French Socialist Party anti-fascist demonstration in 1934

Illusion springs eternal

A Starmer government will supposedly trigger a ‘crisis of expectations’. But, asks Carla Roberts, how can it? With promises of financial responsibility and keeping to Tory spending limits, popular expectations are almost non-existent

Remember the crisis of expectations? In 1997, it was all the rage. Apparently, there were huge hopes in Tony Blair, despite the fact that he did not actually promise anything much at all for the working class. He would betray those huge hopes, and this would cause a social explosion. The Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Workers Party, Labour Representation Committee, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Workers Power, etc - most of the groups on the British left were shouting it from the rooftops: ‘Vote Labour to get …’ well, revolution - or something.1

Despite the fact that no serious working class fightback occurred in the wake of Blair’s 1997 landslide, the SWP’s Lindsey German insisted a couple of years later that Britain was being pushed to the brink of revolution: “It is increasingly obvious that even one major national strike or an all-out strike in one city would lead to a rapid crisis of Blairism and Labourism, as society polarised along class lines.”2 In terms of theory, these groups get their ability to make such predictions from Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional programme: he predicted defeat for Stalinism, a political revolution in the USSR and the death of global capitalism.

Perhaps the most idiotic proponent of the crisis of expectation back in 1997 was the AWL, which yammered on about the “fructification of hope”, as AWL leader Sean Matgamna put it at the time: “Millions have expectations that Labour will serve their interests. Disappointed, they will react against New Labour. These are the elements of a future revolt. That potential can only be made real by a Labour election victory.”3


Incidentally, the AWL has just republished this dire article - partially to explain why it is once again calling for a “vote for Labour everywhere”.

While Blair did actually spend some additional money on schools, the NHS, etc, there is absolutely no chance of that happening under a Starmer government. He has not just refused to overturn the Tories’ spending caps: he is promising to actually enforce them, where the Tories have failed to do so.

Yet the AWL wants socialists to go out and campaign for Starmer’s party (and against Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Feinstein, etc):

Even those of us whom Labour has expelled for our socialist views will be out on the doorsteps doing the electoral work, while also having the conversations which will be necessary to push for working class policies against a Starmer-run Labour government.4

While few are daft enough to use the exact words, ‘crisis of expectations’, the political method of auto-Labourism remains very much alive. Instead of independent working class politics - even in embryonic form - the left acts as Labour’s tail.

Take, for example, the semi-comatose Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, which explains its position in a mere half-sentence in a short email: “Elect a Labour government and continue the fight for progressive policies.” Momentum is using its targeting software to “elect socialist and trade unionist Labour MPs”. So, if you live in a constituency with a candidate from the so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, you will get an email informing you of campaigning times and dates. Having declared that it will stick uncritically to the Labour Party, accepting all the bans and proscriptions, Momentum cannot, of course, campaign for its reason for existence - one Jeremy Corbyn.

I do not actually know if the Labour Representation Committee still exists - its website was last updated on July 28 2023. But on Not the Andrew Marr Show, LRC veteran Graham Bash recently explained why he would be voting for Labour and “a number of independent socialists”:

“I want a Labour government with a working majority, not because it is a lesser evil, but because it provides the best conditions for rebuilding the left ... There will be a real collision between the Starmer government and the resistance in the trade unions”, because the “only remedy” Labour has to deal with the economic crisis is “to attack the working class and many of our freedoms”. So-called “socialist MPs” like Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell “and even George Galloway” can then give these views “political expression” in parliament. “Under Starmer, we might be approaching the endgame of the Labour Party as a party with links to the trade union movement.”

The “endgame” refers to the idea that the unions would be under pressure to finally “split” from the Labour Party - but in order to build what, exactly? Well, another Labour Party, but a bit more leftwing, like the original Labour Representation Committee formed in 1900.

For many of our auto-Labourite friends, a lot rides on “the unions”. Of course, Labour has promised them very little either, so it seems unlikely they or their members will be so disappointed that they split. Angela Rayner’s ‘New Deal for Workers’ is, when it comes to the finer detail, hardly worth the paper it is written on. There have already been attempts to water down the only concrete pledges to “end zero hours contracts” and an “end of fire and rehire”, because it is “important businesses can restructure to remain viable … when there is genuinely no alternative”.5

Still, even under those circumstances, many union leaders will hope that they get some crumbs from Labour’s table and will continue with the affiliation link. But even those who have broken from Labour remain wedded to Labourism and the idea that we cannot possibly build anything other than a Labour Party mark two.

Even if we presume for a moment that major unions disaffiliate, what kind of party do comrade Bash and co envisage these bureaucrats might form? It is one thing, of course, to engage with such an organisation when the struggle throws it up - but it is something entirely different to actively campaign for its foundation. But those like comrade Bash have no vision beyond Labourism. In fact, despite many of these comrades calling themselves Marxists, they argue against the formation of a Marxist party - which is, of course, the only kind of party that could even attempt to fight for the system change that we so desperately need.


