Screenshot of Jaime Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority Screenshot of Jaime Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority. Source: GreenerJourneys - Wikicommons / added additional padding / shared under license CC BY 3.0

Starmer’s appalling refusal to promise the repeal of the two-child cap lays out in stark relief the need for a socialist alternative, argues David McAllister

It seems that every passing week just further confirms that the struggles for equality, justice and a political alternative are just as much against the Labour leadership as they are against the Tories.

This week, Starmer’s leadership has managed to plunge new depths. His inability – or rather an unwillingness – to provide anything like a serious opposition to the Tories now extends to a sickening refusal to help pull children out of poverty, with Starmer committing to maintaining the Tories’ cruel two-child cap in benefits. Yet another leadership election promise was broken.

Anyone with even a basic sense of equality and fairness knows what an abomination this policy is, as well as the ideas that underpin it. Introduced in 2017, the cap limits benefits to the first two children. A despicable attempt at social engineering, clearly underpinned by the disgusting right-wing narrative of young working-class women having children simply to get more benefits.  

Far from the stated aim of encouraging families to be more financially ‘responsible’ and to encourage parents to find more hours of work – a fantasy given the sheer numbers of people in both poverty and full-time work – all this policy has achieved is to punish working-class households and push many below the breadline. The policy affects over one million children and has pushed 250,000 children into poverty, with the cumulative impact of the limit estimated to eventually hit more than three million. This is with child poverty already at 4.2 million. In one of the richest countries in the world.

It is unconscionable that a Labour leader is so determined to cosy up to the establishment that he cannot even bring himself to commit to pulling children out of poverty. It also makes his existence appear completely pointless to rapidly growing numbers of working-class people, not just those on the left who were already embittered with Starmer. As Jeremy Corbyn posted on social media, if lifting 250,000 children from poverty isn’t a priority, then what is?

With 19,000 people having left the Labour Party in the last twelve months, it is also becoming clearer to more people of the need for an independent socialist left. Events here in Newcastle this week point in the direction of just that. The popular socialist mayor Jamie Driscoll was barred from selection to stand for re-election as North of Tyne Mayor. Ostensibly due to his association with another victimised socialist, the director Ken Loach.

Alternatives

Jamie has been a beacon of hope for a mass alternative to neoliberal economics as mayor, continuing to be so after the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. As well as a number of local reforms, he is also a regular face on picket lines, as well as on demonstrations against austerity and racism.

The Starmer project’s commitment to block any serious left advance post-Corbyn makes his decision to resign from Labour and stand as an independent socialist absolutely the right one. It has also energised and grown his already considerable support base. His Gofundme page set a target of £25k by the end of August and exceeded it in under two hours.

This immediately popular campaign has completely overshadowed the announcement of the preferred Labour candidate, Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness. The barring of Jamie Driscoll appears to have completely backfired.

While this doesn’t deal with the problem of an alternative to Starmerism at national level, it is a hugely important step in that direction. While millions of working-class people want rid of this vile Tory government, even if that means voting Labour, the question of a serious alternative to neoliberalism remains to be fought for, and it is clear that Labour is not it. Why would any serious socialist in the north-east not campaign for Jamie Driscoll rather than the official Labour candidate, and encourage others to do the same?

The building of an alternative, however, should never be limited to electoralism. The centre of gravity for socialist opposition in the UK, since the end of the Corbyn project, has moved from the Labour Party and back to the streets and workplaces. Strikes retain huge public support and large numbers continue to turn out to protest against cuts, war and racism.

The task for socialists is to unite these various struggles and channel them into the united and broad alternative to neoliberalism we desperately need.

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