A new era begins

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has been swept into power – by 20.1% of the electorate, the lowest share for any incoming government since the first ever election fought under universal (male) suffrage in 1918. In the main, not even the 9.7 million who went out and voted Labour did so for positive reasons. A YouGov poll asked Labour voters what their primary motivation was. By far the largest group, 48% of the total, did so to ‘get rid of the Tories’. By contrast only 5% said that they did so because they agreed with Labour’s policies.

This is in stark contrast to the 2017 general election, when – with Jeremy Corbyn as leader – Labour’s anti-austerity manifesto was the central reason for the surge in Labour’s vote to 12.88 million. This was 3.5 million more than the previous election in 2015, the biggest increase in a single election since 1945. Even in 2019, now falsely written into history as ‘the worst election result since 1935’, Corbyn won 10.27 million votes, half a million more than Starmer achieved from an electorate that has grown by over a million since 2019.

Clearcut as these statistics are, they have been played down in most of the mainstream media. The capitalist class wants to boost the authority of the incoming Labour government hoping that, despite its very shallow social base, it will still be able to implement a programme in the interests of the elites. They are also desperate to cement the lie that Corbyn’s policies were unpopular. Despite their best efforts, however, this government will be rocked by mass working-class struggles against it, which will also inexorably find a political expression.

Even in the election that bought it to power there were electoral developments which point to how this government will face opposition to its left in future polls. The idea that only candidates from the major establishment parties can win was smashed. There was the highest ever number of voters for smaller parties and independents.  Jeremy Corbyn was decisively elected standing as an independent candidate in Islington North. In addition, the almost two million votes that the Greens received, disproportionately from young people, and the four MPs that they had elected, reflected the search for a left alternative in this election. By contrast back in 2017, at the height of the Corbyn surge, the Greens’ vote was only just over half a million.

In particular, a broad section of workers from a Muslim background broke with Labour over Starmer’s support for the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In the 92 constituencies where more than ten percent of the electorate identify as Muslim, Labour’s vote fell by more than 820,000, or 34%. If that had been a uniform trend Labour’s vote would have fallen by more than three million.

However, while anger over Gaza and discontent with Labour’s pro-capitalist policies are widespread outside the Muslim population, at this stage this section of the working class has gone further in the conclusions drawn. As a result, in four constituencies independent MPs from a Muslim background defeated Labour in this election: in Leicester South, Birmingham Perry Barr, Blackburn, and Dewsbury and Batley. This is also what lies behind the huge differential between the results achieved by Workers’ Party candidates in different constituencies, ranging from 29% to 0.2%. However, the experience of a Starmer Labour government in power in an era of capitalist crisis will lead to other sections of the working class equally decisively breaking electorally with Labour and looking for an alternative.

Back to the future

In reality, the 2024 election was a return to the process of the fragmentation of politics, and growing alienation from capitalist politicians, which has taken place over the last thirty years. In the 1951 general election, with an 82.6% turnout, 96.8% of voters supported either the Tories or Labour. That had already fallen to 73.9% in 1997, but by 2010 – after thirteen years of New Labour in power – the combined share of the vote won by Labour and the Tories slid to 65.1%. At the same time turnouts in elections also fell – as anger and alienation from capitalist politicians grew, hitting its lowest point in 2001, Tony Blair’s second election victory, when just 59.1% of people bothered to vote. This was the lowest turnout since the December 1918 general election, when soldiers were demobilising from the first world war.

Lying behind this trend was the transformation of Labour – historically a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ with its leaders susceptible to pressure from the working-class base of the party – into Blair’s New Labour: an unalloyed capitalist party, leaving no fundamental class difference between the major parties. This process was temporarily thrown into reverse during the Corbyn-era, as an element of working-class representation came back into politics. Now, all the trends from the pre-2017 period are back but have dramatically accelerated.

The turnout on July 4 was below 60%, only a shade above the previous low of 2001. Only 57.4% of voters supported the two main parties, the lowest since Labour first contested a majority of seats, again in the election of 1918. The decades-long hollowing out of the Tory Party, once the most successful capitalist party in the world, reached a tipping point in this election – with the worst result in its 200-year history, and its lowest-ever number of MPs. It has been a hollow shell for years and it is possible that this election will lead to it finally shattering into pieces. Although it is also the case that the capitalist class – acutely aware that Starmer’s New Labour could suffer the same fate – are likely to do their best to salvage something from the wreckage of their historical party.

