Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/307/12655
Building A Mass Alternative To New Labour
FOR THE first time since September 2000 - the time of the fuel protests - the Tories have inched ahead of New Labour in a national opinion poll. As Andrew Rawnsley explained in The Observer (29 June): "This does feel more significant than the spasm of anger against the government over the price of petrol. This time, it seems to mark a much more general and steadily accumulating discontent, sourced not by one grievance but a diverse spread of them".
The Tories are gaining ground, not because they are viewed positively as a viable alternative, but because of disillusionment with New Labour over issues such as privatisation, top up fees, foundation hospitals etc.
With the furore over 'dodgy' and 'sexed up' dossiers and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it's no wonder that 66% think New Labour have not been honest and trustworthy.
Now, with the economy in its most parlous state for ten years (see page 3), New Labour should consider changing their theme tune to 'things can only get worse'.
It's against this backdrop that the final rally at Socialism 2003 (see centre pages) discussed 'How can we build a mass alternative to New Labour'.
Over the past two years, the Socialist Party has consistently argued that a new workers' party is needed to fight for the interests of working-class people, and that the trade unions can play a key role in building such a party.
What relationship the unions should have with New Labour has been a dominant theme at almost every trade union conference this year. But the union leaders, including most of the paid-up members of the 'awkward squad', do not want to break with New Labour, believing instead that the Party can be 'reclaimed'.
Even RMT leader Bob Crow said "In England at the moment, we haven't an alternative and that's why we are sticking with New Labour" (Scotsman 30 June). He does not see that as a left-wing union leader he has the responsibility and the authority to help build a viable trade union based alternative.
The Socialist Party does not believe that, at a time when workers are moving away from the Labour Party in their droves, the union leaders will succeed in mobilising thousands of workers to claim the Party back.
The 'summit' of union leaders proposed by Tony Woodley of the TGWU, if it were to seriously pursue its goal of reclaiming the Party, would need to adopt a fighting programme which demanded, as a minimum, an end to privatisation and nationalisation of those parts of the public sector already in private hands; the scrapping of tuition fees and no foundation hospitals. It would need to call for the democratisation of the Party and a new socialist clause for the constitution as well as the reinstatement of all those socialists expelled by the Labour leadership.
Are the union leaders prepared to seriously campaign for such a programme to be adopted? If so, the Socialist Party would wish them every success. But if, as we believe will be the case, they are blocked by the New Labour apparatus then the question of building a new mass workers' party will be starkly posed.
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: