Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/298/13874
Blair's Problems On The Home Front
PUFFED UP from 'victory' in Iraq, Tony Blair is preparing to step up the war against our public services at home. His 'radical' programme, revealed this week, is - in the words of Labour left-winger Mark Seddon - "the beginning of the privatisation of everything".
Blair says that the government should be "willing to experiment with new forms of co-payment in the public sector". That means more charges for education, health care, roads etc, on top of our taxes that already go to fund public services.
The NHS will be opened up further by "injecting into it the spirit of enterprise and initiative and innovation". That means more foundation hospitals leading to a two-tiered health service.
Coming on top of opposition to war in Iraq, there is growing anger within the Labour Party over foundation hospitals as well as top-up tuition fees. In the local elections Labour were only able to field candidates in two-thirds of seats, and everywhere local parties complained that they couldn't motivate Labour Party members to come out and campaign.
When it comes to the vote in Parliament on foundation hospitals, probably in May, the rebellion could be even bigger than the 139 MPs who voted against Blair over the war. Then, Blair admitted, he was on the verge of resigning if he did not secure a majority of Labour MPs, and contingency plans were being made to withdraw British troops from the Gulf.
The current unrest within the Labour Party reflects, albeit in a diluted and sometimes distorted way, the huge opposition that exists to New Labour's policies amongst working-class and sections of middle-class people. But, as the war in Iraq showed, we cannot rely on parliamentary rebellions to defeat unpopular policies.
Nor can we put our faith, as Mark Seddon and other Labour lefts do, in the trade unions 'reclaiming' the Labour Party from Blair and his band of rabid privatisers. The opposite process is happening, with droves of firefighters, for example, stopping the political payments which go to the Labour Party.
The question of reviewing the trade unions' relationship with New Labour is on the agenda of several union conferences is this year. As the anti-war movement and the recent elections have shown, the campaign for a new mass working-class party, that can genuinely represent and campaign for the views of ordinary people, is more vital than ever.
Blair and New Labour, like US imperialism, are not invincible. The economic outlook is becoming gloomier by the day. Blair still faces the possibility of renewed industrial action by firefighters. Teachers in the NUT voted at their Easter conference to ballot for action over job cuts, workload and the hated SAT tests. Blair dismissed this as "NUT nonsense".
"We will not give in in any shape or form to any resurgent trade union militancy" he declared (Financial Times 28 April). But many workers will have learnt from the firefighters' dispute the importance of union members organising to keep up the pressure on their leaders - even those who claim to be on the left - to pursue a strategy that can win, including wider industrial action when necessary.
Despite his bravado, Blair's post-war honeymoon could be very short lived.
In The Socialist 3 May 2003: