Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne Mayor, has resigned from the Labour Party after being excluded from the selection process for the new post of North East Mayor. Providing he can raise enough money to fund his campaign, he will stand instead as an independent.
Driscoll was excluded after sharing a platform with Ken Loach, who was expelled by Labour in 2021 for opposing the witch hunt against the left. Driscoll has shown himself to be an effective mayor who, while being ostensibly on the left of the party, has been driven by pragmatism and is open to compromise if he thinks it will to get things done.
But Starmer has no intention of compromising, at least when it comes to the left. Driscoll is condemned because of his association with Loach and Corbyn. This is symptomatic of the extreme factionalism of the Labour right and their efforts to control every aspect of the party.
Driscoll used his resignation letter to attack Starmer’s record of broken promises, which he contrasted with his own achievements as mayor. He went on to criticise Labour’s lack of courage and ambition.
“It is not grown up politics to say Britain is broken and then claim that things are so difficult we will abandon any plan to fix it. That is mental gymnastics worthy of Olympic gold.”
He is right. At the weekend Starmer refused to scrap the two-child benefit cap and would not commit to increased funding for the NHS and public services if he is elected. Along with Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, he is committed to keeping to Tory plans on tax and borrowing and interest rates, while waiting for economic recovery. In other words, he is waiting for broken Britain to fix itself. Instead of being Leader of the Opposition, Starmer has become the leader of No-position.
Starmer is trying to emulate Tony Blair, who pursued a similar policy of ‘fiscal conservatism’ in 1997. It was a bad policy then; but Blair was lucky — he inherited a UK economy that was growing and wages were rising. So he got away with it for a while. This year, the UK economy is expected to perform rather worse than our competitors. Wages are at historically low levels, and inflation is three times as high as in the USA.
At Critical Mass, we are constantly arguing that capitalism cannot be defeated unless you are prepared to break with Labour and fight for socialism — but Driscoll has made it clear that he is breaking with Starmer rather than Labour. In his resignation letter, he suggests that he is leaving the Labour Party reluctantly and that it is a sacrifice he is willing to make in order to serve the people. In fact, he talks a lot about public service in his letter but does not mention socialism, and specifically states, “I am not encouraging anybody to the leave the Labour Party.”
This raises another comparison with Blair. When Blair pulled out all the stops to prevent Ken Livingstone from becoming the Labour candidate for London Mayor in 2000, Livingstone stood as an independent and won, beating the Labour candidate, Frank Dobson, into third place. Livingstone was re-admitted to the Labour Party in 2004 and won again, this time as the Labour candidate.
While we hope for a similar humiliating embarrassment for Starmer in the upcoming North East mayoral election, we do well to remember that, like Livingstone, Driscoll has not broken with Labour. It has broken with him and, just like Livingstone, given the chance, Driscoll will go back to them.
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