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Editorial With no clear alternative to offer, Labour’s leadership is still rearranging deck chairs

WE are told that the Labour leader’s newly appointed director of strategy has warned the party’s top cabal — senior functionaries, MPs and shadow ministers — that nothing less than a major effort is needed if Labour is to avoid another defeat.

The spin put on this wake-up call is that Labour faces a “huge challenge” if it is to “win back trust” in time for a probable 2023 election — and avoid a another general election defeat.

The Observer reports that the party elite were told that victory will be impossible unless Labour finds a way to lure back millions who defected to the Tories in 2019.

This falls neatly into the category of “the bleeding obvious” as well as being broadly consistent with that which the Morning Star has been arguing since the 2019 election — and before.

But the truth is that in this half-truth there is barely concealed a bigger untruth. And that is that the way back to the kind of polling figures which the Corbyn leadership enjoyed — and which Labour achieved as recently as January this year — l­ies not by tempting “red wall” voters or skittish Lib Dems with a warmed-over Blairism but with a solid policy offer.

Where Labour in 2017 — and to a somewhat confused extent in 2019 ­— offered clear policies that resonated with very wide sections of the electorate, today voters are neither clear on what Labour stands for, nor much aware of what Sir Keir Starmer represents in the way of personal values or big-ticket policies.

The principal reason for this is the failure of Labour to either distinguish itself from the government over the handling of the Covid-19 crisis or to criticise the manifest failing of the government in this period.

Starmer’s people argue that it has been difficult to present an alternative in the pandemic and that this can only be done if Labour “adopts clearer, sharper, more uplifting messaging about the party’s values and Starmer’s vision, rather than throwing too many policy commitments at voters.”

The point, however, is that values and vision are conveyed precisely in clear socialist policies that challenge the way capitalism operates in Britain and abroad.

A substantial portion of the electorate has reached its own unaided conclusions and there is a distinct shift away from the Tories — and the beginnings of unease in the back benches.

Labour’s standing in the polls is currently around 35 per cent, compared with a Tory score of 41 per cent.

This is a welcome if limited lift for Labour. Political realism suggests that this is not so much due to any dramatic improvement in Westminster Labour’s challenge to the Tory government, which still barely registers with the electorate, but to the steady attrition in popular support that any failing administration will encounter.

What is lacking is a well-grounded challenge which could catalyse discontent with the Tories into support for a real alternative.

Buried in the political DNA of right-wing Labour is the sense that the party’s role is not to present a clear alternative to the way society is run but to propose modifications to the existing order on the basis that it is a more reliable and technocratically competent steward of the present system than the Tories.

It is undoubtedly true that Labour needs to win back working-class voters who were repelled by Labour’s 2019 volte-face over Brexit, but it also needs to win back the millions of people — mainly workers and their families — who simply ceased to vote.

What unites these two kinds of voters is their daily experience of capitalism in crisis and their lack of confidence in Labour as it currently exists.

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