On the Sunday of Labour Party Conference, we passed a historic motion backing a Green New Deal. This is the first in-person party conference since Starmer was elected last year, and this result sends an emphatic message: members and trade unions are still united in support of radical policies.
The passing of the motion echoes successes for the Left elsewhere, despite constant attempts to shut down our voice and push us out of the party on behalf of the leadership. In the year and a half since Keir Starmer was elected leader, elections where members are able to vote have seen Left-backed candidates win time and again – and, of course, Starmer himself was only elected leader because he promised a left agenda.
Few of us still believe that he can stick to his word, but Sunday saw him break his promises in the most brazen fashion yet. Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Starmer said that he wouldn’t nationalise energy companies, despite this being one of the ten pledges on which he based his initial leadership campaign.
This move away from energy nationalisation isn’t just dishonest and undemocratic: it’s poor politics. The position he took on Marr came just a few hours before Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Ed Miliband was due to give a speech announcing that the party is committed to a Green New Deal and public ownership, and followed similar comments he made last month. As with the reshuffle debacle which saw Angela Rayner demoted and then, after outcry, promoted, Starmer seems painfully out of his depth as a politician.
This is an especially bizarre move in the current circumstances. The country is in the midst of an energy crisis, and the government is bailing out the failing private energy sector. With a new poll showing that a majority of the public are in favour of nationalising energy companies, why would the leader of the Labour Party pass up this opportunity to embrace a popular policy, and draw a clear line between himself and the chaotic Tory government?
Starmer has tried to justify his promise-breaking by arguing that nationalisating the Big Six energy companies—British Gas (the same company that recently sacked hundreds of engineers who refused to be fired and rehired on worse terms and conditions), EDF Energy, E. ON UK, npower, ScottishPower, and SSE—would be ‘ideological’. He claims that it would be too expensive. But with research showing that privatised utilities cost us £7.8 billion a year, it’s clear that ‘value for money’ can’t be used to justify preserving the untenable status quo.
But more urgently, public ownership is the only way we can decarbonise our economy and deliver a fair deal for ordinary workers. To tackle climate justice and economic justice together, we must wind down polluting industries and create millions of unionised green jobs. It’s clear that the private sector isn’t able, or willing, to do this at the scale or the pace that’s needed.
The Green New Deal is also essential for giving workers greater say in how to create a fairer, greener future. It’s welcome to hear Angela Rayner announce that Labour would back trade unions to run sector-wide bargaining, but we must go further than that. We need to empower workers to organise, and to deepen democracy in workplaces across the country.
This is a vital step for building a Green New Deal that’s led by and for ordinary workers. Our conference motion gives the leadership a clear mandate to deliver a transformative Green New Deal. Members and trade unions are united in support of a radical programme to remake our economy, and we must hold the party to account to ensure the leadership delivers on it.