Sir Keir helps pot a plant in west London, June 2024. Photo: Flickr/Keir Starmer Sir Keir helps pot a plant in west London, June 2024. Photo: Flickr/Keir Starmer

Lindsey German on stultifying campaigns, Ukraine and the threat of fascism

Well, who would have thought it? As the election campaign continues the main parties are not winning potential votes but losing them. That’s the message from a series of polls showing that both the Tories and Labour are dropping in support to the benefit of a variety of smaller parties. That might not be so surprising for Sunak given he is defending 14 years of Tory misrule where we all – apart from the very rich – feel worse off than in 2010. But for Keir Starmer, who started off with and still retains a very big poll lead, this really isn’t good news.

It is however hardly surprising. As many people have been saying, and as I expressed as a hunch a couple of weeks ago, the more that voters see of Starmer the less they like him. This isn’t a personal thing, although it is remarkable how little political instinct either he or his rival have. It is the sense that he is programmed to say and do things which ensure that he is a safe pair of hands for British capitalism and that he has no real idea about or sympathy for the everyday struggles of working people.

His pathetic attempts to stress his working-class origins, to the extent that studio audiences now laugh when he says that his father was a toolmaker, demonstrate this. The more politicians move in the elitist and rarified circles that they do, the more they try to enlist any connection to working class life. Hence Sunak’s claim that deprivation took the form of not having a Sky satellite dish.

These are moves designed to take politics out of electoral contests and they have certainly succeeded in this campaign. It is dreary and boring, and millions of voters simply do not believe that the politicians won’t tax workers more heavily or that they will defend the NHS.

But the problem they have is that politics keeps coming back to bite them. Firstly in the form of Nigel Farage, whose Reform Party was shown in one poll as being ahead of the Tories (I suspect this is unlikely, but Farage is making the most of it). Sunak’s whole campaign in its early weeks was to be Reform lite, making a pitch for those Tories who sympathised with UKIP, are hostile to migrants and strong Leave supporters. It’s not surprising that more people are preferring the original – and it’s unfortunate but true that Farage comes across as much more convincing than either of the main party leaders, however hideous his politics are.

This also creates a problem for Starmer, whose campaign too is aimed at disaffected Tories. He has pandered to them over immigration, militarism, flag waving, and ‘fiscal responsibility’ but that isn’t guaranteeing him their vote. They may go to Reform, stay at home, vote LibDem or even stick with the Tories if don’t overcome their traditional fear of Labour.  Starmer’s lead is after all based on disillusion with the Tories rather than positive endorsement of his Labour.

One of the most irritating parts of election campaigns are the media pundits who all repeat a small number of platitudes to one another and who have convinced themselves that Starmer can do little wrong. They all keep praising his caution, likening it to the sad cliché (which I think came originally from Peter Mandelson) about carrying a Ming vase across a polished floor. But potential votes aren’t banked at the beginning of the campaign to be cosseted throughout, and politics will out.

Realisation is slowly dawning on even some of the most dim-witted correspondents that Starmer has alienated huge sections of potential voters on the left. The growth in support for smaller parties to the left of Labour and for the left independents is a sign of that – as is a poll of Muslim opinion which shows considerable discontent over Gaza, although it also shows that Muslim voters are concerned over cost of living and the NHS.

The insults to Jeremy Corbyn won’t help. Nor will the determination to keep tacking to the right for fear of losing potential Tory votes. Most obviously, Gaza is still the issue for millions of potential Labour supporters, but it is usually Gaza plus – people also care about domestic issues, education and health, housing, scapegoating of immigrants. There is no obvious party for those people to turn to, but the various independents can make a big impact. We have to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected and that there are strong votes for Andrew Feinstein, Leanne Mohamad, Michael Lavalette and others.

Starmer’s majority still looks near certain. But he will have very little political capital. And we will have to fight his attacks on working class people from the very beginning.

The fascists have to be defeated, both on the streets and in the elections

The threat of a fascist victory in France’s upcoming general election has led to the formation of a New Popular Front, where a range of reformist and left parties have agreed an electoral pact for the first round of the election (in France there is a run-off and the two lead candidates go forward to a second round). There are weaknesses with its approach – notably the foreign policies which are poor on Ukraine and Palestine – but it is nonetheless a big step forward to get this agreement.

It is also a blow to French president Emmanuel Macron, who called the snap election when the fascist RN got the biggest number of votes in the Euro elections, hoping to dragoon the other parties behind his failing centre bloc.

The fascists cannot be defeated by electoral means, which is why it is also very encouraging that large numbers of trade unionists marched across France at the weekend against the threat. However, the New Popular Front can potentially both help defeat the fascists electorally and open up a new phase of struggle against both Le Pen’s RN and against Macron who is enabling the fascists.  Solidarity with those on the left in France who are battling on these lines.

The West keeps fuelling a lost war in Ukraine, and so the bodies pile higher still

The Ukraine war has been lost and the key question now is how to end it. There was no answer to this at the supposed peace conference in Switzerland at the weekend when Ukraine’s president Zelensky gathered representatives from 90 countries to discuss the question. Russia put forward its own plan but it was not discussed, even though parts of it will almost certainly form any eventual peace agreement.

You don’t have to agree with Putin or his invasion of Ukraine (which I don’t) to recognise the reality. Even with record levels of arms supplied by Western powers, Ukraine is losing territory and troops. The age of conscription has been lowered and the country is conscripting prisoners, something for which Russia has been rightly condemned. The threat of war hangs over Europe and Nato’s refusal to allow any sort of settlement is leading to dangers of escalation. As the situation in Gaza worsens for the western imperialist powers, so they invest more in arming Ukraine and supporting a war which cannot be won without direct Nato intervention and at huge cost to humanity.

What a tragedy here that it is Farage calling for a ceasefire and so gaining support for the far right. Costs for continuing support for this war will be immense domestically as Europe rearms, and dangerous politically.

This week: I will be travelling to Brighton to speak at a Unison fringe meeting on Wednesday – if you’re a delegate or live in the area please join. I also hope to join Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Lavalette campaigning in the elections this week.

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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’.