The Blair era is drawing to close not with a bang but with a great
deal of whimpering. The claims and counter claims, by Blairites,
Brownites, and the anyone-else-who-can-save-my-career-ites, of plots
and coups makes entertaining subject matter for newspaper leader
writers, but holds little interest for the rest of us. Not a word in
all this about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the privatisation of
the NHS – over which there is not the slightest disagreement between
the prime minister and the chancellor, or the braying packs of hyenas
which surround them and speak on their behalf. Not a word, that is,
except from the socialist candidate for the Labour leadership John
McDonnell MP, who compared the intrigues and back-stabbing campaigns of
the past week to an episode of The Sopranos. Launching his leadership
campaign in Manchester – pointedly distancing himself from the
shenanigans taking place in London’s New Labour ‘court’ – the left-wing
MP for Hayes and Harlington is concentrating on politics, and on
policies in the interests of working class people. What is needed, he
argues, is “a national campaign for a radical break with the failed
policies of new Labour", adding that changing leaders would "not be
enough to save Labour at the next election".
Meanwhile, back in
the Machiavellian parlours inhabited by the competing court camarillas
of Blair and Brown, the real world is not permitted to intrude into
their private battles. Most working people watching the public school
parlour game that passes for politics in the New Labour hierarchy can
only shake their heads in disgust at the blatant and unapologetic,
self-serving careerism of these creatures. A comparison between these
‘great statesmen’ and the contestants on Big Brother would resemble an
Orwellian look from pig to man and back again unable to tell the
difference. They have no fundamental disagreements over policy, as
Blair, Brown and other potential candidates, Reid and Johnson, are at
pains to insist. If not political principle, then what is at the root
of such vehement and venomous arguments as those we have just witnessed
on every front page and every TV channel? About what did Blair and
Brown apparently have their ‘half-hour shouting match’ (according to
the papers), which led to Blair’s announcement that he would be gone by
this time next year? Only the desire for power, for office, and
prestige. They are beneath contempt. Their supporters talk about ‘civil
war’, ‘assasination’ and so on in hyperbolic language. On these matters
they become most excited, demonstrating far more passion than they do
for saving the health service, or over the body bags arriving home from
Afghanistan and Iraq.
The details of this sordid business are
hardly worthy of our attention, save perhaps for a certain
schadenfreude, an enjoyment at watching these cliques tear each other
apart. Pleasure, too, in the knowledge that Blairism, that mould which
grew on the surface of the labour movement during a period of
inactivity, can now be swept away. It has no roots below the surface.We
have warned before that Blair’s attempts to emulate Thatcher would
result in him meeting the same end. Now Blair wants to mimic her final
days too, being visited by the men in grey suits to convince him that
his days are numbered.
Blair was desperate to outlast Thatcher’s
term of office that would have meant staying in Number Ten until
November 2008. This is what he had in mind when he stated his desire to
“serve a full third term”. As we pointed out at the time this was
always a pipedream and in any case the decision would not ultimately
rest in his hands. Having realised that this record was beyond his
grasp he is desperate at least to make it to ten years, a distant eight
months away. This is his ambition, the Blair decade. What a pathetic
goal in life for a Labour leader!
Blair's 'My Way' – The End is Near
A leaked Blairite document has revealed that plans have been drawn up
for a Frank Sinatra style farewell tour (seriously) appearing on Songs
of Praise, Blue Peter etc. It continues: "He needs to go with the
crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that
These people have long been out of touch with reality. They don’t even
play the useful role of the slave made to follow Roman military
commanders declaring “memento mori” (remember you are mortal).
According to the press for a long time now Blair's entourage has been
screening out any of its own polling results that it doesn't like.
Blair himself sidelined Stan Greenberg, the US pollster he had hired,
dismissing him as "obsessed about Iraq". He shot the messenger who
brought the bad news that the fallout from Iraq had done for trust in
The current crisis, which has effectively kicked off a leadership
election campaign, followed the news that seven minor party and
government officials resigned signing a letter calling on Blair to go.
He didn’t go ‘with the crowds wanting more’, instead he is refusing to
budge when his own supporters want rid of him. One junior minister, Tom
Watson – a former chief whip and Blair loyalist – said it was "not in
the interest of either the party or the country" for Mr Blair to remain
in office. In his resignation letter to the prime minister he wrote:
"It is with the greatest sadness that I have to say that I no longer
believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the
party or the country. How and why this situation has arisen no longer
matters. I share the view of the overwhelming majority of the party and
the country that the only way the party and the government can renew
itself in office is urgently to renew its leadership."
Many of the letter’s signatories were loyal Blairites. In reality, of
course, the loyalty of these ladies and gentlemen is to their careers.
