Rachael Baylis, a student activist involved in worker solidarity at Brighton University and in Worcestershire Young Labour, spoke to Sacha Ismail.
Keir Starmer is doing even worse than I thought he would. He isn’t oppositional, let alone socialist. “I’m sure the government is doing everything it can” – when we know this is nonsense. He seems quite relaxed about a very alarming situation.
Politically, there seems to be a large element of returning to Milibandism, accepting the dominant political narrative but with left tweaks. It seems like the progress made under Corbyn is being reversed.
We’re not even in a national unity government and there is such a lack of opposition. Joining a coalition would surely worsen the disengagement we saw in the last general election. We shouldn’t assume we can’t lose the younger voters and BME voters, for instance, who have been enthused by a left-wing Labour Party. There is still a lot of anti-Tory feeling out there but Labour is not representing it.
As a young person I feel the next decade of my life is going to be shaped by how society comes out of Covid-19. There are so many issues where we need a radical Labour Party to serve our interests – housing, for instance, and free education and even the demand for free broadband.
The broadband demand is very relevant in this crisis, when people are stuck at home and have to work or just need reliable internet access to stop themselves going crazy. Yet Starmer won’t argue for this. Other countries have suspended rent payments – why aren’t we advocating that? We need clear demands that benefit the working class, but I haven’t heard the leadership saying anything concrete.
We’re in a situation which is terrible, but it’s also a chance to reshape society. What we face is unprecedented – now is the time to be throwing out ideas and say things don’t have to be the way they are.
During the leadership election all the candidates talked about left-wing policies, but now those arguments aren’t being taken seriously. I am quite disillusioned with Labour. We need to develop working-class struggles to push politics in the right direction.
At the moment, even in the labour movement, I think there is reticence about militancy. There is a reluctance to challenge how unions operate, and to challenge the anti-union laws that reify that conservative way of thinking. That may be why newer, smaller unions are coming through and organising new groups of workers.
You could see this reflected in Corbynism, with hesitancy on the anti-union laws but also a lack of emphasis on control by communities and workers. We can advocate nationalisation, but how will those industries be run, from the top down like before?
A month ago many of the workers who are keeping us alive were the ones deemed “unskilled” and Priti Patel wanted to exclude them if they’re not British. Whatever the rhetoric, they are continuing with that policy. We need to make strong arguments about what their Brexit plan will mean for workers and particularly for migrants.
It may be opinion will shift, so there could be a case for a second referendum. But in 2019 we didn’t win the argument and many people felt we weren’t listening to them, so we need to consider our approach.
However, we should definitely say delay. We should be very concerned about a “shock doctrine” scenario – that the Tory right will use a hard Brexit next year to push through radical neoliberal policies, more attacks on migrants and more attacks on democratic rights.