Rising Anger At New Labour

ACCORDING TO a Sunday Times poll, New Labour are now just 7% ahead of the Tories – the closest gap since the general election. 54% of people polled thought that Blair had been a disappointment, 20% thought he should step down now.

Even New Labour MPs are having to voice some of the anger that working class and many middle-class people feel. And unrest is spreading much further than the ‘usual suspects’ who’ve made a habit of rebelling, to previously loyal MPs. Things are so bad that there are even rumours of a ‘stalking horse’ candidate being put up against Blair for the leadership.

Privatisation of public services is high up the list of issues fuelling discontent. A Guardian/ICM poll found 86% of voters disagreed that services had got better and 37% thought that they had actually got worse.

When Blair becomes best mates with right-wing European leaders like Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, it’s quite clear what he means by talk of about ‘reform’ of public services; more privatisation and more attacks on jobs like the 40,000 about to be decimated by Consignia (formerly the Post Office).

It’s a sign of how far New Labour has moved to the right that Gwyneth Dunwoody, a virulent enemy and witch-hunter of the Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) is now considered to be on the ‘left’ of the party. “I think I’ve stood still and the Labour Party has revolved round me like a top” she told the Guardian (25 March).

New Labour backbenchers are especially concerned about the prospect of war with Iraq. Once again they are reflecting public opinion, with 51% of people opposing military action. Yet defence minister Geoff Hoon says that Britain would be “perfectly entitled” to use force against the Iraqi regime.

If Blair backs Bush in a war with Iraq, it would result in a huge anti-war movement which could easily dwarf the movement against war in Afghanistan. And this time, protests against the war could come together with growing unrest in the workplaces and trade unions to form mass opposition to Blair and New Labour. It’s no wonder that some MPs are getting worried.

Labour MPs whinge about Blair’s ‘presidential’ style and ‘autocratic’ manner. Glasgow Pollok MP Ian Davidson says backbenchers are treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark with “things flung on top of us and we’re expected loyally to respond”.

But most MPs sat back quietly as Blair transformed New Labour into a big business party and blocked off all democratic channels through which working-class discontent could have a genuine influence on party policies and decision-making.

It’s possible, under pressure from rising anger amongst working-class people, that MPs could resign from the Cabinet. Some might even leave the party or risk expulsion. But it would be wrong to assume that rebel MPs will lead some kind of mass campaign to reclaim the Labour Party for working-class people.

The party is almost empty of working-class members. The rebels are weak and disorganised with no common ideology. More importantly, opposition from within the trade unions is moving in the opposite direction – towards breaking the link with New Labour and backing alternative candidates in elections who support union policies.

If Left MPs want to play an effective role in combating Blairism, they should split from Labour and campaign for a new workers’ party.

The Tories say they want to represent the poor and dispossessed ‘abandoned’ by New Labour, while proposing a privatisation plan for public services equally as vicious as New Labour’s. And the Liberal Democrats also advocate free market pro-big business policies.

We have to step up the campaign now in the trade unions for disaffiliation from New Labour and for the building of an new, independent, mass party which can provide an alternative to the three established big business parties and genuinely represent the interests of working-class people.