Their letter represented an attempt to sniff the air to see which way
self-preservation lies. As Lenin once explained there is no such thing
as a sincerometer in politics. Some, no doubt, act out of principle,
others out of a principal concern that they might lose their seat at
the next election.
Blair The Electoral Liability
It was always a myth that Blair was responsible for Labour winning
elections. Labour’s lead had risen to over 30 percent in the polls
before the death of John Smith. From the time Blair took over the
leadership until the 1997 election that lead fell, and it has continued
to fall, more or less, ever since. Labour won a landslide in 1997
regardless of Blair and co.
Four years later, in 2001, Labour secured a second term with the lowest
turnout on record, in spite of Blair and the experience of four years
of New Labour rule. Some refused to vote in protest at Blair and co’s
failures, but some wanted to give them another chance. Labour needed
longer than four years to roll back 18 years of Tory rule, we were told.
In 2005 nine and a half million people voted Labour, many holding their
noses, to make sure that the Tories did not win. That is two million
less than voted Labour when Kinnock was leader in 1992, and the Tories
won. Labour has shed 4 million votes since 1997. In other words, one in
three voters who put Labour in office in 1997 did not turn out to
support them in May 2005. The number of voters who chose Labour last
year was fewer than in any of the elections fought by Harold Wilson,
Jim Callaghan or Neil Kinnock.
Blair was not directly responsible for those election victories, but he
and his policies are now preparing a defeat next time around.
As Lord Hattersley put it “For 10 years, the prime minister has told
his critics that his policies, like them or not, win elections. He
cannot complain if, now that he has become a liability, the MPs he has
taught to place victory above all other considerations want him to go…
The prime minister will not go quietly. His concern is his own
reputation and what he hopes will be his place in history. The effect
on the party, for which he has never had much affection, will not
influence his decision to fight a desperate, and bloody, rearguard
action. He does not mind what happens after he has gone.”
Hattersley wrote these lines in an article entitled “The coup I would
have joined”. The media are now obsessed with gossiping about whether
Brown himself organised this so-called ‘coup’. After months of
demanding that Brown stand up to Blair, now those same papers denounce
him as a plotter and intriguer. This simply reflects the fact that the
bourgeois press will now seek every opportunity to attack Labour as
they prepare to campaign for the Tories’ return.
There is a mounting campaign in the media and the backrooms to convince
a former or current cabinet minister to oppose Brown. So who will it
be? John Reid, Charles Clarke, Stephen Byers or Alan Milburn would be
equally unlikely to win many votes and threaten Brown’s succession.
No, the man the Blairites are looking to is Education Secretary and
former postal workers’ union leader, Alan Johnson. The Tory press and
Blairites alike have leapt on Johnson as the man to take on Brown,
garlanding him with lavish praise. Now they emphasise the times he has
stood up to the unions (before, the Tory press claimed he had given in
to them on public employee pensions). Whilst the Blairite clique are
anxious to find someone to oppose Brown and defend their positions, the
Tories and the bourgeois press are keen to create the biggest possible
mess in order to boost the Tories chances at the next election.
The Education Secretary’s namesake in Guys and Dolls, Nicely Nicely
Johnson famously sang “Sit down you’re rocking the boat”. This was a
charge frequently leveled at socialists and trade unionists in the
movement in the past whenever we opposed the policies of the
leadership. Now it is both the Blairite and Brownite factions that are
attempting to capsize the Labour Party, for the sake of their egos and
Brown will no doubt be mulling the fate of Michael Heseltine, who stood
to remove Thatcher but failed to replace her. In the days of mediaeval
court politics (which this business closely resembles) it was often
said that the dagger and the crown never end up in the same trophy
Unstable and Disorderly Transition
The idea of a ‘stable and orderly transition’ is certainly dead in the
water. The Brownites original plan had been to take over with no
democratic vote, and then move to a general election as soon as
possible to ride a wave of ‘not being Blair’ popularity. They were
becoming worried, however, that the longer Blair clung on, the deeper
became Labour’s unpopularity, and any chance of winning the next
election was evaporating. Perhaps this thought encouraged them to move
against Blair ‘before it was too late’. All that has changed now.
Having fantasised about his very own administration for decades, Brown
will not want to risk having the limo for only three weeks, becoming
the Lady Jane Grey of Westminster. If he delays the election to the
last possible moment he may well find himself cast in the role of Jim
Callaghan who did exactly the same after taking over from Harold
Wilson, eventually losing to Thatcher in 1979.
Regardless of the antics of all these cliques, spin doctors and
careerists, a campaign for the Labour leadership can provide an
excellent opportunity for raising and discussing socialist ideas
throughout the labour movement. Under the rules, each candidate
requires the nomination of 12.5% of the parliamentary party – 44 MPs –
to stand. Amongst the intrigues of Blair and co, there will also be all
kinds of attempts through threats, and through standing some kind of
‘soft’ left alternative candidate, to prevent McDonnell getting the
required number of nominations, precisely in order to stop such a
debate from taking place. In the constituencies and in the unions
pressure must be brought to bear on Labour MPs to sign the nomination
papers. The ultra-left groups simply declare from the sidelines that he
is unlikely to succeed in gaining the nominations, and even if he did
he couldn’t win. Some of them argue that if McDonnell gets the
nominations they will support him. How? Outside the Labour Party they
have no vote. Some of them say it doesn’t matter anyway Labour can’t be
changed. What a depressing and pessimistic world these people inhabit,
where people and organisations cannot be changed. How they ever hope to
change society is a mystery.
There could be as many as one million people entitled to vote for the
Labour leadership. The MPs and Euro MPs get one third of the vote; the
200,000 or so party members get another third; and affiliated trade
union members, who all get a vote too, comprise the other third.
Yet there are still some groups who will insist that the Labour Party
is a bourgeois party, a bosses party, no different from the Tories.
Well some bourgeois party this where rank and file trade unionists and
party members get two-thirds of the vote! What are we to conclude? Are
the rank and file members of Labour bourgeois? Are the rank and file of
the trade unions?
As a kind of shorthand we could express the nature of the Labour Party
in terms of this election process. One third, the ‘parliamentary vote’,
is under the direct influence of the bourgeois tendency (although this
is far too simplistic, within the parliamentary groups we find various
layers including the Blair/Brown tendency), whilst two-thirds represent
the party’s working class base (the rank and file and the trade
unionists). This is not a new development. It was Lenin who described
Labour as a bourgeois workers party, a party with a working class base
but a pro-bourgeois leadership. For all the crimes and calumnies of
Blair and his predecessors at the top of the Labour Party that has not
fundamentally changed one iota. None of us need to be told that Blair’s
policies have been Tory, anti-working class, in the interests of the
bosses etc. This is abc. Those groups who base their analysis of the
mass organisations on this alone, the policies of the leadership,
understand very little indeed. They fall into the old trap of judging a
book by its cover.
In so doing they have cut themselves off from participating in this
struggle. In itself this is not too important since their numbers are
probably too insignificant to alter the situation dramatically. Having
said that, were all these groups inside Labour they could have a
certain effect. The real crime of these people is not that they do not
participate themselves, but that they attempt to disenfranchise the
trade union movement, calling on the unions to disaffiliate from
Labour. Fortunately they have not succeeded.
Those unions that have disaffiliated, in effect the RMT and the FBU,
did so for understandable reasons. Railway workers have experienced one
disaster after another as the Labour government reneged on its pledge
to renationalise the industry. Firefighters fought a bitter dispute
with the Blair government over their scandalously low wages, and wider
attacks on the fire service. Nevertheless, frustration is a bad
taskmaster. Both these unions should be inside Labour and at the
forefront of the campaign for John McDonnell, and raising socialist
It was the Blairites who insisted on changing the rules of the Labour
Party, attempting to cut out the unions’ bloc vote, as part of their
campaign to break the link between the party and the unions. The
Marxists always opposed those attempts (another part of the ‘Blair
Project’ which failed), and defended the bloc vote of the trade unions.
However, we also pointed out that all too often that vote was wielded
undemocratically by union leaders, usually in support of the right wing
of the Labour Party. A struggle was required not to abolish the bloc
vote but to ‘democratise’ it. The unions’ votes should be cast as a
result of debate, mass meetings or conferences of the workers
concerned. Not for the first time the rule change imposed by the
leadership now threatens to turn on them. Affiliated trade union
members getting individual votes dissolves the activists in the mass,
and doesn’t automatically and necessarily result in the kinds of
meetings and the level of debate and participation for which we had
always argued. It also leaves the members under the influence of the
media. However, it does allow for union branches around the country to
organise their own debates, inviting candidates to put forward their
programme. In the past the trade union leaders could have been expected
to back Brown en masse, ironically the new rules will mean more votes
for the left and more opportunities to discuss socialist ideas.
While the careerists and their cliques all try to demonstrate their
worth to the city of London, Murdoch and co, John McDonnell’s campaign
will provide the opportunity to hold meetings of party members and
trade unionists, workers and youth, up and down the country to discuss
the socialist programme needed to defeat the Tories and, most
importantly, to begin to tackle the real problems of society.
The Results of Three Terms of Blair
All the opinion polls now make the Tories clear favourites to win the
next election. This is the crowning achievement of three terms of
Blairism. The combined effects of the destruction of a million
manufacturing jobs, the war in Iraq, the continued privatisation of
health and education, and the scandals and intrigues surrounding the
Labour leaders and their spin doctors have pushed support for Labour to
its lowest point for 19 years.
