“MY CHANGED LABOUR PARTY”. Keir Starmer has used that phrase many times in recent months. All parties must evolve – failure to do so means sclerosis and death. But the more boldly inclusive and consensual that process is, the better the health of the party and of our democracy will be.

It is the possessive pronoun which gives rise to concern. That a politician should wish to make a mark on the party which has chosen them as its leader is right and natural. But it is also right that this course should be pursued with some humility and a sense of the manner in which a party’s historic mission should inform its future in a time of rapid, and arguably unprecedented change.

The next general election is at most eight months away. It is very likely that Keir Starmer will be our next prime minister. As the effects of the past few days of electoral excitement bed down, it is beyond doubt that this Conservative administration is in terminal decay and that the country is desperate for change. But Starmer is not the owner of the Labour Party. Like any democratic leader, he is his party’s custodian and to forget that would be to betray his trust.

Over the decades, the Labour party has been often described as ‘a broad church’ and where it has stumbled to electoral defeat, it is because its various factions have turned upon each other in a way which made ecumenism impossible to sustain. It has always been at its best when socialists and social democrats have managed, in pursuit of common goals, to make creative compromises and see clearly who it is that would divide them into impotence.

Occasions of ugliness are driving away many who desperately need a just, compassionate and redistributive government. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, sneers at those who do not share his views on private sector involvement in the NHS as “middle-class lefties” – a puerile insult which indicates a damaging ignorance of the nuanced relationships between origins and beliefs. Rachel Reeves, who will be the chancellor in Starmer’s administration, has declared her belief that “Labour is not the party of people on benefits”.

Labour needs to widen its ethical horizons far beyond this. If it is to be the party of equality and justice, it must recognise the many-layered inequalities and injustices which play so large a part in making life wretched for millions. If it is not to be that party, choosing instead to deny just and empathic action for those outside its exclusive demographic of ‘working people’, it can only be a slightly less cruel version of the neo-liberal Tories who have created despair among the very people who have, historically, and in the present, looked to Labour for hope.

My hope is that Labour in government will put equality and justice at the heart of its policy making. This must be the yardstick against which all is measured. It should not fear to take and promote the ‘preferential option for the poor’: for the powerless, sick and disabled, for the old and the young, the in-work, the unemployed and those unable to work.

It must build council houses and spend into public services and benefits. It must develop a foreign policy which prioritises conflict resolution and move to a mindset alert to the seeds of future conflict, realising that foresight and prudence may gradually reduce our dependence on military solutions. It must embrace the internationalism which grew out of the the two global wars of the 20th century and the institutions of the rule-based order which which underpin democracy.

Above all, it must strive for that justice which is the foundation of peace: fear and favour have brought us to some very dark places indeed. This will need the strength to exercise a spirit of courage which is not yet apparent in the tendency to anxious authoritarianism which characterises the present leadership.

If the government is to play its part in sustaining a liveable planet for all people, it will also need to find the courage for an unwavering commitment to green technologies and resistance to the global corporations and fossil fuel giants who have the power to hold vacillating nation states captive.

To do all these things, Labour will need to fight its fear of, and subservience to, much of the media. This will demand a steadfastness in the truth which will not fear to own mistakes, and an end to the equivocation and outright deception which has disfigured politics for too long.

There is a sense that the time may be right for all this to begin. The electorate is becoming both more aware and more cynical. Trust has been badly damaged and repair may initially prove a very rough ride indeed. However, compassion and hope has the power to do far more than does self-serving caution. Build it, and they will come.

Counsels of perfection, you may say. Simplistic, some will sneer. No. Simplicity is never simplistic nor is it easy. And the devil may well be in the detail. But if Keir Starmer can cast off his possessive desire to control the Parliamentary Labour Party in every aspect of its thinking, and permit the growth of a courageous and sometimes disputatious government in a courageous state, then a clear-eyed view of those things which make for equality, peace, truth and simplicity will give the Fiend much less room for manoeuvre.


© Jill Segger (England) is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, The Catholic Herald, Tribune, The Friend and Reform, among other publications. Her acclaimed book Words Out of Silence was published by Ekklesia in 2019. She is an active member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jill became an honorary associate director in 2010 and is now Ekklesia’s Contributing Editor. She is also a musician and has been a composer. Her recent columns are available here and her pre-2021 articles can be found here. You can follow Jill on Twitter: @quakerpen