Socialist Appeal Editorial: The Labour leadership election contest will be ending in September as the ballot papers finally go out. It could have been an opportunity to discuss a balance-sheet of the right-wing control of the party under New Labour and an opportunity to discuss a socialist programme in face of the worst capitalist crisis since the 1930s. However, the contest has left most people cold.
It was never a real contest, certainly not a proper debate of the sort the movement needs. The hustings have been bland events with the “great debate” having been reduced to a series of soundbites – style over substance. The main contenders all come from the right wing. There is no principled difference between any of them. The left-winger John McDonnell, who consistently opposed the New Labour Project, was deliberately excluded from the ballot. Only at the last minute was Diane Abbott allowed in as the token “left,” but she has only produced at best a milk-and-water campaign, hardly distinguishable from the rest. Despite this, the left has no alternative but to give her their vote.
The main favourite backed by big business is David Milliband, a clone of Tony Blair. His criticism of the coalition is that they are not sufficiently pro-business! Scandalously, the three largest trade unions have endorsed Ed Milliband, with a few supporting Ed Balls, but there is no real difference between them politically. There is not a single mention of “socialism,” as they all continue to bow down to capitalism and big business. All are in favour of keeping the Tory anti-trade union laws. All have accepted that the crisis of the capitalist system means staggering cuts and austerity which must be paid for by the working class.
Not surprisingly, some Labour right-wingers have gone one step further and have given support to the Con-Dem coalition. The latest is Alan Milburn, the former Blairite cabinet minister, who has become a “social mobility tsar” for the government. He has followed in the footsteps of Frank Field and John Hutton as “advisers” to the coalition on public sector pensions and tackling poverty (!). A fourth is Graham Allen, another Labour MP who is also doing the dirty work of the Tories. John Prescott has correctly condemned them as “collaborators”, but was quick enough it must be said to accept a peerage for his slavish support of Blairism. The ideas of these “collaborators” have not changed one jot. They have always been Tory/Liberal Democrats masquerading as Labour people, but who only chose to join the Labour Party as the best vehicle for their careers. They are now acting as a “progressive” cover for the coalition’s vicious attacks on the working class. In reality, there are many more in the Parliamentary Labour Party who would be prepared to jump ship if the offer was made. For them, it would be as easy as passing from one railway carriage to another. Milburn, Field, Hutton and Allen have just been quicker off the mark in taking this treacherous step. They have openly joined up with the worst enemies of the Labour movement. Why have they not been immediately hauled up before the NEC and expelled from the party.
The Labour Party, which was founded by the trade union movement, has gone far to the right under the leadership of these carpetbaggers. We saw the sickening sight of those Labour MPs – careerists – who sought to inflate their bloated salaries through bogus claims. For many, their job in Parliament has been a gravy train. Such careerism is a cancer in the Labour and trade union movement, which must be rooted out. That is why we demand that all Labour MPs must be on the average wage of a skilled worker and the remainder to be donated back to the Labour movement, to which they owe their positions.
The right wing is attempting to justify the cuts. New Labour’s plan to cut spending by £44bn and halve the deficit over one parliament was, according to David Milliband, “sensible and prudent”. For him, the coalition is simply going too far too quickly. Labour would be “falling into a trap” if it opposed all cuts, he maintains.
But it is not Labour but Milliband himself who has fallen for the argument that cuts are inevitable, as there is no alternative to capitalism. This is Thatcherite dogma, TINA – There Is No Alternative, while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
The Labour Party was founded precisely to provide an alternative, namely a socialist programme. That is why the party adopted Clause Four in 1918: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain, the full fruits of their industry based upon the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange…”
As opposed to the anarchy of capitalism, with its wars, unemployment, homelessness and poverty, the party would argue for the socialist transformation of society. A socialist plan of production, based on the nationalisation of the major monopolies and using the resources bequeathed by capitalism, would harness the pent-up talents of working people, abolish the ills of capitalist scarcity and deliver a much higher living standard for all. Such a programme should be linked to a 35-hour week, a real living minimum wage, and the introduction of a massive programme of useful public works to provide the houses, schools and hospitals that working people desperately need.
More than at any time since the dark days of the 1930s it is necessary for the Labour movement to take up such a fighting programme.