Labour will be no different than the Tories if they win the next election. This may sound like an absurd and provocative statement. I’ve been greeted with much pushback whenever I have brought this up with many people on the left (see below my interviews with Marina Purkiss and Jemma Forte of The Trawl where we discussed the topic).
So let me explain why I believe this is the case.
I am interested in the policies that they will enact if they are to elected. I hold the view that they are just another neo-liberal party; it’s the same brand of political thought that we have been dealing with since Thatcher.
What Is Neo-Liberalism?
In my book, Brexit: The Establishment Civil War, I discuss the idea of neoliberalism at great length. Before we go any further I want to spend a little time describing what exactly I mean by neo-liberalism. It’s a term that has been overused and so broadly applied that it has become almost meaningless, so I feel it is important to define it properly.
It is defined by the following policies –
- Privatisation or sale of state owned/run industries
- Cutting regulatory frameworks and “red tape”
- Cutting taxes for the rich
“Since the late 1970s, British politics has largely been dominated by neo-liberalism, whereby the left of British politics won the social argument and the right won the economic argument. Attitudes to liberal ideas such as gay marriage flourished alongside an ever-growing consensus on free-market economics. Thatcher and Reagan both believed in Milton Friedman’s philosophy that modern society had become too dependent on the state. They sought to shrink the public sector and privatize public services as far as was possible, all whilst lowering trade barriers and taxes on the rich.”
This is the broad framework that the Tories and Blair’s Labour have been living by since Thatcher and the same policy framework that the Labour Party will continue if elected in 2024. If we vote out the incompetent corrupt clowns that currently inhabit the government benches, I see no evidence that the policies will change under Keir Starmer.
The ideological difference between left and right used to be quite clear. For example, in terms of the health service, the argument used to be that either we should either allow the free market to run the service, regulate the industry and cut out government spending, or the health service should be run entirely by the government. In our current system, the taxpayer funds public services that are run by private companies with no oversight or accountability, no free market competition, and often no-bid contracts. It’s the worst of both worlds.
In the book “The Finance Curse”, Nicolas Shaxson explains how money paid to private corporations does not all end up being used for the service they are being paid to provide. Instead, the money first runs off-shore, with accountants, shell companies, lawyers, and secretive banking institutions scraping money off the top until there is barely anything left to run the bare-bones public services we have all become too familiar with.
One of Starmer’s ten pledges during his leadership campaign was that “public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders”, and he would support the “common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”. This would have ended this worst-of-both-worlds situation that we find ourselves in.
Here are some examples where Kier Starmer has failed to distinguish himself from these Tory/Neo-Liberal policies.
When asked about ending outsourcing in the NHS he said, “We’ve got to acknowledge the health service is not just on its knees – it’s on its face… We’re not talking about privatising the NHS, we’re talking about using the private sector effectively”.
Keir Starmer has since declared that he is “not in favour of nationalisation” during a coversation about the energy firms. He told Andrew Marr, “No… I do not agree with the argument that says we must be ideological.”
British gas have recorded record profits of near £1 billion in the first half of 2023, whilst energy prices have soared.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has stated that the policy of renationalising rail was no longer compatible with “fiscal rules” she would introduce to restrain public spending. Keir Starmer backed her, stating that a pragmatic approach was required.
According to the Guardian, between 1991 and 2019 Thames Water shareholders were paid £57 billion in dividends – nearly half the sum they spent on maintaining and improving the country’s pipes and treatment plants in that period. When asked about water Starmer has said that Labour would fix “broken” water and energy markets through regulation first.
When asked last year about nationalising Royal Mail, Starmer said: “It’s very hard to see how you can nationalise within the fiscal rules, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a problem that needs fixing there.”
Former Tory donors have now begun to pump money into Keir Starmers Labour Party, which is no surprise as he backs the same brand of corporatism that Britain has been subject to for 4 decades. It’s the brand of politics that gave us the VIP lane for PPE contracts, the Track and Trace system, and the endless amounts of money printing enabled by the Bank of England. It’s notable that Starmer has failed to mention that these pandemic policies saw the largest upward wealth transfer in history.
He’s also failed to mention our tax haven policy – one that enables the wealthiest to hide their money off-shore rather than pay tax in this country. The same tax code that would have allowed Alan Sugar to avoid £186 million in tax had he not been a member of the House of Lords.
Corporatism as an ideology, the intertwining of the state and private industry, has triumphed alongside neo-liberalism. In a way, they are one and the same. Privatization and no bid contracts are a form of corporate welfare, subsidizing the corporate world by pouring taxpayers’ money into a bottomless pit of shell companies and tax havens. It’s a direct transfer of wealth from the public purse to corporate Britain.
Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is not an alternative to the Tories. It is more of the same.