Lindsey German on Starmer’s Labour, imperialism and climate catastrophe
Boris Johnson is often described as lucky, and surely one of his greatest strokes of good fortune is having Keir Starmer as leader of the opposition. Starmer’s latest plea (delivered in Scotland where Labour has suffered complete electoral meltdown) is to recognise the achievements of Tony Blair when in government.
Given that the policy most associated with Blair will always be the Iraq war and its disastrous consequences, this is hardly a vote winner. All it does is serve to remind millions of people that Blair twisted the whole machinery of government to endorsing and supporting a war based on a lie. The war cost billions financially and millions in terms of lives lost or destroyed. Endless attempts to rehabilitate Alastair Campbell on chat shows or telling us we should listen to Blair cannot hide that fact.
Starmer isn’t, of course, referring to the failed wars but to Blair’s domestic policies. Here there is nothing of which a Labour leader can be proud. Blair flew round the world to suck up to Rupert Murdoch just before he was elected. He committed to Tory spending limits for health in his first two years of government. He championed privatisation and neoliberal policies which helped increase inequality and he continued with Tory sell-offs of council housing. He also ~ while improving individual legal rights for workers ~ refused to repeal the laws which helped weaken trade unions.
All this matters now as we face multiple crises in Britain. The Johnson government is one of the most corrupt of modern times. Its handling of the pandemic has been dire and its refusal to spend on the NHS means that we face another winter of serious levels of Covid and other illnesses, and ever-growing waiting lists. It is cutting back the £20 upgrade to the already miserable levels of Universal Credit. Millions of children are going hungry. Schools are seriously underfunded and the housing crisis is worsening due in part to deliberate government policies encouraging house price inflation and selling off council housing.
Starmer has absolutely nothing of substance to say on any of these policies - and nor incidentally has Blair. Their acceptance, indeed embrace, of the system means that they cannot begin to provide answers to the crises around us. The signs are that these crises will become more acute in the coming months. Furlough is coming to an end, the cuts in UC will cause real pain, evictions will go up. The climate crisis is critical and there is neither the will nor the money forthcoming to deal with it.
Rumours of clashes between Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak have their roots in the financial decisions being made which will be unpalatable even to many Tories. There will be no serious challenge to the very rich and their tax evasion so that means the rest of us will pay. Tax rises are on the horizon at a time of growing inflation and stagnating incomes. The Tories are even attacking pensioners, with talk of ending the ‘triple lock’ on pensions and of making over 60s pay for prescriptions. Despite the attempts to sow intergenerational division, the British state pension is one of the lowest in Europe and many continue to work past pension age – and are taxed on their pensions for doing so.
Starmer’s recent witch hunt on left groups within Labour demonstrates that he will not seriously challenge these policies or present the alternatives to austerity and inequality. He is turning his back on every aspect of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and that means more attacks on the left, more praise of Blair – with nothing to show for this politically. Opposition to the Tories is once again despite the Labour leadership. If, as is hopefully the case, the movement to pay nurses and other key workers more grows, and if industrial action also grows, as is looking likely, then we will find Starmer on the other side of the struggle.
Afghanistan: story of a defeat foretold
The US and its allies including Britain have had the biggest military defeat of a generation ~ and no one can say they weren’t warned. It’s 20 years since the US government launched its ‘war on terror’ with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. It demanded, and received almost universal international support in the aftermath of 9/11. The aim was to destroy Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda who were based in Afghanistan during the rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government. While we were told this was about women’s liberation, democracy and justice, the US-led forces effectively intervened on one side in an ongoing civil war.
Many of us said at the time the war would achieve nothing. It easily deposed the Taliban, but war continued. The Northern Alliance, backed by the west, formed the government which was always dependent on its external allies for its existence. Now Joe Biden has pulled the plug on that. The Taliban is taking cities which would once have seemed out of its reach, including Sheberghan, base of the warlord and former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Afghan army is surrendering in large numbers. Either the government will fall to the Taliban or the civil war will continue. The US is continuing to bomb to deter the Taliban but this has not succeeded in preventing the fall of strategic cities such as Kunduz.
The situation is grim for many Afghans, caught in the bombing and fighting. It is now clear how much it has been made worse by the whole intervention, which achieved regime change and made symbolic gestures such as a quota system for women in the Afghan parliament but did little to address the major problems facing one of the world’s poorest countries.
If the money spent on war over two decades had been spent on developing infrastructure, raising living standards and providing security for millions, then the situation would look very different today. Instead, huge numbers will become refugees, mostly in their own or neighbouring countries. The few who make it to the west will be treated as pariahs and will all too often be sent back to this country deemed too dangerous for US and British troops but not for them.
It’s now shameful to hear supporters of the military claim that they did what they could but failed, given this failure was acknowledged privately more than a decade ago. Perhaps one sad lesson is that the rights of women and others in Afghanistan cannot be achieved by imperialist war. And the failure of intervention in Afghanistan only underlines its failure everywhere.
The price of the profit system
Greece is burning… and Turkey, and the western states of Canada and the US, all subject to record temperatures which have left huge areas as tinderboxes. In Belgium and Germany we have seen unprecedented floods. In Britain this summer torrential rain and localised flooding have been frequent.
We are looking at the future and it’s a perturbing picture. Suddenly the correctness of all the warnings about climate change, the reliance on fossil fuels, the melting of the Polar ice cap, is being demonstrated in the starkest way. Perhaps most frightening is the refusal of governments to deal with this in either the short or the long term. The ritual international agreements are both too limited in themselves and widely observed in the breach.
Car-oriented economies dominate as public transport is downgraded and international transportation grows on a huge scale. Housing is built on flood plains as planning restrictions get looser. Governments prioritise military spending over safety and rescue equipment.
So we are facing far more of these catastrophes with danger and dislocation leading to fires, floods, food and water shortages, loss of livelihoods. The urgency of dealing with this is acute and we need both international solutions and those based on need not profit. There are many reasons to argue for system change at present but it is increasingly the case that without a revolutionary change in the way society is organised we will pass on a deadly legacy to our children and grandchildren.
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’.
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