Demoralised and shattered: Yes, the left in the UK is down. But here’s why it isn’t out

London: There are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and Keir Starmer becoming prime minister within a year. A coalition of panicked Tories and bored contrarians push back at this inevitability in public: the unthinkable has triumphed recently more than once, they coo. Perhaps, but perhaps not if you’re 20 points behind with an election months away and your strategically hapless leader wears a permanent, awkward grimace proving that even he knows the game is truly up.

This reality has prompted Starmer allies to dream of a whopping Labour landslide. The prize for doing so? Not something as parochial as transforming the country – boring! But rather a massive majority would be seen as a chance to definitively bury the Labour left, as one former Blair and Starmer speechwriter proclaimed in the Times. The Starmerites worry that a small majority would give a “Corbynite rump” leverage. Their preference is a landslide that would give loyal apparatchiks licence to make solemn speeches about “tough choices” – the sort of people who would vote for the King Herod (Infant Streamlining) Act if party whips demanded it. I, for one, can’t wait.

In truth, Starmer’s icepick-wielding allies may not risk a scenario where a small section of Labour left MPs could influence his agenda. They’ve already stitched up party selections to keep out candidates who believe in dangerous, extremist nonsense, such as, er … the social democratic policies Starmer offered members when he stood for leader. As veteran journalist Michael Crick notes, this drive for ideological purity leaves Labour with a parliamentary influx of questionable quality and few incoming working-class candidates. One senior party official tells me that the newbies are far more “cartoonishly Blairite” than those even from the New Labour era.

But the top brass may go further. Some Blairites regret not purging the left while they could. A few Corbynites such as Beth Winter, Sam Tarry and Mick Whitley have already had the chop. Thankfully, a desperate attempt to deselect the young, leftwing Muslim MP Zarah Sultana failed – indeed, critics were humiliated when she was reselected with the support of every local party branch. But as for other surviving leftwingers, it would not be surprising if a dossier of old tweets and Facebook statuses were mysteriously discovered, leading Labour to issue suspensions, precluding them from standing. They may just throw in a few non-lefties being investigated for misconduct to cover their tracks.

If embattled socialist parliamentarians survive and a modest Tory revival leads to a narrow Labour majority, Starmer’s allies will regard the left’s newfound influence as catastrophic. But catastrophic for whom? Not for the public. Imagine if the left had held more sway under New Labour. There would have been no Iraq war, no private finance initiative, no scrapping the 10p tax rate, a better regulated financial sector, more redistribution of wealth, and an interventionist industrial policy focused on the communities that went on to vote for Brexit. The horror.

If Starmer had a slim majority, the Socialist Campaign Group would face a challenge. With around 30 leftwing Labour MPs in the grouping, Starmer could do a Harold Wilson and call a second election to try and rid them of any leverage and gain a bigger mandate; a decision beyond the left’s control and dependent on whether the public is judged to have election fatigue. Second, the leadership will claim MPs’ mandates rest on a manifesto with no commitment to increasing taxes for the well-off or significant public investment – or indeed anything else meaningful.

Here the left can simply repeat Starmer’s trick. Just as the Labour leader excused his junking of radical policy on a change of circumstances, so can the left. Our recurrent political crises and jaw-dropping levels of inequality are conditions that lend themselves perfectly to socialist policy. Each time there’s a private sector failure, the case can be made for public ownership. When a crisis hits an underresourced public service, that’s an argument for more investment. When the Sunday Times rich list reveals billionaires pocketing record fortunes while frontline workers are struggling, the call for tax justice will resonate. When a summer of extreme weather hits headlines, demands for more radical climate action write themselves. You get the gist.

But purely parliamentary struggles will fall flat. Today, younger generations are more politicised and trade unions more assertive. Expectations will be raised by the Tories being ejected. If things don’t markedly improve – a likely scenario given Labour’s meek offering – expect the growth of movements demanding change. Think struggles over workers’ rights and pay, housing, racism, climate, civil liberties and foreign policy. The mass mobilisations over Gaza surely foreshadow all this. Close links would need to be forged between such movements and left parliamentarians so that they act in tandem.

In truth, given the Tories’ ongoing self-immolation, a big majority for Labour is highly probable and the resulting parliamentary army of Blairite clones will probably immunise the leadership from such pressure. A landslide will trigger a period of unabashed triumphalism among this cohort. But it may not last long. Boris Johnson felt pretty invincible when he bagged an 80-seat majority. Don’t forget that ours is an age of turmoil; that Labour are winning by default; that there is precious little enthusiasm for its leader; and that Britain will continue to feel like it is in a constant state of social emergency unless presented with a transformative programme. Today’s left seems demoralised, shattered, leaderless. Tomorrow: well, we’ll see.