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Starmer’s Labour is leaving my generation feeling politically homeless

For those of us who entered the world of work at around the time of the financial crash and the coalition government coming to power, next year’s election could offer us the first opportunity in our working lives to not be living under Tory rule. The prospect of a Labour government should be a time for celebration, relief, getting ready to roll up our sleeves and getting stuck into making progressive change. But as the Labour conference gets under way in Liverpool, we see the leadership telling us to have no hope.

Our working lives have seen two deep recessions caused by the crash, a global pandemic, huge cuts to public services, Brexit, high inflation and the cost of living scandal. Student debt has gone up, and the housing crisis has deepened, with rents continuing to increase as the Bank of England tries to induce a recession and drive down wages through hiking rates. The UK has had the hottest temperatures on record and rising numbers of wildfires. It becomes difficult to ignore the glaringly obvious: that systemic change is required.

At the same time we’ve had the rise of incredible movements including Black Lives Matter, the youth climate movement and the resurgence of the trade unions. In the aftermath of the financial crash, organisations such as the one I run, Positive Money, were set up to counter the power of big finance and mainstream economics. For those of us in the progressive movement over the past decade, our political education has been built on intersections: how the multiple crises, from economic breakdown to the climate crisis and racial injustice, are inseparable.

But Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership team have little to say on these issues, leaving many of us who want to fight for change politically homeless. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, talks a lot about economic stability but says nothing about reining in big finance. Nationalisation of water and rail have been ruled out at a time when such policies would be incredibly popular. On the climate, investment has been delayed and the party has refused to cancel development of the Rosebank oilfield. This is all against a backdrop of the Tories moving to full-blown Trumpian politics and a shocking number of false statements at last week’s conference.

Labour continually limits its offer, by minimising the UK’s problems and shrinking the conversation. If the party comes to power next year with no coherent narrative for the future of the UK and timid policies, it is unlikely to counter the erosion of democracy through the rise of the far right and polarisation.

What this demands instead is courage, integrity and hope – things that have been in limited supply or even rejected by Starmer and co so far. His lurch to the right is in part due to the pressure of being the leader of the opposition. If he can’t hold firm to his values now, then with the added pressure of being the leader of the nation, he could buckle further.

At the same time, there are plenty of brilliant young leaders committed to the struggle for a progressive UK, and to building a new economy, tackling racial injustice and adapting and mitigating against climate breakdown. But they are not being heard by Labour right now, and are unlikely to be when the party takes power.


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