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Eyes Left The rise of the independents demands we form a united front

Hundreds of thousands of Labour members are leaving, councillors are resigning, and numerous former Labour MPs and left-wing newcomers are running against Starmer’s party — let us all unite, argues ANDREW MURRAY

THE vast movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people rolls forward, filling the public square and forcing reaction onto the back foot.

Sustained, angry, broad, militant, apparently indefatigable, refreshed by every new outrage from the genocide in Gaza and undeterred by the threats of the Establishment, it has finally forced the government to abandon its opposition to an immediate ceasefire.

The movement can be proud of what it has achieved and can anticipate further victories ahead.

Yet one question hangs over it unanswered. What political expression will it find? How can its anti-imperialism, democratic conviction and cross-community unity be articulated in the broader political arena, when the immediate pressing crisis in Gaza finally passes?

With variations, it is the same question that was suspended over the great strike movement of 2022-23. That, too, directly engaged hundreds of thousands and generated widespread public sympathy.

Yet it had no political emanation. Enough is Enough seemed for a moment to marshal the solidarity and the desire for change but, entirely lacking in strategic nous, that initiative fizzled out.

It is certainly clear that neither the strike wave nor the anti-war mobilisation can develop their potential through the agency of the Labour Party.

Keir Starmer and his gang are not vacillators on the issues or uncertain friends. They are part of the enemy. The masses on the streets know it.

Those who would have flung themselves into the struggle for a Labour victory under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will now, for the most part, struggle against it.

That recognition of Labour as part of the imperialist, anti-worker front ranged against the mass movement is necessary yet insufficient. Not voting Labour is hardly a programmatic position on its own.

There are bubbles of energy around. Perhaps the main one is the emergence of a range of independent candidates of the left rooted in their own communities flying the flag for the Palestinian cause and, more broadly, for the positive legacies of Corbyn-era Labour.

Their common understanding is that opposition to this ruin of a Tory government needs to offer far more than Starmer’s offer of more efficient management of the same racket — it needs to stand for different values, even if short-term first-past-the-post electoral victories are likely elusive.

They include familiar figures like Emma Dent-Coad, champion of the Grenfell fire victims and the first-ever Labour MP in Kensington, disgracefully blocked from the party’s nomination this time but still committed to fighting for her community.

And there are new faces like Leanne Mohammed, a young Palestinian-origin woman taking on shadow health secretary Wes Streeting in Ilford North, challenging him not just on his support for Israel but also over his plans to bring privatisation deeper into the NHS.

Claudia Webbe, elected as Labour in Leicester East in 2019, will fight to retain her seat as an independent. And Starmer himself is likely to have his feet held to the fire in his own constituency by former African National Congress MP Andrew Feinstein.

These contests — and there are already many others in the frame, with more still to come — are an organic expression of the partial disintegration of Labour’s political, as opposed to purely electoral, base.

Other symptoms abound. Twenty councillors quit Labour in one Lancashire town alone over the weekend, taking the total departures since the onset of the Gaza crisis and the leadership’s bland endorsement of genocide to well over 100.

And membership is falling by over ten thousand a month. Probably 300,000 people have now quit Labour since Starmer fraudulently secured its leadership.

This contrasts starkly with the period before 1997 when Labour membership was rising sharply and few, if any, elected representatives were quitting.

Undoubtedly, this movement, including the independent candidates, could only benefit from some form of collective affiliation, however loose, some positive political identity. After all, “independent” on its own means nothing much.

The good news is that there are several initiatives to create such an umbrella for their efforts. The bad news? There is no umbrella.

The latest to run up the standard is Guardian columnist and author Owen Jones. He has abandoned a lifelong Labour membership to launch We Deserve Better, which seems to mainly be a fundraising initiative to support independent socialist and selected Green Party candidates.

Part of its pitch is that, essentially, it is safe to back alternatives to Labour since the party is nailed on to win the general election anyway. That seems to be true.

Backing alternative candidates has the purpose of, in its own words, sending Labour a message to support “taxing the rich to fund public services, backing public ownership, tackling the climate crisis and opposing war crimes in Gaza and around the world, safe in the knowledge that there’s no risk of the Tories getting back into government.”

Jones has been outstanding in his support for the people of Gaza, and his immense social media reach means his initiative is likely to resonate. Some will cavil at extending backing to the Greens but it is likely that they will be the only left-of-Labour candidate standing in many seats.

Then there is the Workers Party, busy selecting candidates in the wake of George Galloway’s Rochdale triumph. The best-known, so far, is former British ambassador Craig Murray, who will contest Blackburn with the backing of local ex-Labour councillors.

Galloway has prospered, and not for the first time, by charging at the enemy while others dither, plunging into the torrent as some worry about dipping a toe in the water.

Like Jones, and for longer, George has been a champion of the Palestinian cause. He owes his Rochdale win to that.

Yet these are twain never likely to meet — they are in opposite trenches in those “culture wars” which divide socialists to the profit of our opponents.

There are other plans in the field too, ranging from the self-explanatory Muslim Vote campaign to the embryonic network of independent councillors.

Could anyone bridge these divides? Jeremy Corbyn is the obvious answer, but he has not yet declared his own intentions regarding standing in Islington North since being blocked, after 41 years, from standing for Labour.

His Peace and Justice campaign’s five priorities do not differ markedly from the Workers Party’s ten points, although neither mentions the three issues which Galloway identified as critical upon his arrival at the Commons — Gaza, Islamophobia and the defence of democracy.

The Communist Party, also likely to field election candidates, has called for a united front — an extension of the organic unity manifested in the anti-war movement and in the strike wave to the struggle for broad social progress.

Can such a front also include the many socialists still committed to working through Labour? Let’s remember that 60 Labour MPs backed the Gaza ceasefire demand last November, and most large trade unions remain in the Labour column.

Perhaps the answer depends on how they respond to the reality of a Starmer government run from the City of London and Washington.

Anyway, the immediate programme for a united front is there. And the masses are mobilising. A left that repeatedly misses the bus on the grounds that more agreeable transport may arrive before long self-evidently isn’t going places.

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