The Socialist 24 May 2007 |
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Gordon Brown crowned leader with no contest
New face, same pedigree, Cartoon by Alan Hardman with apologies to 'Romulus and remus and the she-wolf', cartoon by Alan Hardman
WITH ALMOST the entire parliamentary Labour Party backing him, Gordon Brown was anointed as successor to Tony Blair without a contest. Brown had pretended to want a contest, but when left wing challenger John McDonnell was struggling to reach the required 45 nominations, Brown refused to ask some of his own supporters to nominate McDonnell.
He said it would be "dishonest" to do so and that he could not "ask people to trade their conscience".
But there would have been no trading of conscience if at Brown's bidding some MPs had declared their support for Brown but their nomination for McDonnell. Instead, they collectively decided to deny every Labour Party member and Labour-affiliated trade unionist a vote in the matter, in fear of suffering some exposure to criticism of their anti-working class agenda.
With most concerned only about their career prospects, in an unseemly rush to crown Brown, ardent Blairite MPs together with other former Brown opponents were 'changing their religion as the dying monarch's life ebbed away' as one backbench MP put it.
John McDonnell deserves congratulations for trying to present a challenge. If he had succeeded in getting on the ballot paper it would have led to welcome publicity for a programme against cuts, privatisation and the Iraq war and in favour of free education, a decent minimum wage, civil liberties and trade union rights. It would also have been a chance for workers in Labour-affiliated trade unions to vote in favour of that programme.
New face, same pedigree, Cartoon by Alan Hardman, photo Alan Hardman
However, as the socialist warned, an eventual victory by John McDonnell against Brown was not going to happen, given the nature of New Labour today.
Labour membership has halved during Blair and Brown's ten years in power and the remainder has become predominately Blairite and inactive. Rather than there being an influx of new workers into New Labour as John McDonnell hoped, with Brown determined to continue with a pro-market agenda, the stage is set for a further decline of the remnants of the Labour left.
An FT Harris poll on 21 May showed that 80% of British voters think that hospitals have not improved during the last ten years of New Labour government and 72% think that education has not improved. However, Gordon Brown has made it clear that he will continue with privatisation and cuts. There will be changes in style and presentation, some relatively minor progressive promises and probably an earlier withdrawal of troops from Iraq. But the basic diet of pro-big business measures and attacks on workers' living standards will go on.
The contest for the deputy leader of the Labour Party, while actually having some challengers, also does nothing to indicate any turn to the left. The candidate supported by the major trade unions, Jon Cruddas, did oppose higher tuition fees and a renewal of Trident missiles, but he also nominated Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership! And Blairite candidate Hilary Benn only managed to get on the ballot paper through getting some final nominations from members of the parliamentary Socialist Campaign Group whose 'socialist' conscience amounted to only nominating him out of sympathy for his father, the left-wing Tony Benn.
A vital task for all socialists now is to prepare to assist the inevitable workers' struggles that will break out under the Brown-led government.
Much of the public-sector workforce is seething with rage at Brown's 2% wage limit, effectively a pay cut. Other battles are looming, such as against Royal Mail plans to axe 40,000 jobs and close a further 2,500 post offices.
Working-class people are hugely relieved that Blair is going and a layer are desperately hoping that Brown will break free of the Blairite neo-liberal agenda and reveal himself as different in substance as well as style. However, there is also a layer who know well that illusions in Brown are futile, who are already drawing the conclusion that industrial action will soon be necessary. Building for a good turnout of trade unionists at the RMT-initiated shop stewards' conference on 7 July will be an important step in preparing for such action.
But as well, socialists need to step up the campaign for a new political party that can represent workers' interests.
The successful second 'campaign for a new workers' party' (CNWP) conference on 12 May was a step forward on the path to realising this aim.
John McDonnell, now clearly obstructed in his aim of furthering workers' interests inside the Labour Party should join socialists outside the Labour Party who are campaigning for a new party. However, unfortunately, he confirms in his interview with the socialist this week, that he believes he should remain in the Labour Party at this stage.
The call for a new party receives enthusiastic support among rank and file trade unionists, community campaigners and young people whenever it is raised in meetings and on picket lines etc by Socialist Party members and others. The socialist will continue to argue for the urgent need to build the CNWP and for all socialists, trade unionists and others not yet part of it, to get involved in helping to build this vital campaign.