Defend Corbyn rally, 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow Defend Corbyn rally, 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow

The next steps for the left by Counterfire

The victory of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner in the Labour leadership election raises the question of strategy for the left very sharply. Corbyn’s leadership was an exceptional moment in the Labour Party’s history when, for all the obstacles placed in its path, the left was dominant in the party. Socialist ideas were popularised and there was a real possibility of a left-led Labour government that would have created a serious crisis of the British establishment.

Starmer and Rayner’s victory brings this moment decisively to an end. Starmer’s endlessly repeated commitment to ‘unify’ left and right, including his widely trailed support for Alistair Campbell’s return to the fold, signals a return to business as usual in Labour. He speaks of not ‘oversteering’ to the right, but the establishment and the Labour right are clearly hugely relieved by his victory. His ambivalent legal and voting record and the rumoured moves against leading left wingers in the party reassure that Starmer comes from the traditional centre left of Labour and that his leadership will mark a break from the activist-based Corbyn years. His refusal to rule out a national government at a time when the Tories are failing the country so disastrously underlines a basic commitment to the status quo. 

Despite this election result, struggles will continue. The Coronavirus tragedy has again exposed the appalling effects of the last forty years of neoliberal capitalism. It has deepened revulsion at the way the low-paid and the vulnerable are treated in our society. It has created a mood of class solidarity and mutual aid which will be the basis for many struggles to come and raises the prospect of a very different kind of society.  

It is crucial that the many, many thousands of people who actively backed Corbyn stay mobilised and don’t become foot soldiers for a Labour leadership turning to the right. The focus now has to be on regenerating resistance at the grassroots, on building practically on the huge support for NHS workers, on the fact that many people are joining unions and are demanding that low paid and precarious workers need to be treated with decency and respect. 

The Tories’ response has been desperately inadequate, but pressure from below has forced them to abandon the lie that government and society can’t respond to people’s needs.  

We need a left that is fiercely focussed on building the strength of the movements. This will not be a struggle led by Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner. It will have to come from frontline workers, from people who have taken the initiative in communities up and down the country in the last few weeks, from the millions of people who have organised against austerity over the last decade. 

Counterfire played an important role in supporting the Corbyn project while staying independent and being critical when necessary. We always argued that the Corbynism was a product of a deep crisis in British society and an expression of growing movements for change.

As the crisis deepens, those movements are going to be absolutely vital to all our futures. Struggles will emerge, but their success will depend partly on how the left responds. We need a dynamic, non-sectarian, revolutionary left to help analyse the crisis, to develop the widest possible solidarity and to help organise in every town and city around the country. 

We urge you to join Counterfire and be part of this effort.