can access dental care or not."

                However, Amso said the policy doesn't go far enough to address long sought after public health initiatives around disease prevention, sugar reduction, water fluoridation in schools and other social barriers to accessing care.

                He said there was an "undeniable link" between people's overall well-being and their oral health.

                • Traveller

                  Some of that I agree with. What I don't agree with is the government (AKA the taxpayer) paying for oral health measures for vast swathes of the population who can afford to take care of themselves.

                  Edit: If universal free dental care was ‘absolutely not possible’ in 2020, how can it be possible in 2024?

  5. Ad 5

    New Zealand's Labour has just gone through a massive year of disruption and key personnel loss, and electoral loss, and loss of power.

    So my warning to every Labour member reading this is simple:

    Keep your Party membership current. Because you may well have to pick a side and deselect poor performing MPs, and get in better candidates. For that you need valid membership.

    Not a moment to do an Anderton. But we may need to roll the shit ones.

    They work for us.

    • Adrian 5.1

      It may be a lot sooner than we think, there are so many stressors in the structure that keeps the three together, that one death or severe illness or an episode of truly bizarre behavior may be enough to pull it apart.

    • mac1 5.2

      And if you're not a member, join. Even join another party if Labour does not fit, but join and be involved. Get into policy, candidate selection, fundraising, door-knocking, phoning, hoardings, be a secretary or treasurer, or whatever.

      Meet interesting people. Drink good fundraising wine (I just bought some today!). Sing songs into the small hours with your fellow lefties (we have the best songs).

      Just as in drama societies there are all sorts of roles to play. Take a part else you stay only in the audience and have no say in what is actually staged.

    • Darien Fenton 5.3

      Yes but we also need to look at who is already coming through and celebrate that despite Labour's smash defeat, we have MPs like Barb Edmonds, Aeysha Verrall, Camilla Belich, Willow-Jean Prime, to mention just a few of the smart younger women, in particular. Tangi Utikere is no slouch and nor is Kieran McAnulty. I don't know who the "shit" MPs are but opposition is a good time to hone skills and take the government on. Labour needs to get more MPs and you are right, selections will be important, as will policy processes, which are happening right now.

  6. Mike the Lefty 6

    Things might not be quite as rosy as they appear for Labour.

    Note the astonishing victory for the left George Galloway in the recent Rochdale by-election, which Labour should have won in a canter.

    The Brits have rightfully had an absolute gutsful of those useless self serving Tories but that's the only time UK Labour win.

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    Mike the Lefty is right, George Galloway may not be everyones fave, but he has principles and sticks to them with good results recently from a large Muslim vote.

    NZ Labour needs to make a grovelling apology to the NZ working class for fucking their lives for the last 40 years and then move on to being a 21st century version of social democracy…that works in with TPM and Greens.

    • Grey Area 7.1

      I agree with the second bit TM. Not going to happen though.

      • Tiger Mountain 7.1.1

        Heh, you are probably right GA, but…nothing ever happens if you do not raise a demand…

        I just hope enough new gens get politically aware and active.

    • Belladonna 7.2

      Principles like these ones?

      This other election address, targeting a different demographic, tells another story. It trumpets Galloway’s record of backing Brexit, opposing Scottish independence and supporting family values. A whole paragraph is dedicated to outlining his opposition to transgender rights and his conviction that “God creates everything in pairs”. “I believe in law and order,” the letter reads. “There will be no grooming gangs in Rochdale. Even if I have to arrest them myself.” It ends with a deliberate nod to Donald Trump, promising to “make Rochdale great again”. Alienated white voters were a key part of Galloway’s winning coalition.

      https://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2024/mar/03/writing-off-george-galloway-ignores-his-dangerous-appeal-to-both-far-left-and-right

      • Nic the NZer 7.2.1

        Guardian on message for Rishi Sunak already? Apparently Sunak went on TV on the day of Galloway's election to announce he was dangerous, so dangerous in fact that he was quite able to greet him normally around parliament later that day (according to Galloway).

  8. Binders full of women 8

    It's been 47 years since UK elected a PM not called Blair so the choice is obvious. Tack to the centre and win. Ditch the ee up by gum tards. What can labour here learn? Prob nothing…unable to connect with poor and workers.

  9. Ad 9

    Labour in the UK and in NZ could do worse than to go back to the Marmot report that Labour UK commissioned, which set out six areas to reduce inequality for people:

    https://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review

    Pot holes and tax breaks for landlords didn't make an appearance.

  10. Res Publica 10

    I think the problem faced by just about every left (or center-left) party in every democracy is that the culture wars perpetrated by the right post GFC have left the electorate angry and exquisitely aware of the inequities generated by unbridled capitalism, but at the same time viciously distrustful of the state.

    We're boxed in by angry populism on one flank, and the popular perception as the left as being worse at managing the economy on the other.

    One potential solution is what UK Labour is attempting successfully (with a generous dollop of help from the Tories): accept those constraints, avoid spooking the horses, and hope the other side fucks up enough to have a shot.

    Another is to take some risks, make a clear and compelling case for an alternative, then actually deliver. Which is something NZ Labour categorically failed to do over the last 6 years, and which UK Labour no doubt will stumble over.

    However, option B requires solid, pragmatic, progressive policy, a desire and ability to judge and take political risks, and a sufficiently charismatic leader to sell these policies to the electorate.

    TLDR; insipid, incremental mumblefuckery might occasionally win you an election every 9-12 years. But only bold, brave, root-and-branch reform will actually change the world. And we can only pick one.

  11. Michael 11

    "New Zealand Labour should not think that this is a blueprint of what will work here in Aotearoa."

    That is precisely what NZ Labour's apparatchiks will think. All they need to do is sit back, watch the wheels fall of the Nactzi threesome and walk back into the Beehive following a snap election. BAU with the PSA firmly in charge of the agenda.

  12. Darien Fenton 12

    bit late commenting here ; I agree on the surface Keir Starmer's language feels very National lite. But delve a bit deeper into their policy please : eg this "New Deal for working people". Looks pretty good to me.

    https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/New-Deal-for-Working-People-Green-Paper.pdf

  13. " Give me a mass membership noisy passionate and sometimes unpredictable movement any time "

    Unless they are making noise on here then you get rid of them

    Your a hypocrite and a sell out !

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