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Progressives can't let this Labour government fail

Alongside promises of stability, Keir Starmer has also pledged a “bigger reset”. Everyone on the Left should support this - and to hold him to account if he falls short. 

July 06 2024, 14.07pm

On Thursday night, in a bar under Waterloo’s railway arches, The Lead’s editorial team nervously counted down to the exit polls. It was a moment of jubilation and relief when the TV screens flashed: Labour – 410, Conservatives – 131. Yet throughout the night, as the Labour Party secured seat after seat and as the margin of victory grew, Reform UK trailed closely behind, often overtaking the Conservatives.

Despite the pints consumed, the mood sobered. It was a clear message: Keir Starmer’s plan for ‘change’ cannot afford to fail. If Britain stays in an economic slump, if the standard of living continues to decline, and if Labour governs as cautiously as it campaigned, the desperate need for bold, popular, groundbreaking initiative will catalyse a far-right surge of the kind we are seeing in Europe and across the Atlantic. The writing is on the wall.

The British left is divided. Most socialists have been vocally critical of Starmer’s Labour, of its shift away from Corbyn’s policies and political narratives, of the ruthless culling of members – including the former leader himself – and of its often heavy-handed handling of internal party disputes. But this doesn’t mean the Left has anything to gain by Starmer’s government failing.

Labour has an expectation vs. reality problem - especially with Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ fiscal responsibility mantra.

The manifesto promises change for the better in various failing sectors, economic growth and stability, an end to the housing crisis, and aggressive slashing of NHS waiting lists. Labour might have won themselves up to five years on their first term; but narratives settle fast, and some sort of palpable accomplishment - most likely on the NHS - needs to happen within their first year in power. Without plugging money into poor areas and sectors desperately needing cash injections, the public won’t feel the change it desperately needs. People aren’t just scared of austerity 2.0; many won’t survive it. It’s as simple as that.

Reeves’ plan seems to rely heavily on private investment and economic growth. But both are hostage subject to the external shocks of war and increasingly volatile climate, here and the world over. It’s hard to see how this can be done without wealth redistribution through progressive and innovative taxation. Thankfully, recent polling has shown twice as many Britons are happy to see tax hikes - even if modest ones - than tax cuts. The public is willing to invest into its own future; this is an opportunity that cannot be squandered.

As importantly, Labour must urgently detoxify the immigration debate, while simultaneously addressing concerned voters. It needs to explain that NHS waiting lists, for example, are more a challenge from a large ageing population rather than young and healthy migrants seeking healthcare. Or that an increase in refugee homelessness has, in recent years, been a reflection of a broken asylum system. The UK not only relies on immigrants to bolster its economy but is also fundamentally shaped by the immigrants who are integral to its cultural history.

The baseline on how we speak of immigration cannot stay in the pits, where the Tories have pushed it in their chronic terror of Nigel Farage. Labour cannot and should not play the immigration game on far-right terms, because the actual far right will always beat it on its home turf. The entire frame of reference needs to change.

The rise of the far-right is a real danger. This is not the same as saying it's inevitable. Reform UK came in second in 103 constituencies, but the vast majority of it were Tory strongholds; what’s more, the vote share claimed by Reform was only 200,000 ballots larger than UKIP’s share in 2015. For all his talk about targeting Labour next, it is obvious Farage would need to continue cannibalising Tory votes before Reform can set its sights on government. There is still time and space for the Left to keep Labour accountable through community organising, single-issue campaigning, and tackling the far-right head-on.

With democracy threatened, progressives of all stripes will have to learn to work together somehow. The consequences of not doing so are far too grave.

The Lead has endorsed Labour for this election. This is precisely why, while we celebrate this Labour victory, we fully intend the new government accountable. We'll investigate the stories that matter, applaud the moves that merit applause, and highlight where policies fall short of the change we need. Above all, we will campaign all the more forcefully on the issues you care about, now that we have a government that might actually listen. We hope that you join us.

(D.S, Z.G. and D.R.)