Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

THE LABOUR PARTY AFTER JEREMY CORBYN


MIKE PHIPPS

“This book is vital to understanding what has happened to Labour since the end of the Corbyn era.”
—Former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell MP


“One of the first analyses to map a way forward for the left in the post-Corbyn Labour Party.”
—Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London


“At a moment when we both yearn for Corbyn to have become Prime Minister and also understand clearly why the establishment went all out to stop him, Phipps honestly faces up to the painful future of Labour under Starmer. His book poses sharply the central question of what socialists can do and whether, in spite of Starmer's closeness to that establishment, the party can ever change?” —Hilary Wainwright, Red Pepper editor and author of Labour: A Tale of Two Parties


“Everyone on the Labour left should read this wise advice on how to rebuild. Don't mourn, organise.” —Andrew Fisher, Labour’s Director of Policy 2015-19


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About the Book

Much has been written about the four and a half years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, but far less in-depth analysis has appeared on the tumultuous events since. This fast-paced and highly readable account considers the reasons behind Labour’s 2019 defeat, from longer term factors like the international decline of social democracy and the loss of long-held Labour seats in the post-industrial ‘red wall’, to more immediate issues such as the leadership of Corbyn, the role played by Brexit, and Labour’s policies and campaign.

Mike Phipps, a widely regarded and skilled Labour Party commentator, chronicles the main events in the Party since 2019: the election of Keir Starmer as leader, the loss of the left’s focus and its growing disillusionment with the new leadership. Key turning points in Starmer’s tenure are discussed– the sacking of his rival leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey, his abstention on government legislation which undermined civil liberties, his withdrawal of the parliamentary whip from his predecessor, and his growing intolerance of dissent within the Party.

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow also sets out what the left needs to do to regain its sense of purpose: recognizing the advances that have been made in shaping policy agenda and intervening more confidently on the essential values of the Party. It assesses the position of Labour’s left in local government, in the internal structures of the Party and in the affiliated unions, and sets out a strategy for the left to maximise its impact and rediscover its relevance.

230 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-369-3 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-370-9

About the Author

mike phipps author photo

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Dr Mike Phipps is the editor of For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power (OR Books, 2018). He has worked for decades within the Labour Party to promote social change and international solidarity. He was a founding member of the Labour Representation Committee is a member of the Executive Committee of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and writes for the website Labour Hub. A long-term anti-war activist, he was a founder member of Iraq Occupation Focus and has edited its fortnightly e-newsletter for several years.

Read an Excerpt

It’s impossible to say at the time of writing whether Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party will drag on, Kinnock-style, until either the left or the right of the Party feel they are in a strong enough posi­tion to promote a candidate of their own. The 2020 leadership contest showed that neither wing had a potential leader with sufficient appeal to the Party’s selectorate. In that sense, Starmer remains a compromise choice, holding the affection of neither the left, who need more time to develop a credible candidate from the post-2015 intake, nor the right of the Party, who also need time to put more distance between themselves and the remnants of the Blair-Brown era. Viewed from this perspec­tive, it is less the individual shortcomings of the leader that is making Labour’s progress so elusive than his lack of a power base among the Party’s powerful factions. But this is not a situation that can remain unresolved in the longer term, and it is already evident from personnel changes in the Shadow Cabinet and the Party apparatus that Starmer has chosen to tilt away from his leadership campaign promises to embrace the analysis promoted by Mandelson and the right.

The mood of ordinary Party members who voted for Starmer is harder to judge. Many undoubtedly still feel that the leader has had a uniquely difficult year and deserves more time to shine. But it is equally clear that more poor election results will generate further questions about Starmer’s fitness for the job.

Some commentators, however, have already made up their mind. Writing after the local election results, in a piece entitled “Keir Starmer Is Now the Worst Person, at the Worst Moment, to Lead the Labour Party”, Aaron Bastani asked: “Does Keir Starmer actually want to be prime minister?” He produced a litany of reasons to conclude in the negative:

“While members, many of whom voted for him, wish to focus on policy and an economic response to the devastation of Covid-19, the leader obsessively mentions the party’s failings – and why people are right to dislike it… Starmer himself has no real grasp of contemporary politics. This is why he is now so seduced by the idea of a re-run of the 1990s… This ina­bility to understand why politics has changed means he still believes elections are won from the ‘centre’… Starmer and his team have no meaningful understanding of political action… recently Starmer allegedly told the shadow cabinet he has no interest in rallies of the party faithful… Finally, Starmer has no political vision.”217

“Hapless” was the word one activist used to describe Keir Starmer’s last eighteen months to me. Labour’s leader doesn’t so much shape events, as react to them. Apart from knocking someone off their bicycle, the only time Starmer seemed to make the headlines was when he was reacting to things happening elsewhere, above all in his own Party.

This is a criticism that could be made of many people who have held the role of Leader of the Opposition and is perhaps intrinsic to the job: Jeremy Corbyn was often accused of the same. But at least with Corbyn, there was a guiding programmatic thread that demonstrated what his underlying principles and values were. It’s hard to say the same of Starmer. True, it has been an unprecedented time and a chal­lenging one for any political leader. But it is precisely in an emergency of this kind that individuals can show leadership, which in many ways the country is crying out for. Johnson’s multiple failings on this front have set the bar low and it has been left to others to step up – from footballers calling for government action so schoolchildren don’t go hungry, to local and regional authorities which have confronted cen­tral government inaction on, for example, Covid infection in schools and providing compensation for local lockdowns – and benefited elec­torally for doing so. For a leader who wanted to be seen as “forensic”, Starmer has missed countless opportunities to hold the government to account, seemingly preferring a factional war with much of his Party, while repeatedly apologising for a state of affairs he has helped cre­ate. How does Labour get out of this mess?

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