The scandal that led to Lord Levy being arrested – the cash for
coronets affair – has emptied out the party’s coffers. Those ‘donors’,
denied the honours they were paying for, have demanded their money
back. The unions will now be asked to cough up extra to pay for a
leadership election which party organisers claim will cost £1 million.
Why it should cost so much is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, whatever
sympathy one may have had with those unions who cut their donations in
a form of protest (as opposed to disaffiliating, which, with a
leadership election about to take place is now exposed as a hollow
protest, and a disenfranchisement) now the unions should indeed be
willing to invest in a campaign to remove Blair and elect a candidate
who supports those policies passed by one union conference after
another. That candidate is John McDonnell.
In the second quarter of this year alone (April-June 2006) the unions
donated £2.5 million to Labour's funds, 74% of the total income of the
party for that quarter. The TGWU, made two donations of over £250,000
in that quarter alone. So the unions get half the votes at the
conference, a third of the votes for the leadership, and provide the
bulk of the party’s funding. Again we have to ask what sort of bosses’
party is this? The trade unions have immense power inside the Labour
Party, the problem lies with union leaders who have been unwilling to
wield that power in the interests of their members and the working
class as a whole.
The relationship between the trade union movement and the Blairites was
made crystal clear for anyone who didn’t already know it by Blair’s
comments and performance at the TUC. This would be his last TUC as
party leader, he announced, “probably to the relief of us both”. All
his appeals about the future of the Labour Party fall on the deaf ears
of those who know he has never cared two hoots for the movement, which
has merely served him and his coterie of supporters and advisers as a
vehicle for their careers.
Those in the leadership of the trade union movement who had been keen
to back Brown, some even hiding behind claims that Brown was somehow to
the left of Blair, had the reality spelled out to them in a speech
given by Brown to the TUC General Council the very same evening
following Blair’s speech. He declared his support for Bush, and argued
for the right to hold suspects for longer than 28 days without charge.
He backed the prime minister on Iraq and on ‘reform’ (privatisation) in
the NHS. He has also demanded a public sector pay freeze. Writing in
the Financial Times (FT) (29/8/06) Brown called for a 2% limit on all
public-sector pay rises next year. This is an even tighter target than
the 2.5% increases in public sector pay (which Brown calls an
achievement) for 2006.
Officially inflation is at an historically low level but
the real cost of living has risen sharply. Housing, transport (public
transport or car), food, gas and electricity are all far dearer than a
year ago and together represent the majority of spending by working
people. In his article the Chancellor accepts there is a risk of yet
higher inflation. Harking back to the industrial battles of the 1970s
he insists workers must bear the costs of inflation by accepting a cut
in real pay.
Yet, the same day's FT reported that, following a review of executive
pay structures, the average leading executive of an FTSE 100 listed
company received an increase in overall remuneration (basic pay plus
bonuses) of around 14 percent this year. That's up from around 12
percent last year and takes their average earnings to £2.4 million.
That's an increase averaging about £313,000 each! Slavish support for
the City of London is just another point of agreement for Blair and
Blairites For Brown, Not Trade Unionists
To make clear the lack of any difference between them, some ministers
(as ever with an eye on their own future careers) have discussed
setting up a Blairites 4 Brown organisation. Phil Woolas, the local
government minister, and a leader of the planned organisation, said:
"There is no ideological divide between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It
makes sense for Blairites to get behind Gordon in the interest of party
How can any trade union back Brown? Surely any pretence of a difference
between the two is now dead in the water. The media will try to turn
the leadership campaign into a matter of personalities, and a struggle
between Brown and another Blairite would be just that, a kind of
parliamentary Big Brother. The campaign for John McDonnell must
concentrate instead on what policies can stop the Tories, winning back
support for Labour, and therefore what policies can address the real
problems being faced every day by millions of ordinary working people.
That means stopping and reversing privatisation.
There can be no place for the pirateers in our health service or
education system. These vital services along with the utilities must be
brought back fully into public ownership.
The water crisis, a drought caused by the profiteers unwillingness to
spend their loot on repairing pipes, and the disaster of privatised
public transport cries out for nationalisation, investment and planning.
Troops must be brought back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the attacks on our civil liberties and democratic rights reversed.
The anti-union laws, scandalously maintained by Blair and co must go.
meetings around the country we must argue for these demands as part of
a socialist programme for transforming society. Such a programme would
breathe new life into the comatose body of the Labour Party and provide
a real focal point for the mounting anger of workers and youth across
Britain.Brown remains the favourite to win the leadership ballot at
However, a lot can happen between now and then. There
is trouble brewing economically, industrially and internationally, as
well as politically, for Blair and his successor.
The Economy: A Bubble Fit to Burst
In her speech to the TUC Margaret Beckett appealed to the
successes of the Labour government: “If we had gone into the 1997
general election saying we were committed to bringing full employment
in this country, it would have been regarded as a pledge that was
impossible to keep.” That may be considered something of a sick joke at
a TUC discussing the destruction of one million manufacturing jobs
since Blair first took office (another lasting legacy, and one more in
which he followed Thatcher’s lead). Worse still the claim came on the
same day that rising unemployment figures were announced. The Office
for National Statistics said that unemployment rose to 1.7 million in
the three months to July, which is the worst figure recorded since
January 2000. The figure was 93,000 higher than last month and up
280,000 on the year. The internationally recognised ILO measure of
unemployment ticked up to 5.5% in the three months to July from 5.3% in
the previous quarter.
On the one hand, the dependence of the
British economy on a world market heading for a fall, and on the other
British capitalism’s own sickness – demonstrated by a colossal debt,
the decimation of manufacturing and a reliance on services and banking
– all point to Brown moving next door just as the economy heads for a
fall. It is ironic indeed that for all Brown and Blair’s claims to have
abolished the boom-slump cycle, the economy is heading for a recession
just as Brown heads for Number Ten. Like the conjoined twins in DBC
Pierre’s novel Ludmilla’s Broken English, when Gordon and Blair are
separated, Brown will find that his luck has run out.Brown boasts of
how well he has managed the economy, yet any measure taken to limit
credit brings all economic activity to a grinding halt. Manufacturing
is now a hollowed out shell, unemployment is rising. The Bank of
England cannot decide whether cutting interest rates, raising them or
leaving well alone will produce the worst result. The only person left
who cannot see the black hole in public finances is the Chancellor, who
resembles Dickens’ Mr Micawber, confidently expecting something to turn
up. As in David Copperfield it will be the creditors that come knocking.
Five years ago faced with collapsing consumer and business confidence
at a time when the collapse of the dotcom bubble had already created
the conditions for recession, central banks and finance ministers made
a concerted dash for growth. Interest rates were slashed to stimulate
consumers to borrow; budget deficits were allowed to yawn to allow
increases in public spending. This was a hair of the dog approach to
economic policy; a hangover was avoided by plying the partygoer with
several more stiff drinks.
Low interest rates in the US and Britain meant there was barely pause
for breath before the 1990s speculation in the stock market became
speculation in real estate. Consumers in both the US and the UK
borrowed heavily against the rising value of their homes and binged on
imported consumer goods. Commodity prices soared, trade deficits
ballooned, and inflation started to make a comeback. (Incidentally it
is in this phoney money, credit and speculation and not workers wage
rises that we find the causes of inflation, but that is the subject for
The period of ultra-cheap money is now over. Interest rates have been
going up in the US, the eurozone, the UK and even deflation-affected
Japan. Borrowers, many of them massively over-extended, are feeling the
squeeze, as can be seen by the record bankruptcy figures in this
country. But hair of the dog is unlikely to work again. There is no
budget surplus to run down in order to boost public spending. Indeed,
next year's spending review will be tight, whether it is Brown or his
successor at the Treasury who unveils it. It is the market, ie the
needs of capitalism that decides. This would be the case under Blair,
Brown Cameron or any other leader or party wedded to the market.
Whoever wins the Labour leadership, and whoever wins the next general
election, the new government will have to increase taxes, increase
borrowing or cut spending. Most likely it will be a combination of all
three and the working class will once again be asked to foot the bill.
This will have an impact not only on spending, not only on statistics,
but on real lives, on the outlook of classes, on class consciousness
and on the class struggle.
Consumers are already mortgaged up to the eyeballs and – deep down –
know that there has been far too much funny money sloshing around.
Brown's inheritance may coincide with the very hangover he is credited
The number of people out of work has risen to its highest level in six
years, despite a fall in the number claiming unemployment benefit. The
increase in unemployment has stoked speculation in the City that the
Bank of England will raise interest rates further in November following
the last hike in August to the current 4.75%. A growing number of
borrowers are already unable to meet their mortgage repayments, many of
them first-time buyers who only recently climbed onto the property
ladder. Citizens Advice said about 770,000 people had missed one or
more mortgage repayment in the past year. Nearly two million said they
were concerned that their finances may not stretch to cover their
monthly debts. A Citizens Advice study found that younger people were
the most likely to fall behind on financial commitments, with 13% of
those aged 21 to 24 missing a home loan payment.
property prices have made homes in many areas unaffordable for
first-time buyers. Many stretch their finances to get a first foot on
the ladder. A new interest rate rise will pull the ladder from under
them with dire consequences personally and for consumer spending
Citizens Advice said many people failed to understand secured lending.
Among those who bought secured personal loans, 11% of the 2,057 adults
surveyed wrongly thought their homes would be safe if they missed
repayments. Last year the charity helped to deal with 1.25m debt
problems and received 87,000 inquiries about actual or threatened
homelessness, with a further 51,000 about mortgage and secured loan
The property boom and the credit binge and immense
consumer spending allied to it is one of the greatest houses of cards
ever constructed. It cannot continue to stand indefinitely. When it
does finally collapse it will have a profound impact on the entire
economy and on all our lives.
It has not been the ‘sound management’ of the Chancellor, but a
property bubble, credit and spending in the shops – along with the
world market – that have kept the economy afloat in recent times. The
government has looked back over the past 15 years to determine what
have been the biggest contributors to Britain's economic growth, which
they never tire of claiming has outstripped all ‘our competitors’.
The answer, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), is
not computing or internet-based businesses. No, the biggest driver to
economic growth has been the rise of the ‘landlord class’.
It almost beggars belief, but the way our economic growth figures are
calculated is based on "gross added value". The ONS found that the
gross added value to the economy from things such as iron and steel,
railway transport and textiles had fallen by 50% or more since 1992.
But the "value" created by the letting of dwellings rose to £45bn, a
gain of 120%.
In modern Britain, it seems, putting up the rent is somehow regarded as
economic growth. While the US still dominates in technology, Germany
makes millions of cars, Japan makes consumer electronics, and China is
catching them all up, Britain produces buy-to-let landlords. How ‘our
competitors’ must envy this economic success.
While Blair fusses over his ‘legacy’, Brown will find his waiting for
him if he succeeds in getting in the door of Number Ten in the form af
an unstable economy teetering on the edge of recession.
Although Brown remains favourite to win that is not guaranteed. The
Home Secretary, John Reid, is astonishingly seen by the media as a
potential challenger to Brown.
When the Blairites say their only purpose in seeking a candidate to
oppose Brown is to ensure the future is New Labour, they deceive
themselves. Brown is the co-architect of New Labour policy and New
Labour economics. The Blairite clique is acting out ofpersonal self
interest, ideology is only a fig leaf.
The other alternative candidate we have already mentioned is Alan
Johnson. The press describe him as the new John Major, by which they
mean relatively unknown and able to ‘come through the middle’ in in a
leadership election campaign. Johnson has already declared previously a
desire to stand for the deputy leadership, and has begun campaigning in
Peter Hain has now declared that he wants to stand for deputy and will
no doubt soon be followed by others like Jack Straw and Harriet Harman.
The post of deputy will be popular, some will want to stand in order to
carve out a cabinet seat for themselves. Others meanwhile will be
looking to the future – and maybe the not too distant future – placing
themselves in pole position as leadership candidates if Brown, for
example, were to lead Labour to a General Election defeat.
This logic applies just as well to Alan Johnson. For all the media
focus on his union credentials, Johnson was one of the first to back
the axing of clause four from the party’s constitution, and is
campaigning for further ‘reform’, including abolishing what is left of
the union bloc vote at party conference. Make no mistake, he is a
At present Johnson is no doubt weighing up his chances. If he could win
he would stand. The Blairites are probably trying to convince him to as
their anybody but Brown candidate. On the other hand if he stood and
lost but got a reasonable vote, would Brown dump him as an enemy, or
promote him? Such are the sorry thought processes of the career
politician. You will note the absence of any consideration of policy.
Does he want to be leader and lose the election, or leader after
whoever loses the election? Alternatively, is he just using the
publicity of speculation over his leadership ambitions to increase his
chances of winning the deputy leadership? Any of these scenarios or an
admixture of them is possible. It is impossible, not to mention
pointless, to predict the behaviour of careerists in such a scenario.
Ruling Class Preparing for Return of First Eleven – Unions Preparing to Fight
The Mail, Murdoch and co are now more than happy to tear shreds out of
the Labour Party. The ruling class have used the Labour leadership to
serve their ends for as long as they could. As we have pointed out
previously the capitalist class are more than happy with the way Blair
and Brown have represented their interests. However, having squeezed
the life out of Labour they are now ready to discard the empty husk.
They have no problem with Brown – the myth that he was somehow to the
left of Blair has all but evaporated. They do, however, have a problem
with the mounting opposition on the backbenches, and, even worse, over
their shoulders, the growing opposition of the trade unions and the
working class to their policies. A Brown Labour government could not be
relied upon as a solid enough base to push through the attacks on the
welfare state, and on jobs, pensions, wages and conditions that
enfeebled British capitalism requires to maintain its profits. As a
result the ruling class and its media are reverting once more to
supporting the bosses’ first eleven, the Tory Party.
The media studiously avoids mention of John McDonnell. Heaven forbid
they might then be forced to discuss politics. If McDonnell’s campaign
gathers momentum, and there can be no doubt that it will amongst the
rank and file, the media would turn against him most savagely. For now
they try to ignore him as irrelevant.
