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London mayor elections: Another crisis for 'control freak' Blair
THE SOCIALIST Party welcomes Ken Livingstone's decision to stand as an independent. Many workers, already angry at New Labour's pro-big business policies, have been outraged at the blatant ballot-rigging which prevented Livingstone becoming Labour candidate for mayor.
Livingstone gained overwhelming support from London Labour Party members and in particular ordinary trade unionists. His decision will generate enormous enthusiasm amongst workers who are looking for someone to confront Blair's anti-working class policies.
Livingstone's candidature further undermines New Labour's ideological stranglehold. This important break provides an opportunity to start the process of building a mass workers' alternative to Blairism.
Control-freak Blair has faced one crisis after another. Having learnt nothing from Wales where Blairite Alun Michael was forced to resign, Blair's tarnished image is further stained with Frank Dobson's selection as the official Labour candidate, despite only receiving a quarter of the total vote cast.
The latest opinion poll, just after Livingstone's announcement, puts Livingstone on 68%, Dobson on just 13% and Norris on 11%. Livingstone has majority support amongst not only Labour voters, but also Tory and Liberal voters.
The election campaign for mayor will be bitterly fought. Out will come vitriolic attacks on Livingstone's policies and record, with a dose of personal abuse for good measure.
While Livingstone's lead in the polls could be reduced by polling day, the full use of the Millbank spin machine won't be able to obscure the enormous anger that now exists towards New Labour.
Support for Livingstone reflects growing discontent as New Labour, openly pursuing a Tory big business agenda, fails to improve the lives of millions of workers.
Under Blair's government the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Across London, schools lack decent resources, housing estates are run-down and neglected, hospitals are stuck in a mire of crisis and local services are being cut to the bone.
Millions of workers will look to Livingstone to provide solutions to all these problems.
Can Livingstone Deliver the goods?
KEN LIVINGSTONE says that the mayoral election's two key issues will be that London shouldn't have a candidate imposed on them, and that Londoners overwhelmingly reject the break-up and privatisation of the Underground.
This is true, but Livingstone's decision to stand as an independent for London mayor raises issues beyond that.
His decision will provoke the labour movement to debate how best to forge a working class alternative to capitalism. This debate will inevitably centre on issues of programme and the type of party workers need.
During the election campaign, workers will want to know Livingstone's policies on health, education, housing, local services and low pay. The election will not just be a referendum on how best to finance the underground, but on all those issues.
Livingstone has said that the only policy difference he has with Frank Dobson was over the tube. Last year he also said that socialism is no longer relevant and that the capitalist market is the most efficient way of distributing goods.
But the perception of the 68% of Londoners who support him is that he represents a radical alternative far to the left of Blair. Moreover, he has once again started to talk about 'socialism'.
Worryingly, he boasts of having majority support amongst London's business community. He claims he can successfully represent all classes in London but he'll find it impossible to be a friend of London's business elite and satisfy working-class people's expectations.
Livingstone will face a choice of either acceding to capitalism's wishes or fighting for a socialist alternative. If he fails to offer the latter, a real opportunity could be missed to provide a mass alternative to Blair's capitalist policies.
EVEN BEFORE Labour's gerrymandered selection process, opinion polls consistently showed that Livingstone could win as an independent. Millions of workers, across Britain, no longer see New Labour as their party.
However Livingstone says he has no intention of setting up a new political party. He asks his supporters to remain in the Labour party, believing he'll be readmitted one day, while asking Londoners to finance and support his campaign.
We believe that Labour is an openly pro-capitalist party which is carrying out attacks on the working class as bad as under the Tories. Moreover as Ken Livingstone's experience has shown there is no possibility of stopping Blair inside the Labour Party.
On the agenda now is the need for a new mass party of the working class to achieve change on behalf of working-class people.
Over the past few years, particularly under Blair, New Labour's transformation into a pro-capitalist party has politically disenfranchised ordinary working class people.
Even Peter Kilfoyle, who couldn't be described as even remotely left-wing, has lambasted Labour's leadership for abandoning its working class constituents.
Ken Livingstone says he's agonised for weeks over his decision to break with Labour. But having made this important break he needs to go the full way and break decisively from Blairism, politically and organisationally.
Politically this means fighting on a socialist programme. Organisationally this means using the authority he now has to take steps towards building a new mass party of the working class.
The Socialist Party has already shown that socialist policies can win support, with election victories for our members in Lewisham and Coventry, and to the Scottish parliament. Livingstone's support shows that workers perceive he could offer a radical alternative to Blairism.
Livingstone should not be looking to rich backers. He should instead use this opportunity to call a conference of trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists.
This conference could decide on a slate for the assembly elections and act as a step towards the building of a new mass party to represent working class people.
In The Socialist 10 March 2000: