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The tragic failure of New Labour

Imagine: I, your good friend Leo, walk up to you one day and say, “Hey, I’d like to make you some promises, and you can absolutely trust I will follow through on these because I am your good friend and you trust me.” Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the number of promises I made was ten. You would probably be pretty upset then if, very shortly afterwards, I reneged on a not-insubstantial number of these promises. 

For those who’ve been paying attention to Labour Party news over the last few years, it should be obvious that the fake, particularly treacherous version of myself I have invented for this story is a stand-in for Keir Starmer, current Labour leader and a solid contender for Least Inspiring Politician 2024. Since winning the Labour leadership elections in 2020  in large part due to his big ten pledges  Starmer has made shocking reversals on what was meant to be a staunchly left-wing agenda (one based on the “moral case for socialism,” to use his words). 

Removing the charitable status of private schools? Not happening. How about scrapping tuition fees? In the bin. Nationalising public services? Much too ambitious for Starmer. But surely he still plans to raise income tax on the highest earners? After all, that was the very first sentence of his very first pledge; and surely the main left-wing opposition party shouldn’t fear raising taxes to help fund ailing public services. Not according to Starmer! At this point, saying Starmer’s inconsistency is like clockwork would be unfair to clocks.

Unfortunately, I will now have to ‘pull a Starmer’ myself, so to speak. I referred to Starmer’s almost compulsive promise-breaking as ‘shocking’. The truth is that it is anything but. Since Labour’s thorough whooping at the hands of former Conservative PM and current resident of hell Margaret Thatcher, the party has taken a decidedly rightward shift. Labour has opted to accept the neoliberal framing of the Tories rather than pushing for any sort of left-wing solutions to the failures of social democracy  even as the glaring issues with neoliberal ideology made themselves disastrously apparent through soaring deficits and an even worse cost in human lives (a staggering 330,000 deaths according to a study from the University of Glasgow). 

For all of their successes, Labour leaders like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown failed to undo Thatcher’s devastating legacy in a misguided commitment towards ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘electability’, ideas whose strongest proponents are those who either fear or detest a better world than the one we live in; or check under their bed at night to make sure Maggie isn’t waiting to steal their warm glass of milk. It’s hard not to be angry looking back on New Labour’s legacy, and seeing them still continuing with this nonsense.

Thatcher is dead and gone; we can fight for good things now! Labour is not any more ‘electable’ or ‘responsible’ by abandoning its socialist beginnings in favour of a timid centrism; in fact, much of the data points the other way. UK public services are coming apart at the seams; consecutive crises make a mockery of the economy and the failings of Brexit become more apparent every day. Yet all New Labour can do is muster a pathetic and vague commitment to ‘growth’ and making Britain ‘dynamic’ whatever the hell that means.

There’s a far more sinister side to Labour’s failings, though, something that is not stressed nearly enough. Over a decade of Tory rule has been one of the worst things to happen to Britain’s most marginalised; and judging by the rhetoric and policies of the current slew of Tory politicians, things will only get worse if they continue to govern effectively unopposed. Migrants will continue to be thrown onto barges or left to drown; trans people will face continued persecution and watch their rights eroded; and NHS waitlists will only get longer, as what was once Britain’s pride and joy is sold for parts. If no real opposition stands against this barbaric style of governance, then hope for a just, prosperous Britain is truly lost. So Keir, stop flip-flopping. You can’t fight back if you don’t know what you stand for.

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