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Posted on 26 January 2017 at 12:41 GMT

Blairite stitch-up in Stoke Central byelection

Tristram Hunt MP, photo Centre for Cities (Creative Commons)

Tristram Hunt MP, photo Centre for Cities (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party

Gareth Snell, architect of council cuts by Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council, former bag-carrier for Tristram Hunt and backer of the right-wing's Owen Smith in the second Labour leadership election has effectively been bureaucratically maneuvered into becoming the Labour candidate in the Stoke Central byelection.

At the back end of 2016, Stoke Central Labour Party members made their support clear for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity policies to lead a fightback against the Tories' endless cuts, closures and privatisation. In the second Labour leadership election, 40 of them voted for Jeremy Corbyn with just four voting for Owen Smith.

Despite this, the right wing, still controlling the party apparatus, rushed through their purging of all known Corbyn supporters from the byelection candidates' list at the first opportunity. This included at least two local Labour councillors who had openly backed Corbyn and who were both well known across the city.

The first priority for the Blairite right wing in Stoke Central was to make sure that no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity policies would get the chance to be elected as a Labour MP in the area. For them, the threat posed by Ukip is secondary.

If any Labour Party members were in any doubt that these right-wing supporters of Tory-light austerity will stop at nothing to purge the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their anti-austerity policies and supporters then this is yet another clear example.

Tory-light policies

Support for Labour has significantly dropped nationwide from a highpoint when Tony Blair's government was first elected in 1997. In Stoke-on-Trent Central that fall has been dramatic.

In the 1997 general election, Labour's vote in Stoke Central was 26,662 but has since decreased in all five general elections down to 12,220 in 2015. That's 66.25% of the vote in 1997 down to just 39.3% in 2015.

This was primarily because Blair and Gordon Brown's right-wing dominated Labour governments carried out Tory-light policies. Locally, this included over 1,000 NHS job losses carried out by Labour's health minister Patricia Hewitt at the University Hospital of North Staffs in 2006. The anger and opposition of a 5,000-strong march of mainly NHS workers against these plans, with Stoke Socialist Party playing a key role in organising the march, was completely ignored by the Labour government.

Even their much heralded new hospital (today's Royal Stoke University Hospital), with 300 fewer beds than before, was built with a PFI contract which means taxpayers are now paying construction company Laing O-Rourke five times more over 30 years than it cost to build.

In the same period, Stoke-on-Trent's Labour-controlled city council, under Labour governments, carried out millions of pounds worth of cuts to council jobs and services. This led to the closure of swimming pools, libraries, care homes, etc, and cuts to children's centres and many other much-needed services.

To add insult to injury the Labour council borrowed 55 million to build a new council HQ that was not needed.

These are the concrete reasons why, over this period, a massive accumulated anger has developed against Labour locally. Ukip came second to Labour in the 2015 general election by tapping into this anger and now poses a threat to Labour in the Stoke Central byelection.

Effectively imposing Gareth Snell at the expense of local Corbyn supporters has made the task of defeating Ukip more difficult. In 2014, as Labour leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council, he lost his seat to Ukip after carrying out cuts to jobs and services! After regaining his seat in a byelection last year, he claimed that 'it had nothing to do with Corbyn'!

Transform 'rigged system'

Just a few weeks ago Jeremy Corbyn said: "The people who run Britain have been taking our country for a ride ... They've rigged the economy and business rules to line the pockets of their friends ... Labour under my leadership stands for a complete break with this rigged system".

A byelection campaign fully supporting that promise to change the rigged system, where the richest eight people own more than half the world's population and the voice of working people is never heard, could have ensured a defeat for Ukip and turned the fire onto this weak, divided Tory government.

A Labour candidate supporting Jeremy's anti-austerity policies could have achieved this by fighting the byelection on the need for a pro-worker socialist Brexit, renationalisation of the railways and post office, a 10 an hour minimum wage, free education, a fight against council cuts, an end to zero-hour contracts, repeal of the anti-trade union laws and saving our NHS by getting rid of the privateers and re-establishing a fully funded and publicly owned NHS.

However this type of campaign won't be on offer in this byelection and the lessons from that have to be learnt. Instead Labour's right wing are sticking with the failed policies and candidates of the past.

Stoke Socialist Party is campaigning to build the 4th March national demonstration in London to save our NHS and we support Jeremy Corbyn's pledge made in August 2016 to 'renationalise' our NHS, cancel PFI contracts and guarantee bursaries for nurses.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 26 January 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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