As the economy turns to bite Brown and co so too will the unions. At
the TUC Brown defended the continued plans for NHS privatisation.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had the bare faced temerity to address
the TUC defending the imminent privatisation of logistics – handing the
delivery of everything from stationery to bed linen and MRI scanners
over to German parcels’ frim DHL. The result promises to be the first
NHS strike for 18 years.
civil servants are also threatening renewed strike action in response
to Gordon Brown's announcement that he intended to intensify
privatisation and cut public sector pay.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said time was "running out for
government, who have failed to give guarantees over compulsory
redundancies and deteriorating services, as they plough on regardless
in cutting civil service jobs."
He added: "Unless the government
move to address these problems seriously in the next few weeks, then
the possibility of a second national civil service-wide strike will
become a reality.” A third of PCS members earn less than £14,000 a year
and cannot accept what amounts to pay cuts over the next three years.
"My members can't stand by when the government is spending £2.2bn a
year on consultants, and employing consultants in the Revenue and
Customs on salaries at 10 times the rate of civil servants," Serwotka
The union has already linked up with other public
sector unions to campaign against cuts and privatisation in particular
the Public Services Not Private Profit campaign sponsored by John
McDonnell. Serwotka has already declared his support for John
McDonnell’s campaign. He is calling for mass protests to greet Blair’s
‘farewell tour’. Unfortunately the PCS is not affiliated to the Labour
Party and so will not get a vote in the election. The same unfortunate
logic applies to the RMT whose delegation walked out of the TUC unable
to sit through Blair’s last speech. They do not support Brown but have
no vote. Inside the Labour Party the RMT, the FBU, PCS and other unions
not currently affiliated would play a vital role at this moment.
Activists in these unions must draw the necessary conclusions from the
leadership campaign, the first one being that now is clearly not the
time to contract out, but to contract in.
A poll of bosses
carried out for the CBI foresees a new period of class struggle in the
next twelve months. The survey revealed that one in five private firms
and one in four public-sector organisations expected relations with
unions to be "adversarial" in the next year. No wonder, since in the
same breath they call on Brown not to bow to workers’ demands for more
rights. John Cridland, the CBI deputy director general, said he had no
reason to suspect Gordon Brown or other potential challengers would
succumb to union demands but business did not like uncertainty. "We are
not suggesting there are any reasons for concern, but what is clear is
that some who don't share business views believe there will be new
opportunities for them to push their agenda." Quite right. This is
precisely an opportunity to ‘push an agenda’ in the interests of the
The leaders of the Labour Party always come under pressure from the
City of London, the bosses organisations and the media. For nine years
in office Blair and co have done their bidding. There is no reason to
believe Brown would not continue in the same vein.
Those union leaders still claiming that to support Brown will allow
them to have influence over his direction and policy are living in
cloud cuckoo land. The only way to put pressure on Brown and co will be
to fight every one of their attempts to continue with privatisation,
industrially and politically, that means calling demonstrations, and
where necessary strike action, and it means supporting John McDonnell.
Ah, some of them claim, but he can’t win, so it’s better if we back
Brown so we don’t annoy him. What warped logic that argues for
supporting your opponent in order not to displease him. It is certainly
not consistent with trade unionism.
Derek Simpson of Amicus, quoting a poll of his own members, says Blair
should go now handing over office to Brown immediately. "Gordon Brown
should take the reins before the turn of the year. If Blair goes now
and Brown takes over, working together we can win … the next general
election," he said.
Whilst supporting the sentiment that Blair’s departure tomorrow morning
would not be soon enough, there is a danger here of sounding ‘left’,
and yet the result would be Brown in office without even having an
election. Brown himself has now been forced to claim that he wants an
election to take place, and certainly to accept that there will be one.
He wanted a coronation. He believed it was his right. It was his turn.
That was supposed to be the meaning of the ‘stable and orderly
Apparently he has already measured the curtains at
No 10 Downing Street, and not just metaphorically. They have been
ordered and delivered. Indeed Brown is actually preparing to move into
No 10, and not on May 4 or May 31, but much sooner. After years living
away from the upstairs No 10 flat handed him by Mr Blair back in 1997,
the chancellor has decided that now his family has expanded it is the
time to move in properly. Cherie Blair is reportedly not delighted. She
was apparently told by an aide last week that the curtains had arrived.
She asked: "What curtains? I have ordered no curtains."She hadn't.
Whilst it is no doubt ‘curtains for Blair’ these were for the Browns.
