The British Conservative government's disastrously incompetent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, its incoherent undertaking of the Brexit negotiations, its U-turns over the health crisis, the economic crisis and growing conflicts with the EU, have not been met with an oppositional onslaught by the Labour Party. The British bourgeoisie has been losing control of its political apparatus and one of Labour's historic roles is to pose as an alternative to a government that has pursued populist policies that have undermined the effective functioning of British state capitalism. It has largely failed to take up the task.
Certainly, Starmer has declared that Labour is a pro-American party, its foreign affairs spokesperson has said that President Biden is an inspiration, and the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, has made a major speech in which she contrasted at length Labour's commitment to being a responsible government, with sensible fiscal policies, and the importance of establishing a "resilient" economy, as opposed to the irresponsibility of the Tories. However, the divisions within Labour's ranks have grown with a wave of expulsions and suspensions as the pro- and anti-Corbyn factions come into conflict.
When Labour massively lost the 2019 election it started an inquest into the reasons for the defeat, looking for someone to blame. Its incoherence over Brexit, the row over anti-Semitism, and its neglect of traditionally Labour-voting areas were all cited. It wasn't until April that it decided to replace Corbyn by Starmer. One of his earliest attempts to stamp his authority on the party came with the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey for negative remarks she had made about the Israeli state. Far from trying to avoid conflict over the question of anti-Semitism, Starmer accepted the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which investigated anti-Semitism in the party, in its entirety, and made it clear that no criticisms of its conclusions would be allowed. Corbyn was suspended from the party for expressing reservations. He has been reinstated to the party, but not to the parliamentary fraction. The Labour Party leadership then banned local parties from passing any motions of solidarity with Corbyn, although this has not stopped the protests about the treatment of the ex-leader and those who have been expelled. Corbyn is now going to establish a Project for Peace and Justice, a faction that will defend the policies that Starmer is trying to distance himself from. The divisions within the Labour Party mirror the divisions throughout the British bourgeoisie. Similarly, with the unions, some have rallied to Starmer, and some have remained loyal to Corbyn.
Johnson won the 2019 election with his promise to Get Brexit Done. In the year that followed, the negotiations with the EU stumbled on with the prospect of no deal resulting. After many Tory concessions, and the sacking of Dominic Cummings, who was considered to be an obstacle to an agreement, a deal was finally agreed on Christmas Eve. When it came to a parliamentary vote Starmer insisted that Labour MPs support the deal, while voicing some limited criticisms. 36 Labour MPs abstained and one voted against. Because of the feebleness of the opposition, it was no surprise that, as the first opinion polls of 2021 appeared, that Labour and the Tories were neck and neck, despite a year of government incompetence, U-turns and irresponsibility.
At a time when social decomposition is accelerating and with the bourgeoisie's loss of control of its political apparatus. Labour is riven with divisions and is not presenting itself as a coherent opposition, despite Starmer's attempts to appear as a figure of sanity against the chaos of Johnson's government. As the Labour purges continue, groups like the Socialist Workers Party are saying that people should leave Labour, while other groups, embedded in the party, continue their perpetual work to stop Labour's 'drift to the right'.
Labour, once a party of the working class, changed camp and performed an important role for British capitalism during the First World War when it supported British imperialism and was part of the recruitment drive to enlist workers for the slaughter. When the Labour Party adopted its constitution in 1918, its famous Clause IV confirmed its commitment to the management of British state capitalism. Whether in government or opposition and regardless of whether its leader has come from right or left of the party, it has continued to play an essential role in the British bourgeoisie's political apparatus. In opposition it can pose as an alternative to the government, in government it pursues policies appropriate to the needs of capitalism. When the Labour Party is divided, the working class has no interest in supporting it, and revolutionaries warn workers not to support any of the squabbling factions. Instead, it is necessary to show how Labour acts against the interests of the working class and expose its role in the service of capital.
Back in the 1970s and 80s the bourgeoisie was able to deploy its parties in response to, or in anticipation of the struggles of the working class. With the decomposition of capitalism over the last 30 years, there has been a strong tendency for capital to lose control of its political machinery. In recent years, across Europe, as an expression of this tendency, we have seen many social democratic parties in decline and/or disarray. In Britain we are not only seeing the chaotic approach of the government but also a social democratic opposition which, because of its divisions, is having the greatest difficulty in fulfilling the role required of it by capital.