The Crewe by-election, with an 18% swing to the Tories,
confirms that they are on target for a landslide win in the next general
election. Railway workers and other working class people who have voted Labour
for generations have finally had enough. The betrayals and disappointments of
New Labour have caused these electors to break the habit of a lifetime. Make no
mistake about it. Mass working class abstentions have done for Brown and his
The similarities between the Tory Major Government that took
over after Thatcher and the position that Gordon Brown finds himself in is
obvious. After defeating Kinnock in 1992, it was clear that Major was presiding
over a crisis government – and then the bottom fell out of the ERM. Interest
rates went up to 15% and the housing market was choked off. The subsequent
recession resulted in a slump in Tory support beginning in the South East that
the Tories never recovered from. As we predicted (very much against the
accepted wisdom inside the Labour Party) the Tories were reduced to a rump in
the South East.
The collapse of Northern Rock reflects problems for Brown on
a far bigger scale than in 1992. Britain’s financial system is tied by a
thousand threads to the US financial system and the globalisation of financial
markets and hence the globalisation of risk means that there is no such thing
as "a little local difficulty".
New Labour is absolutely responsible for squandering the
opportunity provided by 11 years of landslide Labour victories. This is the
first Tory by-election victory over Labour for thirty years. As we pointed out
before 1997 the programme of New Labour had nothing to offer workers and their
families. We also predicted that sooner or later the bosses would line up
behind the Tories as the Blair/Brown project would fail.
But there is of course ‘no accounting for stupidity’
specifically the lunacy of abolishing the 10p tax rate a month before the election.
It’s like rubbing salt in the wound for thousands of families who are stuck
with fuel price hikes and increases in food costs. And debt costs. People just
stayed at home rather than vote.
It’s worse than that. In the campaign New Labour was quite
deliberately feeding the flames of racism. Brown goes on about ‘British jobs
for British workers.’ Labour’s propaganda has been vile – aimed at making
racism respectable. We all recognise the dog whistles they blow and the code
they speak in. They positioned themselves to the right of the Conservatives
with slogans like ‘Tories soft on yobs’ and questions like “Do you oppose
making foreign nationals carry an ID card?”
Labour lost a huge amount of ground in the by-election. It’s
obvious that the New Labour project is running into the sand.
The result could have been a wake-up call for the Labour
government. They still have two years to turn the situation round. But they
seem to have lost the will to live. Faced with mass working class abstentions
in the May 1st local elections, they dithered and stuttered instead
of fundamentally changing course before Crewe.
The hurling of money at the electorate through a mini-budget
in reparation for the 10p tax ‘mistake’ has been treated by the people of Crewe
as yet another squalid monoeuvre by New Labour.
The present leadership have proved themselves to be
hopeless. The Labour Party needs to be fundamentally transformed if it is to
Regardless of the plans of mice, men and Mandelsons the mass
of workers ultimately have no choice but to fight for change under capitalism.
Decades of experience of the Labour movement in Britain illustrate that when
the workers do move to fight back, then they always move through their
traditional organisations. That means
the unions and the Labour Party, in spite of the grand strategies of the sects.
Turning of the tide
The tide has begun to turn in the unions with the
magnificent action organised by the PCS, NUT and the UCU on April 24th. There
is a distinct possibility that UNISON members may be forced into a corner over
pay restraint and, in the current economic climate, the distinct threat of cuts
to pay for the New Labour meltdown. Certainly there is a head of steam
developing in the public sector.
The wretched John Major hung on right to the last day
possible before the electorate booted him out of Number 10. Likewise Gordon
Brown could hang on till 2010. Brown has already shown us how New Labour can
throw away elections. Instead of just watching New Labour steaming full speed
ahead towards the iceberg, and opening the way for a Tory government, it’s time
to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class.
Brown wants to get away with more years of below-inflation
wage increases for 6 million public sector workers. We can’t put up with that!
The state sector trade union leaderships need to launch a united battle against
wage restraint now and not just sit round hoping something will turn up.
As we have explained before, the mass of workers need to
experience a Labour Government before they would begin to draw more radical
conclusions. John McDonnell’s opposition, and his readiness to stand against
him as leader, reflects this process in embryo. It’s the turning of the tide,
the beginning of the beginning of that change.
Reclaim the Labour Party
a Labour government on a Socialist Programme.