In moving into No 10 even before a leadership contest has been called,
let alone a vote cast, Brown is counting his chickens before they have
hatched.Meanwhile, Blair’s millionaire’s row mansion awaits, only his
puerile and vain desire to make it past ten years delays the removal
vans. The humour of this Whitehall farce is self evident, unlike the
cringing David Brent like attempts at humour made by Blair at the TUC.
Tony Blair's response to the hostile reception he received at the TUC
was to depart from his prepared text to make off-the-cuff jokes. But,
if timing is the first rule of comedy he has adequately demonstrated
that he has no sense of it already. Blair attempted six jokes in
all. They each fell flat, met by a stony silence. One example will
serve to demonstrate why: "The same is true of the issue of migration.”
said Blair, “I applaud your TUC statement on this issue. It is so close
to my own view that I thought of simply reading it out and letting it
stand as my speech. That may be both the first and the last time I can
say that of a motion to the TUC, but anyway …"
The hook has
finally arrived to drag this comedian off stage. Brown is still the
bookies and the polls favourite to win a leadership election. However
it is no longer a foregone conclusion. A Channel 4 poll by YouGov
interviewed 422 Labour party members and found 59% saying Blair should
go before next May, with 38% wanting him gone now. A survey of
Labour MPs found that fewer than half thought Mr Brown would increase
Labour's appeal to middle-income, middle-class voters in the south of
England. Among the 75 Labour MPs taking part in the survey, just 45%
believed that Mr Brown would strengthen the party's chances of
attracting middle-England voters, against 39% who felt he would make no
difference and 15% who thought he would weaken its position.The poll of
151 MPs of all parties, carried out by Dods polling for ePolitix.com,
also found optimism among Liberal Democrat MPs that the next election
would see a hung parliament – with their party likely to hold the
‘balance of power’. That is Liberal-ese for an opportunity (the only
real opportunity), to get a ministerial position in government. This is
a return to their old position. Once again they are to be crushed
between the main parties (no matter what efforts they make to put a
positive spin on it). Gone is all talk of deals with Labour and
coalitions, gone too the pipedream of becoming the official opposition.
total of 86% said it was either "quite likely" (62%) or "very likely"
(24%) that the result will be a hung parliament. Apparently such a
result would be welcomed by Clare Short MP. She has announced that she
will stand down as a Labour MP at the next election. In a statement she
condemned the policies of New Labour and Tony Blair, making it clear
that Brown taking over would not make any fundamental difference. She
now faces expulsion, or at least the withdrawal of the Labour whip, for
proposing that a hung parliament would be the best outcome of the next
election – in other words, calling for a Labour defeat.
We oppose and condemn such disciplinary moves if they are indeed
carried out. Blair, Brown and co have not been disciplined for riding
roughshod over conference decisions, or for continuing the Tories'
destruction of the welfare state. Short may have called for a Labour
defeat, but Blair, Brown and co. by their actions are preparing one.
the same time, we would argue that Short is wrong. A hung parliament is
not in the interests of the working class. Having Tories or Liberals in
the government can never be in workers' interests. Just voting Labour
is not enough either. An opponent of Blair and Blairism, especially one
in her position as an MP, should be devoting her efforts to John
McDonnell’s leadership campaign; to fighting for socialist policies; to
ensuring the biggest possible Labour majority on the basis of a new
leadership, and a new policy in the interests of working class people.
A struggle is beginning now is not the time to run away, but to throw
one’s energies into that fight.
Join Us in the Struggle for Socialism
results of three terms of Blairism, the war in Iraq, privatisation,
etc., are to be seen in the polls predicting a Tory victory at the next
election. This would be tragedy indeed. A new Tory government would be
even more vicious than Blair and co have been. For all Cameron’s toothy
smiles and open neck shirts, beneath the new emperor’s clothes lies the
same naked Tory reaction.
Only a decisive turn to socialist
policies could guarantee a victory for Labour at the next election.
Without them we all stand to pay a heavy price, in the form of a likely
Tory victory. Either way it is necessary to sweep away the Blairite
dust from the labour movement.
The election of a new Labour
leader will solve nothing in itself. It is not the end, but only the
beginning of a new period of discussion and debate throughout the
labour movement. Combined with a new militancy in combating the
incessant attacks of capitalism, the pendulum which swung along way to
the right over the last two decades can now begin to move in the
opposite direction. Socialist ideas must once again come to the fore.
have entered the final days of Blairism. New Labour is dead. Whoever
becomes the new leader, a new day is dawning for the British labour
movement. Socialist Appeal is committed to the struggle to defend the
working class and the youth against the ravages of capitalism, and to
reconquer the workers’ movement with socialist ideas. Outside the
labour movement there is nothing. Our task is to marry the ideas of
Marxism to the mass movement, to the daily struggles of the workers and
the youth, in order to put an end to the cause of daily misery – the
capitalist system – and build a new socialist Britain as part of the
struggle for socialism internationally.