Oppositional Alternative: Why Keir Starmer needs to present a radical case for change
Me and some of the other editors at the Oxford Student were discussing education reform and alternative routes the other day, to which the sentiment that stuck longest with me was the realisation that because of education cuts and underfunding, it will become increasingly difficult for people like me, from state-school backgrounds, to get into University and especially Oxford. It was absolutely invaluable for me, at secondary school and then later at sixth-form, to have a close relationship with my teachers. I was a teacher’s pet; it was easier for me to talk to teachers about the niche things I found interesting than it was my friends, who I was conscious not to bore.
For me, despite teachers already being stretched with massive classroom sizes and an endless revolving door of students, the few minutes which they could give to me to push me academically or motivate me to try and achieve more were some of the most important moments of my life so far. With their time stretched even more, their pay in decline, their workplace challenged increasingly by external pressures such as social media; it is becoming impossible for people like me to get the support they need at that formative age.
…it will become increasingly difficult for people like me, from state-school backgrounds, to get into University and especially Oxford.
Education reform is something that is incredibly close to my heart, and the example I have just detailed speaks to the general decline of social mobility which has been caused by 13 years of failing Britain’s children. It is symptomatic of our country as whole; services and initiatives which are falling into disrepair simply by a lack of funding or their poor management. So when I read of ‘Clause IV on steroids’, I cringe at the priorities which are being established by the Party I have been a member of for the past 3 years.
I joined for the belief that Britain couldn’t afford for Labour to lose an election again, but that in the process Labour should competently put forward the case for the radical changes necessary to uphold the level of social mobility that, although I didn’t know it at the time, would get me into Oxford. Yet, it seems that rather than prioritise what is genuinely best for the country, the Labour Party Leadership is committed to a counter-productive battle to root out an entire section of the Party, simply because it hurts their feelings a bit when Rishi Sunak suggests that the Party hasn’t changed since Corbyn. It is forsaking the country for a sense of a hurt pride.
It is forsaking the country for a sense of a hurt pride.
I may know very little about economics, but it doesn’t take an expert to understand that our country is in an acute crisis which, whether it be the fault of the Tories or not, requires a drastic change in direction. More often than that, it is those worst off, those most vulnerable in our society who feel the blow of economic hardship the hardest. For the past year, I have had an enduring memory of canvassing an elderly woman living in a block of flats in my ward, who because of rising inflation at the time was having to cut back on spending at the same time as caring for her ailing husband. I have no idea what happened to her and her husband but I know that her struggle is not one that’s unique. It has become a depressing reality of everyday existence that almost every day I hear people talking about how their food shop is becoming unaffordable. Even among my fellow students, the reality of rising costs has contributed significantly to increased worries about student loans and being able to pay their way through University, before even considering the issue of their student debt post-University.
These problems won’t just go away and disappear in thin air, nor will their importance wane for other more trivial issues. The fact that recent national political discussions have been shaped by trivialities is a national shame, both on politicians and journalists. Personally, I don’t care about abolishing the Monarchy, I don’t care about stopping the flow of refugees and migrants, I don’t care about culture wars, I don’t care the reputational salvaging of political parties; much like many other people in this country, I care about politics solving the existential and daily problems which are faced by the citizens of this country.
The fact that recent national political discussions have been shaped by trivialities is a national shame, both on politicians and journalists.
The Labour Party should not exist simply as an alternative to the Tories in a year’s time, it should exist to serve this country and ensure that the needs of many are met. If, by extension, believing the schools and the NHS should be funded properly, that inflation should be controlled, that those in need should be cared for through the social security blanket; if all of that makes me a Corbynite radical, then I suspect the vast majority of the population would be stripped of Labour Party membership at present.
It is a very common argument now to look back at the pledges which Keir Starmer has made at various stages of his political career, from the manifestos which he ran on under Corbyn, to the pledges he made in the Leadership Contest in 2020, to the policies which have been proposed for local election seasons in the past 3 years. The great danger of Starmer at present is not simply the idea that his message is one that is as conservative as the Conservative Party, but that much like the Tories, he is treading a path of populist desperation. While this might become a successful electoral strategy, Labour members must ask themselves at what cost that victory will come.
Image credit: Matthew Holland
Image description: Matthew Holland holding leaflets of Portsmouth Labour Councillor, Asghar Shah