The overwhelming drive of the majority of those that voted was to punish the Tories for the misery they have inflicted over the last fourteen years. Most looked for what they saw as the most electorally effective weapon available to them to the left of the Tories as the means to do that: generally Labour, but in some cases Liberal Democrat, Green or Independent. But of course, in five seats, it was the right-wing populists of Reform that were the weapon of choice. Some capitalist commentators have suggested that – had Nigel Farage not entered the scene, dramatically boosting the Reform campaign – the Tory vote would have been much better. But, in this election, the big majority of Reform voters were, like others, driven by hatred of the Tories. Without Farage, more would have joined the over 19 million voters, 40% of the total, who stayed at home.

In total 4.1 million voted for Reform. In one hundred plus seats, 89 of them won by Labour, Reform came second. This is a warning for the future. However, at this stage there has not been a qualitative increase in the vote for ‘Farage-ism’. The direct predecessor of Reform, the Brexit Party, got more than five million votes in the 2019 elections to the European parliament, and its incarnation before that – the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – got close to four million votes in the 2015 general election.

Nonetheless, the election of the Reform five shows how, as anger with New Labour grows, the right populists and racists will try to attempt to step into the vacuum. This adds extra urgency to the fight for a workers’ party with a socialist programme, as the best means to cut across the divisive policies of the right. The French elections, notwithstanding the limitations of the New Popular Front, is an indication of that, as was the more than a million voters who switched from UKIP to Corbyn in 2017.

What could have been… and what to do now

If there had been a mass workers’ party contesting the general election, or even a clear workers’ list rather than scattered left forces standing under various banners, the whole campaign would have been completely different. Even at the simple level of the TV debates, imagine the impact that Jeremy Corbyn’s presence in them would have had on the course of the election. The capitalist broadcasting authorities were able – scandalously but relatively easily – to brush aside George Galloway’s claim for a place in the debates alongside the Greens and Reform, who also had just the one MP in the outgoing parliament. But Jeremy Corbyn at the head of a broad, trade union-backed coalition would have been a different matter.

Unfortunately, however, numerous opportunities to take steps in that direction have been missed in the years since the suspension of Corbyn from the Parliamentary Labour Party in November 2020. Almost without exception – although the BFAWU bakers union did disaffiliate from Labour in 2021 – the national trade union leaders have been arguing throughout that period that the workers’ movement had to support Labour. None took steps to launch something new.

Particularly stark is the experience of ‘Enough is Enough’, launched in the summer of 2022 by two trade union general secretaries – Mick Lynch of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), and Dave Ward of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) – who were in the leadership of the 2022-23 strike wave, then at its peak. Half a million joined Enough is Enough, enthused by the idea of a new party that would stand for workers. Unfortunately, its leaders conceived it instead as a means to pressure Labour rather than as a new party, and as a result it quickly became moribund. However, had such a party been launched, it could have won broad support in the workers’ movement, but also beyond – able to attract, for example, many of those impelled into political action by the horror of Gaza. The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being elected as just one of a bloc of workers’ MPs would have been a totally realistic one.

Instead, the post-election situation is far more muddled. The victory of the four ‘independents for Gaza’ MPs is welcome, and potentially an important step forward, but there are dangers if they are seen – and see themselves – as representing Muslim voters, rather than as MPs fighting on Gaza, combined with all the other issues facing the working class in Britain.

This danger is also present in the approach taken by George Galloway’s Workers’ Party which, despite its name, is not rooted in the organisations of the working class and whose support is overwhelmingly based on Muslim voters. Nonetheless, despite our differences with Galloway, it is regrettable that he narrowly lost his seat in Rochdale. And the primary responsibility for the current lack of a cohesive voice uniting all sections of the working class is not the disparate forces that did step into the vacuum, but the trade union leaders who, at this stage, were able to block any significant section of the workers’ movement entering the political scene as an independent force. By the same token the onus on particularly the left trade union leaders to act is even greater now.

These issues are quickly going to be posed. Workers do not see Labour as representing their class interests, and trade unionists are waiting with trepidation to see what, if anything, is going to be on offer from the new government. Predictably, in her first speech as chancellor Rachel Reeves laid it on with a trowel that the government “faces the worst set of circumstances since the second world war” and that “tough choices” lie ahead. The new government is desperate to lower expectations that they will make any qualitative improvements in workers’ lives, knowing that they are going to preside over a new era of capitalist austerity.  

