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Labour must adapt to survive

As discontent grows around Keir Starmer’s reluctance to increase corporation tax it seems that, almost a year after he was elected leader, his honeymoon period is over. Despite starting promisingly in the polls, recent weeks have seen Labour steadily lose their margin as many left-leaning party members fear for the radical proposals on which Starmer campaigned.

The current communications strategy of Labour to appear patriotic and respectable is understandable during a time when a broad voter coalition is required. So too is the desire to be seen as business friendly- preventing economic recovery would be electoral suicide.

However, all of this fails to recognise that much of the voter base that Starmer inherited is made up of what the political economist, Keir Milburn, has labelled ‘generation left’. Many of whom were inspired to become involved in politics by Jeremy Corbyn. They yearned for radical change and following the catastrophic defeat in 2019 and the recent alienation of Corbyn, many of these voters have become disenfranchised with Labour’s increasing lack of vision.

In order to re-energise this broad left activist base that was cultivated under Corbyn and organisations like Momentum, Labour should focus on building a bottom-up, cooperative economy through municipal socialism.

During Cameron’s cuts Matthew Brown, the leader of the Labour council in Preston, decided to respond to the cuts to local governments by refocusing policies on public procurement.

The council terminated contracts with large national suppliers and instead shifted resources locally. Where capacity was lacking, supply was created through the building of new cooperatives. Brown and his team also identified other ‘anchor institutions’ in the community and encouraged the reorientation of their supply chains to local businesses and cooperatives.

Over time the so-called ‘Preston Model’ has developed into a way to rapidly generate community wealth. Not only do such approaches help generate growth but they keep the money local by creating a new economy, anchored by the people that work and live there. It is estimated that Brown’s ‘Preston model’ added upwards of £200 million to the economy, as well as reducing unemployment.

Membership of the Labour party has been in fairly consistent decline since the middle of the 20th century with many of the tangible economic pull-factors, such as unions providing high wages and civil institutions providing cheap goods and services, ceasing to exist. As a result the party has become a shell of its former self, with an increasingly centralized state approach. A cooperate economy would build a broad voter coalition by providing tangible benefits but it would also build a resilient voter base with people becoming Labour members again in spirit and not just in name.

Much criticism has been levelled at Labour over the Brexit debacle and its tendency to sit on the fence on important issues. The ‘Preston Model’ however would provide Labour with a clear and coherent strategy on how to start to rebuild our austerity ridden country as well as providing a strong economic basis on which manifesto pledges such as saving highstreets and local pubs can be delivered. Evidence shows that community businesses have a survival rate of above 94% and are far more resilient to economic downturns. Finally, not only would a cooperative economy relight the ideological fire of many Corbynites but their vast grassroots networks and organisations would prove invaluable in building community led and orientated economies.

Beyond the blandness of the electoral battlefield the ‘Preston Model’ provides a real chance to trial a more serious democracy. One which incorporates economic and political democracy and that provides genuine distributive justice for workers. In a landscape where quietism amongst the left is growing, approaches such as the one outlined above must be seized and acted on. As well as the embrace of warm fuzzy ideals, a cooperative economy is a clear, proven and tangible way to rebuild our country. If Labour is bold in its vision and trusts the people, this will be reciprocated electorally in 2024 and then we, the people, will reap the rewards.

Image: Keir Starmer via Wikimedia Commons

By Will Lewallen

Opinion Columnist

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