Another New Year, another new Tory leader. Now the Liberals are having a leadership contest too. Perhaps they are so fed up of losing that they want to take part in one election where a Liberal will definitely win. So Howard’s gone and Kennedy’s resigned, when will Blair finally take the hint and retire to his millionaires’ row mansion.
With all these leadership elections – and surely Blair cannot last that much longer – there is a lot of debate about who will be able to occupy the ‘centre ground.’
There is a long standing myth in British politics, perpetuated by the capitalist media, that the main political parties all need to fight for ‘the centre ground’ if they are to win elections. On the surface this sounds logical, providing one is willing to accept that the majority of people find themselves half way between left and right. This is a cunning ruse in which left and right are both positioned within the limits of the capitalist system. The choice on offer is not between capitalism and socialism, but between a reformist or liberal view on the one hand and a conservative and reactionary programme on the other. The reason why there is so little difference between the main party leaders is not that they all represent the ‘centre’, but because there is less and less room to manoeuvre within the confines of capitalism. This system can no longer afford reforms in the way that it could in the past (and even then they had to be fought for). They are like men forced to stand ever closer together in a room with the walls closing in around them.
In reality, a minority of people hold the right wing views they pass off as majority opinion while the real majority are well to the left of the present crop of Labour leaders and their Tory policies.
For years opinion polls have shown large majorities opposing privatisation and the interference of big business and the profit motive in running our schools and hospitals; supporting the restoration of trade union rights; as well as opposing the war in Iraq and kowtowing to the foreign policy of US imperialism. Yet these are all positions usually defined as well to the left of centre in official politics. What is described as the centre ground is neither the view of the majority, nor half way between left and right, but in fact reflects the views of the political, media and business establishment – the dominant ideas in any society, including parliamentary democracies, are not those of the majority, but those of the ruling class. The ideas expressed in the editorials of their newspapers are not reflections of public opinion, but propaganda designed to shape that opinion, usually with bilious appeals to prejudice and ignorance.
The New Tory leadership is now busily demonstrating that it is more in the ‘centre’ than Blair and co. In order to achieve this sleight of hand Cameron and co talk a great deal about tackling poverty and social justice. No-one will be fooled. Behind the transparency of this Emperor’s New Clothes lies the same old naked Tory reaction.
So here is the modern consensus of the centre ground. To win elections the Blairites argue, you must be like Blair. Hear, hear shout the Tories and promptly elect their own Blair to the leadership. Enter Gordon Brown crying I’m more of a Blairite than him. Brown’s attempts to woo Murdoch, the Daily Mail and big business have become ever more shameless: boasting of his role in privatising air traffic control, the exorbitant private finance initiative and the disastrous partial sell-off of the London tube, all the while wrapping himself in an imperial Union Jack.
The leaders of all three parties stand for the interests of capitalism. In the ‘centre’ they are joined by the editorial and leader writers of most of the newspapers. The rest of us meanwhile, the majority of the population, ordinary working class and middle class people, are excluded. We are increasingly disenfranchised. We are all far too left wing for British politics.
The simple answer would seem to be to set up a new party to represent the views of the majority. Yet how many times has this been tried? The littered corpses of many attempts from Scargill’s SLP to Big Brother’s George Galloway should be sufficient evidence that this road leads only to a dead end (or a Channel Four ‘reality television’ show). However, this conclusion follows from a false premise namely that the Labour Party, the party founded by the trade unions and socialists to represent working people, has been transformed by Blair and co into another Tory Party and nothing can be done about it. This would be to hand a victory to the Blairites, and indeed to the ruling class, that they have not earned. Whilst the changes they have made have gone further than we might have believed in advance, and while no-one disputes these people are Tory interlopers, none of this is permanent.
Herein lies the danger of being seduced by the surface of events, by outward appearances. We all know that behind Cameron, no matter what opportunist policy statements he announces, or how broadly he grins, are the same old reactionaries. The Tory party is the main party of British capitalism. It is the political expression of the ruling class.
In the same way Labour is not simply Blair and co. Behind them stand the Parliamentary Party, the Party conference, the rank and file, and the trade unions, all of whom are a long way to the left of the leaders.
Blair’s policies can be, and have been, defeated at Labour’s conference despite all the stage-managed manipulation of the leadership. Blair has little support in the rank and file membership and even less in the trade unions. The reduced majority for Labour in parliament is no majority at all for Blair. Less than 40 Labour backbenchers can pull the rug from under the government. The Blairites are forced to turn to their friends on the Tory benches to get their legislation through. This will be the case with the latest attacks on education. These attacks cannot be defeated in parliament alone. Backbench revolts must be part of a campaign including a mobilisation by the trade unions of a mass demonstration in defence of education, and, if necessary, strike action.
Blairism can be defeated by the labour movement. It must also be defeated inside the Labour Party.
The struggle to regain control the organisations of the labour movement is a part of the struggle for socialist change in society. Reclaiming Labour for the real centre ground, the majority of the working class, is not the end in itself but a means to an end. The struggle before us is not between two views of how to run the capitalist system. It is a fight between the past, the outdated and decrepit profit system, and the future, a new socialist society.