No number of gloomy speeches from government ministers will, however, reconcile the working class to a continuation of the current misery or, even more likely, its worsening. The inevitable argument from some national trade union leaders that the workers’ movement has to ‘give Labour time’, will have some impact, on some trade unionists, for a period, but there is no prospect of Labour avoiding major battles with the organised working class. The demand on Rachel Reeves made by Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, that “people don’t have time to wait for growth” and “people are literally hurting out there… and our crumbling public services need money”, reflects the mood of trade unionists in Unite and beyond. With the NHS and other services in a state of collapse, with public sector wages having fallen since 2010 by 10% or more in real terms, with one in ten councils facing Section 114 technical insolvency notices, and 40% of universities at risk of bankruptcy, acquiescence will not be an option.

Most annual public sector pay offers are currently overdue, or were due within a few weeks of the general election. Junior doctors are already in negotiations with the new Health minister, Wes Streeting. He has repeatedly made it clear that Labour will not meet the junior doctors pay demands. However, if he wants to end the strikes some concessions will have to be given. That, in turn, would be likely to raise the confidence of other workers to demand more. Exact timescales cannot be predicted, but the lessons learnt by a new generation of trade unionists in the last two years – that strikes are the only way to extract pay increases from governments and employers – are going to be applied against Starmer’s New Labour.

Putative parliamentary ‘workers’ bloc’

Strike action and protests may be the first roads taken in opposing the new government, but the need for that action to have a political expression will also be quickly posed. The issue is likely to be raised especially sharply in the public sector trade unions which are currently directly funding the Labour Party. The very small putative ‘workers’ bloc’ that already exists in parliament can play a role in speeding that process up by fighting for the demands of the trade unions in the House of Commons and calling on the remaining left Labour MPs to join them in doing so.

Jeremy Corbyn has long been a member of the parliamentary groups of several trade unions, particularly those with more left leaderships, but the independent and Green MPs should also be pushed to play this role. Whether or not they do so will help determine whether they can play a positive role or not in the development of an independent voice for the working class in the next period. Potentially, however, despite the absence of a workers’ list in the general election, the ‘left bloc’ in parliament could outnumber that of Reform.  

The victory of Jeremy Corbyn, in particular, has already raised the hopes of a new left party among many. Corbyn once said that he seemed to be ‘living rent free’ in Rishi Sunak’s mind, so often did the then prime minister attack him. Throughout the general election night mainstream media coverage, it was clear that Corbyn has been ‘living rent free’ in all the minds of the capitalist class and their political representatives, as they all constantly referenced how him being driven out of the Labour Party had been a pre-requisite for Starmer’s victory. That Corbyn decisively won his Islington North seat in those circumstances was a sweet victory for socialists across the country.

In reality, of course, it is not ‘mild-mannered Mr Corbyn’ that terrified the capitalist class but the mass enthusiasm his anti-austerity programme engendered. Now re-elected by standing independently of Starmer’s Labour Party, he could play an important role in again enthusing wide layers of workers and youth: but this time for a new party. That does not mean, however, that a top-down party based around one individual is what is needed. We need a mass democratic workers’ party, which draws on the best aspects of the foundation of Labour over a century ago. Especially so if, like the early Labour Party, it were to adopt a federal structure that would give democratic rights to affiliated trade unions in particular, but also other affiliating organisations including existing socialist groups, but also potentially sections of the Green Party, organisations of Muslim workers, and others.

Such a party is urgently needed, and could play an enormously positive role in giving a political expression to the huge class struggles that are going to take place under this government. It could also act to help to cut across division and increase unity across the different sections of the working class.

Crucially, it would provide a forum for discussion about how to transform society in the interests of the majority. Starmer’s Labour will ultimately suffer the same fate as the Tories. It will be wrecked as a result of its defence of capitalism; a system increasingly unable to meet the needs of the working class. The conclusions drawn by the Socialist Party – that it is necessary not just to reform capitalism but to overthrow it, bringing the major corporations and banks into democratic public ownership under workers’ control and management – are going to be drawn by much wider layers of the working class as events unfold.


The Socialist Party stood in over 30 seats in the general election as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). A comprehensive report – The 2024 General Election Fact File – is available on the TUSC website at https://www.tusc.org.uk/, listing the TUSC results and those of the anti-war, anti-austerity independents, the Workers Party, and other lefts. It also includes detailed statistics and analysis on the broader trends revealed by the election, correctly locating the efforts to create a subjective factor – a mass party of the working class with a socialist programme – in the context of the developing objective factors.