The opposite of auto-Labourism still exists too - auto-anti-Labourism. Pride of place on this goes to the newly renamed Revolutionary Communist Party (previously Socialist Appeal), which has only just been thrown out of the Labour Party. Just like the old Militant in the 1980s, the dramatic change in its political perspective is not down to any change in political reality - but the group’s own position. The RCP too is peddling its version of a ‘crisis of expectations’:

Once in office, as night follows day, Starmer will continue with the Tories’ anti-working class policies. But the working class will not take this lying down. Given the accumulated anger in society, a Starmer government will face an avalanche of struggle, and will become one of the most hated governments in recent history. … Class war will be on the order of the day … Our relatively untested party will, within the next five or 10 years, be hurled into the turmoil of the British revolution.6

Wow. We reckon the RCP leadership will have some explaining to do after July 4, when this ever so exciting, pre-revolutionary situation has translated into what will no doubt be derisory results for its lone candidate, Fiona Lali, who is standing in Stratford and Bow. Not because she is a bad candidate, but because we are clearly not in a revolutionary situation. This is simply a lie, and not a particularly convincing one, designed to keep the RCP’s new members excitedly busy. Lali will do no worse and no better than most of the left candidates; ie, not very well at all.

Similarly deluded are what we might call the Corbynite flotsam and jetsam - the thousands of unorganised lefties who joined Labour in 2015 in the hope that Corbyn would deliver them ‘socialism’ of some sort or another. A few of them congregate once a week in the Not the Andrew Marr show on Zoom, where they tell each other that there will be a “bloc of 20-30 independent MPs” in parliament after July 4. You will see this trend on social media too.

Jeremy Corbyn is likely to win in North Islington and George Galloway might win in Rochdale - and that is about it. There is very little chance of any other ‘independents’ winning. Sowing such ridiculous illusions will simply add to the already existing pall of demoralisation.

Most of the organised left is at least aware of that reality - though SPEW too believes that “the potential exists for a bloc of workers’ MPs being elected, who could, from July 5, articulate the demands of the working class in parliament”. It is going to be a very small “bloc” indeed! SPEW is still reeling from the utter disdain with which the rest of the left has treated its efforts to bring together different groups to fight the elections under one umbrella - obviously, its own umbrella, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. It is putting forward 40 candidates - ie, considerably fewer than their original target, which is the “fair media coverage threshold”.7

The only group that has at least tried to join Tusc recently is the Spartacist League - it was hoping to have one member of the Spartacist League standing under the Tusc banner. But to no avail - they were rebuffed, allegedly over their opposition to trade union rights for prison guards. I reckon the SP would have found a different reason to avoid a Spart standing as Tusc. Anyway, the Sparts are still calling for a vote for Tusc, albeit less enthusiastically than they now do for the Workers Party, while explaining how “a vote even for Zarah Sultana [or Diane Abbott or John McDonnell] is a vote for genocide”.8 No, it clearly is not. Sultana in particular has been openly speaking out in solidarity with the Palestinians, including on anti-war protests. Her victory would be a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement.

Rest of left

Most of the rest of the left is somewhere in between, supporting this or that set of independent candidates plus the odd left Labour MP like Zarah Sultana. Some are standing a few candidates themselves: the SWP, which calls for a vote for 14 independent candidates and Labour elsewhere,9 is putting forward Maxine Bowler in Sheffield (under the banner of ‘Independent for Palestine’), while the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain will be “contesting its highest number of Westminster seats for 40 years”, as general secretary Robert Griffiths boasts - only three CPB candidates can be seen on its website10, though apparently there are 14 in total.11 Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party is putting up a dozen (not very exciting) candidates.12

George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain claimed it would be putting forward “over 500 candidates”, but seems to have registered only 152.13 It admits that it has withdrawn in some areas to avoid clashes - interestingly though not in Sheffield, where it supports Mark Tyler against comrade Bowler. There is, of course, no love lost between Galloway and his former comrades in Respect. The SWP, on the other hand, cannot possibly call for a vote for the WPB, because it is so very dismayed by Galloway’s opposition to trans rights (while, of course, the SWP itself voted against including gay rights and the right to have an abortion in Respect’s manifesto).

Collective, meanwhile, the proto-party set up by Andrew Feinstein (which Jeremy Corbyn is rumoured to be joining after the elections), is supporting over 100 candidates, including seven standing for the Green Party.

In other words, these elections highlight once again the utter uselessness of what much of the left is doing.

  1. ‘Road to nowhere’ Weekly Worker June 19 1997: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/196/road-to-nowhere.↩︎

  2. International Socialism No82, spring 1999, p35.↩︎

  3. www.workersliberty.org/story/2024-05-28/why-vote-labour-thoughts-1997.↩︎

  4. www.workersliberty.org/story/2024-05-28/why-we-say-vote-labour-everywhere.↩︎

  5. www.theguardian.com/politics/article/2024/may/08/labour-vows-to-ban-fire-and-rehire-after-war-of-words-with-unions.↩︎

  6. communist.red/hazard-ahead-kick-out-the-tories-but-no-trust-in-starmer.↩︎

  7. www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/125720/05-06-2024/tories-on-their-way-out-but-who-stands-for-the-working-class.↩︎

  8. x.com/WorkersHammer.↩︎

  9. socialistworker.co.uk/general-election-2024/who-can-socialists-get-behind-in-the-upcoming-election.↩︎

  10. www.communistparty.org.uk/communists-party-announces-first-candidates-for-4-july-general-election.↩︎

  11. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candidates_in_the_2024_United_Kingdom_general_election.↩︎

  12. www.socialistlabourparty.org.↩︎

  13. workerspartybritain.org/general-election-2024.↩︎