Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer share a joke at Westminster, November 2023. Photo: Flickr/UK Parliament Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer share a joke at Westminster, November 2023. Photo: Flickr/UK Parliament

Lindsey German heralds the latest debasement of democracy

It’s often a mug’s game predicting elections, because they never turn out exactly as seems likely. This election looks a racing certainty for the Tories to be heavily defeated and for Keir Starmer’s Labour to receive a comfortable and possibly even exceptional majority.

But it’s wise to look at these questions a little more deeply and to understand some of the issues behind the headline figures which put Labour 20% or so ahead in the polls. Firstly the Tories are deeply unpopular, hated by large sections of the population, presiding over a society where nothing works properly, where working class people feel increasingly worse off, and where there is a stench of greed and corruption over everything emanating from government and its associates.

They are also bitterly internally divided, vying with one another for ever more inhumane policies against refugees, those on benefits, or facing poverty, or the housing crisis. We are living with the consequences of Thatcherism and its brutal class war against workers, and with the more recent consequences of 14 years of Tory rule which has resulted in vast increases in individual wealth for a few, while public utilities and services have never been in worse shape, and living standards continue to fall.

No wonder millions of people are looking to Labour – but here too are problems. One is that Keir Starmer has completely rewritten Labour’s 2019 manifesto, dropping everything that remotely challenges the Tory agenda, so there is little to choose between the two parties. Starmer hides behind the supposed iron law of fiscal responsibility so refuses to commit to extra spending on most things that would help ordinary people.

However he also refuses to commit to things that would actually save money such as the abolition of the House of Lords – because he is completely tied to the Tory and ruling class agenda of monarchy, flag, nation and everything that entails.

While his party is way ahead in the polls, Starmer is tanking.  His wooden delivery, brittle answers to simple questions, near total lack of charisma, and patent lack of openness and honesty, make him much less liked than the brand he represents. In this, he is much closer to Sunak, whose election announcement in the pouring rain drenching his very expensive suit epitomised his sad and sorry tenure as prime minister.

No doubt historians will consider what about the crisis of British capitalism led to the 2024 election producing leaders of the two main parties so lacking in political ability and empathy with the voters. But that is where we are.

We are also at a time of unprecedented lack of enthusiasm for both main parties from even their traditional supporters. With the Tories, this means the growth of Reform, which will pick up traditional Tory votes. With Labour, there are two issues. One is the defeat of Corbynism and with it nearly every decent and progressive policy from the Labour leadership. The other is of course Gaza.

Labour lost many votes and some seats in the council elections in May over Starmer’s support for Israel’s genocidal war. The anger over this still burns and will cost him votes in this election. There are now many people who say they will not vote Labour again over this (and often other, domestic, issues). This means a big abstention for both parties by their traditional vote. There is also a record number of left independent candidates standing.

I’m delighted that Jeremy Corbyn is standing in Islington North and very much hope he will hold his seat. The same is true of other good anti war candidates: Andrew Feinstein in Holborn and St Pancras, Leanne Mohamad in Ilford North, Claudia Webbe in Leicester East and my comrade Michael Lavalette in Preston. There are many more who deserve the support of all those campaigning over Gaza and for a left alternative to Labour.

Given the electoral system, it will be extremely hard for most of these to win outright. Hopefully Jeremy Corbyn will succeed, and maybe one or two others. Possibly George Galloway will retain the seat he won in the recent Rochdale by election. But others who gain considerable votes without winning are also an important development. These will all send strong signals to Starmer and to the ruling class generally that they cannot continue their international and domestic policies without a challenge.

There are also several Labour MPs who have supported a ceasefire and end to arming Israel who should be backed without endorsing Starmer – including young Asian women such as Apsana Begum and Zahra Sultana. The stronger the left vote overall the better in aiding the struggles to come.

The two main parties don’t want Gaza to be on the ballot paper and they don’t want the issue to figure in an election that they prefer to keep on the narrowest issues. They know that their bipartisan policies are deeply unpopular. One of the dangers for the Palestine movement is that the election can deflect from and even demobilise over Gaza. We can’t let that happen.

The truth is that elections are important, and in general we would rather have a Labour government in office than a Tory one which is the open party of class war, but what we do on the streets and in the workplaces is incomparably more important. That’s true over Palestine. We wouldn’t have seen these breaks from Labour and growth of left candidates if it hadn’t been for the massive protest movement in Britain over the last 8 months. If we look at history it is strike waves, protest movements and demonstrations that have had profound impacts, rather than who votes for which party in the ballot box.

That must be kept centre stage during the election. It matters in the short term – we are not abandoning protest for the next six weeks. But it also matters in the long term. I have a hunch that Starmer will not win any friends over the coming weeks as his right-wing ineptitude is on display. That will almost certainly still leave him with a clear majority in the next parliament. What the left does over the coming months is therefore highly important.

Under a Starmer government we will face attacks just as we did under the Tories. Preparing to fight back then means fighting back now – and not allowing ourselves to be diverted by an election whose outcomes will satisfy very few.

This week: I will be speaking at a Hackney Palestine meeting on Thursday, and mainly working to build the next national demo on June 8th and the trade union conference on June 9th. And next weekend I’m at the Counterfire members’ conference.

Lindsey German will be speaking at Confronting War At Home and Abroad: Counterfire Members Conference next weekend on 1 and 2 June at SOAS Uni, London. Join Counterfire today and be a part of the discussion.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.