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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 March 2006

The stench of rotten Labour

Time for a new workers' party

Blair: Bosses puppet: cartoon by Alan HardmanSLEAZE HAS engulfed the government. Millions of pounds 'loaned' to New Labour to finance its last general election campaign, appear to have been given to buy seats in the House of Lords.

Cartoon by Alan Hardman (click for larger image)

The 'loans' were intended as donations, but were dressed up as loans to evade rules on the disclosure of donations. Only a small clique around Tony Blair knew what had gone on.

Jack Dromey, New Labour's treasurer and John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, had been kept in the dark. Dromey, a former Blairite, vociferously attacked Blair, blaming him for the scandal.

Places in the House of Lords have always been effectively bought by the rich and powerful throughout the history of British capitalism. But when done so transparently, and by a prime minister who declared he would be 'whiter than white', it reveals even more clearly the extent of the degeneration and pro-big business nature of New Labour.

Also scandalous are some of the other 'loans' now revealed, from super rich businessmen who are boosting their wealth further as a result of Labour's policies. They include one million pounds from Rod Aldridge.

His day job is executive chairman of Capita, which has a 34% slice of the market from the privatisation of public services, including the lucrative London congestion charge scheme. Aldridge is also sponsoring a city academy.

The loans-for-peerages scandal came just days after government minister Tessa Jowell had claimed ignorance of her mortgage being paid off by her husband's unexplained dealings with right wing Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In a desperate attempt at damage limitation, Blair triggered an investigation into state funding of political parties and announced a few anti-corruption measures. But his big business friends will always be able to find more corrupt paths to similar goals, and Blair's measures are widely seen as locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Despite these crises, Blair has been pushing on with his privatisation agenda, trying to extract every ounce of use for big business out of his remaining time in office. He had to rely on Tory MPs' votes to pass his education bill through its second parliamentary reading. The Labour 'rebels' who voted against it responded by calling him Ramsay McBlair, after the first Labour prime minister Ramsay McDonald who went into coalition with the Tories in 1931.

This bill signs a death warrant on local authority controlled community schools, allowing them to be handed, together with their land and buildings, to wealthy individuals and companies.

Unease over its blatant anti-working class nature has even reached some of the usual Blair supporters in parliament, causing greater rifts in Blair's regime. This, together with the corruption scandals, has led to reports of 'civil war' in New Labour, especially fuelled by fear of what will happen to its vote in the May elections.

Undermining the system

There is also increasing alarm in capitalist circles at how discredited Blair has become, and how this is adding to the level of disgust with capitalist politicians in general. In an ICM poll last week, 70% said that the government is as sleazy, or more so, than John Major's Tory government was.

As well as these domestic issues, Blair still has to contend with the debacle in Iraq. He cannot seek much reassurance from his Iraq coalition ally George Bush, The floundering US president is being deserted by many of his leading Republican Party colleagues and so faces a major crisis in credibility as well.

Reflecting concern over Blair's predicament, both the guardian newspaper and The Economist said he should step down sooner rather than later. But the 'heir apparent', Gordon Brown, will continue with neo-liberal attacks.

It was Brown who was applying last-minute pressure on the 100 Labour MPs who were threatening to vote against the education bill. It was also Brown who opposed the Turner proposals on pensions, not because they would increase the age of retirement, but because he doesn't want to finance an end to means testing.

It is true, as journalists are saying, that Blair has become far removed from Labour's old traditions. But any idea that his departure will lead to a major shift in direction can be dismissed. The exact style of leadership may change, Brown may pull the troops out of Iraq faster, he will introduce some measures to try to promote an image of a clean break (as also the Tory leader Cameron would do if he were to win the election), but the anti-working class substance will remain.

Political alternative

More urgently than ever, a new workers' party is needed, to represent the overwhelming majority in society. In its editorial telling Blair to go this year, the guardian wrote that "office degrades all its holders". This may be true of capitalist politicians, many of whom sink into the mire of careerism, greed and carrying out attacks on workers' living standards.

But for a new workers' party it can be different, with all leaders fully accountable to the party membership, living on the average wage of the workers they represent, and committed to fighting the attacks of big business.

Nice and sleazy does it

THE 14 million cash-for-peerages loan scandal rocking Blair's government has exposed New Labour as being as sleazy as the previous Tory government of John Major.

Three businessmen - Barry Townsley, David Garrard and Dr Chai Patel - who made undisclosed loans to Labour, were nominated for peerages by Blair. These nominations were then blocked by the House of Lords Appointments Committee for being 'unsuitable'.

Dr Chai Patel who owns the highly profitable Priory Healthcare lent 1.5 million and donated 100,000 to Labour. Within weeks of the loan he was told that he would be nominated for a peerage. He has advised the prime minister's office on private sector involvement in the NHS while taking home 443,000 as chief executive of Westminster Health Care. He told the Observer: "Making profits out of healthcare is still an emotional issue."

Patel avoided being struck off by the General Medical Council last year after two reports told of elderly patients being mistreated in one of his care homes.

Property tycoon Sir David Garrard (knighted in 2003 for his "charity work") loaned 1 million, having donated 200,000 to Labour in 2003. Garrard is the principle investor (2.4 million) in Tony Blair's pet education project - Bexley Business Academy. The academy runs its own mini-stock exchange and every Friday is deemed a "business day"

Academies are hated by teachers and parents alike as they don't have to follow the national schools curriculum and have more control over pupil selection.

Some academies are deemed to be worse in standards than the schools they replaced. Bexley Business Academy was also criticised by Ofsted.

But while the three named businessmen may be smarting that their elevation to the House of Lords has been blocked, spare a thought for Labour-affiliated trade unions.

Amicus, UNISON, GMB & TGWU have donated 34.1 million since 2001. However, this has counted for diddly-squat in terms of influencing Blair's government. On the contrary, having taken union members' money, Blair and Co then kick public sector workers in the teeth by attacking their pensions and slashing their jobs.

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 23 March 2006:

Hands off our pensions!

How to win the battle to defend pensions

Time for a new workers' party

Successful Campaign for a New Workers' Party launch conference

Socialist Party members protest against Labour education minister Ruth Kelly

France: Millions protest against Villepin government

Iraq: A three-year nightmare

Can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved?

How to plan a revolution

Fight to save the NHS

Lewisham: Socialist Party takes up the fight against ALMOs

Fight privatisation in universities and colleges

Sheffield bus protest blocks the road

NUJ Conference: Defending pay and conditions


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