As Keir Starmer is faced with the task of making the Labour party electable again, Lea Ypi asks if he will be ready to fight for the social movement.
Keir Starmer started his campaign to become Leader of the Opposition with the slogan: Another Future is Possible. He was elected in that role against the backdrop of a triple global crisis (of health, economy and climate) which questions the survival of capitalism as a system of resource distribution, and of liberalism as a mode of political organisation. Another future is not only possible but necessary.
The challenge is to say what that future ought to look like, and to have the courage to fight for it. This is not a task for a single nation, a single political movement, let alone a single leader. It is the task of a social movement. A social movement needs both policy ideas, and political vision and organisation.
Labour is now in the ostensibly fortunate position that policy ideas that previously seemed persuasive only to its most radical members are becoming mainstream. But that good fortune could also turn into a curse if the leader of the opposition limits his role to “engaging constructively” with the government’s newly discovered social welfare agenda. Starmer has been rightly acclaimed for being someone who will use his forensic skills to hold the government to account on the details of its policy delivery. But he must not lead the party like a technocrat, and lose the transformative vision that inspired his leadership campaign.
In the last few years Labour has acted not only as a political party, the largest political party in Europe, but also as a social movement, with more than half a million activists committed to a transformative vision of social justice. Starmer’s slogan bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the alter-globalisation movement: Another World is Possible. The Labour leader has a responsibility to keep the party at the centre of that movement, democratise it further, reach out to local campaigns, and help coordinate European and global struggles against a failing system. To abandon the movement just when it is most needed would not only risk the betrayal of a campaign promise. It would undermine Labour’s moral credibility with the younger generations who will be most affected by the ongoing global crisis. In the long term, it would come at huge political and social cost.
Labour has a historic opportunity to contribute to shaping a genuinely democratic, pluralistic process with both local and transnational implications at every level: of economic production, political representation and social inclusion. A system never changes without resistance. Is the Labour leader prepared to join the fight?
Note: this article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.