Keir Starmer is trying to give his Labour Party a radical gloss by hinting at the abolition of the House of Lords and other possible reforms. But instead of constitutional tweaks, we need workers’ power to combat the crisis of capitalism.
Labour leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer has promised the “biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people”, following the release of a report by former prime minister Gordon Brown on the “UK’s future”.
Starmers’ proposals include giving more devolved powers to regions outside of Westminster; moving 50,000 civil service jobs across the country; and replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber of 200.
His motives are clear. Starmer is attempting to give his pro-business cabinet-in-waiting a radical veneer by offering seemingly transformative policies that will cost – and ultimately change – little. With promises of further devolution, meanwhile, he is aiming to take the wind out of the sails of the Scottish nationalists.
All of this, however, is just window dressing. Starmer has made it clear from the get-go that he will toe-the-line of the bosses and billionaires, ensuring that Labour is a safe pair of hands for managing capitalism.
A Starmer government will of course inherit a system in deep crisis. In power, within the confines of capitalism, Labour will therefore be forced to carry out austerity and attacks on the working class, as the Tories have been doing for years.
Local authorities have already been gutted by austerity over the past decade. Many are now on the edge of bankruptcy.
The fire-and-rehire tactics and other attacks against workers carried by councils such as Coventry and Tower Hamlets are symptomatic of this. And now with double-digit inflation, local authorities are left with shortfalls of billions of pounds to make up for through continued cuts.
Starmers’ plans for expanding regional devolution would therefore amount to little more than local authorities being given the freedom to decide between death by the hangman’s rope or by firing squad.
Giving hollowed-out councils more power to carry out austerity will be of cold comfort to the millions of workers struggling to heat their homes and feed their families this winter.
House of Lords
Perhaps the most publicised of Starmer’s plans is his pledge to ‘abolish’ the House of Lords, in order to “restore trust in politics”.
It is true that trust in politicians, including the lords, is at an all time low. But any idea of Starmer as a Cromwellian figure, sweeping away the remnants of feudalism from atop his noble steed, is far from reality.
After all, in reality, his plan is not really to abolish the House at all, but to replace it with a smaller, elected version of it. And even this timid proposal Starmer is hesitant to firmly get behind.
Abolishing the remaining hereditary privileges of the Lords is of course something to be supported. But the real problem – which Starmer will never address – concerns the question of which class the House of Lords (along with the rest of the institutions of bourgeois democracy) exists to serve.
One of the tasks of the socialist revolution in Britain will necessarily be to abolish the House of Lords, which is a key tool of the ruling class. It is a reactionary relic that, along with the monarchy, would act as a roadblock in the way of any workers’ government attempting to carrying out a socialist programme.
The abolition of the Lords should therefore not be an isolated act, but should necessarily be paired with the abolition of the monarhy, the overthrow of capitalism, and the construction of a socialist planned economy on the basis of workers’ democracy.
The growing hatred of many towards the establishment does not stem from this or that wing of the state, but from the rotten structure of capitalism in its entirety. From Parliament, to the police, to the monarchy: every pillar of the British establishment in now mired in scandal and corruption.
This, ultimately, is a product of the wider crisis of capitalism, alongside the special decline and degeneration of British capitalism. This is something that ‘Sir’ Starmer is incapable of combating, since he is a stalwart defender of this system.
To believe otherwise is utopianism of the highest degree.
Tweaks to the constitution are ultimately worth only as much as the paper they are printed on. What really matters is the class balance of forces at a given moment, and ultimately which class is in power.
A constitution can appear ‘democratic’ on the surface. However, at the end of the day, it is the system behind it that counts.
As long as the means of production remain in the hands of the bankers and bosses, genuine democracy will be little more than a fairytale. Instead, we will continue to live under a dictatorship of capital.
The capitalist system is in a state of deep crisis. It can offer nothing but further austerity and misery for millions. Starmer has promised that these democratic reforms will put an end to “sticking plaster politics”.
Yet by leaving power in the hands of the capitalists, they represent perhaps the greatest sticking plaster of them all. It is a case of simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, whilst the ship is sinking.
Highlighted here in stark clarity is the dead-end of reformism. What is needed is the mobilisation of workers and youth around a revolutionary socialist programme to transform society. This must include the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, including the banks, and rational planning for need on the basis of workers’ control and management.
This would of course include the complete abolishment of the House of Lords, without any half measures, to remove a reactionary vestige that would do everything in its power to prevent such a programme from being carried out.
True democracy means workers’ democracy: the working class running society in its collective interest; having the power and the ability to make decisions, combined with the resources necessary to carry them out; all on the basis a socialist planned economy.
Only then can the misery and disillusionment created by the capitalist system and its drive for profit be eradicated; and society’s resources be utilised to produce what is needed, rather than what is profitable for a small group of parasites.