“Labour has abandoned the left”: is Owen Jones right?

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Last month, in an opinion piece for The Guardian, outspoken left-wing activist and writer Owen Jones made an announcement that, to any regular readers of Jones’ column, should come as no surprise: he is leaving the Labour party. Having joined the party at age 15 — an inheritance of sorts following his family’s close-knit ties with the party (his Great-grandfather and grandmother were Labour councillors, his parents met at a local party meeting) — Jones finally resigned his membership, citing how the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer has led to the party becoming a hostile environment for the socialist beliefs on which the party was built.

Jones’ opposition to Starmer is nothing new – he used the then Director of Public Prosecutions as an example in his book The Establishment of how entrenched conservatism is in our public institutions. This damming indictment of Starmer’s Labour however is symptomatic of a broader shift occurring in Labour — both within the party and in its target voter base. More and more, it seems that Starmer’s Labour has made a conscious decision to detach itself from the core political tenets which have, more or less, persisted over the party’s century-long history and still persist widely in its grassroots membership.

One needn’t look beyond our own university to see this shift: Durham’s Labour Society have issued two public condemnations of the national party this year already. Labour’s neglection of its once core ideological base speaks to the path on which Starmer has been taking the party; the path he hopes leads directly to the door of 10 Downing Street.

The question then remains, what else is Starmer prepared to to mislead voters about?

In his article, Jones points to Starmer’s ideological hypocrisy. He is of course, not the first Labour leader to abandon socialism for electoral success: it is the very same exchange Tony Blair and New Labour made in 1997. Yet unlike Blair, Starmer didn’t campaign for the Labour leadership on a policy of centrism. Quite to the contrary, in ‘Ten Key Pledges’ during his 2020 leadership bid, Starmer promised, among other things, public ownership of rail, energy and water, a strengthening of trade union powers and the abolition of the House of Lords. In short, he ran on the platform as a repackaged Jeremy Corbyn.

Four years on, with nationalisation having been all but excised from Labour’s policy pledges and Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, calling on Starmer to make a ‘better offer’ to workers, it seems that Starmer the candidate and Starmer the leader are two very distinct political entities. Starmer’s Labour have spent more time dealing with culture war issues than the economic ones on which the party once defined itself.

As 7.4 million Britons struggle to pay their bills and the government’s handling of crises both domestic and international comes under ever more scrutiny, the leader of the opposition has taken time out of all this to focus on more pressing matters, such as the design of the England football kit. In comparing Starmer’s abandonment of traditional Labour values to Blair’s three decades earlier, Jones makes the point that Blair ‘didn’t pretend to be a slicker version of Tony Benn’ in the way Starmer positioned himself as a more voter-friendly Corbyn.

As such, Starmer’s slow drift towards the centre has expressed not just a certain lack of ideological conviction but a propensity to misleads voters — in this case the party membership — in order to secure power. The question then remains, with Labour en route to electoral victory, what else is Starmer prepared to mislead voters about?

It seems that Starmer the candidate and Starmer the leader are two very distinct political entities

Abandoning Corbyn’s key demographics in favour of a disaffected Conservative voter base — Brexit-voting, middle class and opposed to ‘wokeism’ – makes sense electorally but leaves Labour without a clear ideological foundation. Recent British political history has been marked by a slow inching from both parties towards one another in order to win over the other’s voters. Blair took aim at Thatcher’s Mondeo Men, Cameron at Brown’s middle-class squeeze, until both become indistinguishable from one another.

Once more, as the country seems primed for a change of government, the party from which power is lost bears a striking similarity to the one into whose hands it will fall. By the end of the year Sir Keir Starmer may have become the seventh Labour leader to serve as Prime Minister, but what of MacDonald, Attlee and Wilson’s party will be recognisable in this new regime?

Image: Sinn Féin via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on ““Labour has abandoned the left”: is Owen Jones right?

  • Owen thinks his ideas characterise what it is to be ‘left’. But many of us believe George Galloway’s Workers of Britain party’s policies are both more pragmatic and representative of millions of many true working class. My definition of true working class is that they truly understand economic and social hardship as opposed to the more cerebral middle class leftie. Don’t get me wrong we are the same broad family but there are differences.

    Reply
  • Owen represents the more cerebral affluent working class whereas George Galloway’s Workers of Britain’s manifesto is a better representation of the true working class that understands economic and social hardship. We are all a broad left family but there are differences.

    Starmer has dumped us and is the allowed Labour leader as he will do as the establishment want and not upset their status quo.

    Reply

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