Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/357/5889
What We Think
Clinging On To The Wreckage
BLAIR 'CELEBRATED' ten years at the top of New Labour a bruised and battered man. The Butler report into intelligence surrounding WMD and the war in Iraq let him off the hook yet again - blaming "collective responsibility".
But confidence in Blair has plumbed new depths - 55% of people trust him less than before Butler!
Two by-election disasters in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill revealed just how deep this mistrust goes. In Birmingham, a Labour majority of 11,000 evaporated to just 460 - a swing of 27%. And in Leicester South the Liberals defeated Labour on a swing of 20%.
Coming hot on the heels of Labour's terrible showing in the local and European elections last month, it seems a miracle that Blair has survived such a mauling. But, while a couple of MPs with narrow majorities have called for his resignation, most accept that he will stay for now.
So, how has he managed to cling on through all this wreckage? Although there has been a massive shift away from New Labour, the Tories are not seen as a credible alternative. Despite pouring massive resources into both seats, with Michael Howard visiting both constituencies five times, the Tories were pushed into a humiliating third place.
They cannot benefit from the anti-war mood because they wholeheartedly supported war with Iraq. Howard's interview with the Sunday Times, when he said that he would not have voted for war in the wake of the Butler report, is rightly seen as ridiculous opportunism.
Neither have the Tories been able to shake off their past, they are mistrusted even more than Blair amongst most voters.
Although changed circumstances, such as a major worsening in the economy, could alter the situation, as things stand at present a Tory government seems extremely unlikely.
Nor can the Liberals translate recent election victories into a general election win. They have tapped into much of the anger and mistrust of Labour and Blair, especially over the war, but their target seats are mainly held by Tories. As the Financial Times put it, they are "as likely to gain power as Saddam Hussein is to regain Iraq".
So a third Labour government seems likely, albeit with a narrower majority.
IT WILL not make any difference, however, to the lives of working-class people whether it is a Blair or a Brown led government. Whoever is Prime Minister, they will push ahead with trying to destroy over 100,000 jobs in the civil service and with opening up public services, including health and education, to the profits of big business. This is what is really meant by 'choice'.
But these attacks will not go unanswered by public sector workers. Plans are already being laid in PCS for a strike of all civil service workers, which the Socialist Party believes should be the prelude to a one-day strike of the whole of the public sector in defence of jobs and services.
Those trade union leaders who desperately cling to New Labour in the vain hope of 'reclaiming' the party are deluding themselves and, more importantly, condemning workers to further attacks and delaying the development of a real political voice for working-class people.
The by-elections showed once again the burning need for an authoritative political alternative to the left of New Labour. Respect claim to be building that alternative. However, while they have achieved creditable votes in areas with a large Muslim population on the basis of an anti-war platform, outside of these areas their votes are no greater than those achieved by previous left/socialist candidates.
Even their by-election results, on favourable terrain, were mixed. In Leicester South, where their candidate was Yvonne Ridley, the former Express journalist who converted to Islam after her capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan, they polled a good 12.6%. But in Birmingham Hodge Hill, with a similar population make-up, they finished just 200 votes ahead of the score of two fringe far-right candidates (the National Front and the English Democrats).
Their limited, opportunist programme prevents them from appealing to all sections of the working-class. This, together with lack of democracy and mistrust of the Socialist Workers Party (who constitute the overwhelming majority of Respect members) because of their arrogant and undemocratic track record in previous alliances, also means that Respect has little support amongst the trade unions.
And it is primarily via trade unionists that the road to a new party of the working class will come. Trade union leaders who want to maintain the link with New Labour are finding it harder and harder to hold the line in the face of a wave of anger from ordinary members. Both the GMB and CWU have responded to this pressure by cutting the money they give to New Labour.
The FBU and RMT unions are now outside Labour's ranks and a key task for socialists and left activists in these unions is to campaign for the convening of a conference to discuss how to build a genuine, mass political alternative for working-class people in England and Wales.
In The Socialist 24 July 2004:
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