Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/629/9820
What we think
Labour leadership contest dominated by right wing
One issue will overwhelm all others in the coming years - the struggle against cuts in public services. In the first instance this struggle will involve demonstrations, strikes and community campaigns. However, the issue of political representation for workers and young people struggling against the cuts must also be an important aspect of the campaign.
That is why The Socialist welcomes the decision of the steering committee of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to contest future elections and to encourage other socialist, trade union and anti-cuts candidates to stand under the TUSC banner. This decision was unanimously endorsed by the TUSC candidates' meeting (see report below).
For some trade unionists the New Labour leadership contest raised the hope, however faintly, that the crisis in working-class political representation might by solved by 'retransforming' the Labour Party - changing it back from capitalist New Labour to 'old' Labour which, at least at its base, was a vehicle for working class pressure.
The failure of John McDonnell to get on the ballot paper has shown yet again the overwhelming obstacles that lie across such a path. John McDonnell has a consistent record of campaigning in parliament in support of trade unionists' demands. That is why the Unite union conference, against the recommendation of its executive, correctly passed a motion calling for Unite-sponsored MPs to nominate John McDonnell.
However, the undemocratic constitution of New Labour means that the support of a conference representing nearly two million trade unionists is not enough to get on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership; it is also necessary to have the support of 12.5% of Labour MPs. The overwhelmingly right-wing, pro-capitalist nature of the parliamentary Labour Party means that John McDonnell has been excluded from the ballot paper from the start.
It is true that Diane Abbott, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group who nominated John McDonnell in 2007, has scraped onto the ballot paper and is to the left of the other candidates. However, her inclusion is a sign of the weakness of the left in the Labour Party, not its strength. MPs from the right of New Labour - including David Miliband, Phil Woolas and Stephen Twigg - felt able to nominate her in order to demonstrate the party's 'diversity', without fearing the consequences.
One diehard Blairite, Paul Richards, called nominating her a "foolish error" which would "skew the leadership debates to the left" and "open all manner of settled issues" - by which he meant it might result in socialism being once again mentioned in the Labour Party!
However, such is the feebleness of the Labour left, and the limitations of Diane Abbott as a candidate, that the majority of New Labour is clearly relaxed about her appearing on the ballot paper. Unlike the other four candidates she did oppose the Iraq war when it was launched, and has also campaigned in defence of immigrant workers and against New Labour's undermining of democratic rights.
Nonetheless, she does not have a consistent record of supporting a socialist programme. The fact that her child goes to a private school, and her inconsistency on other issues - including supporting academy schools in the London borough of Hackney - means that she is not seen in the same way as John McDonnell by trade union activists.
In addition, her leadership campaign has, up until now, not dealt with the key issues for trade unionists - opposition to all public sector cuts and repeal of the anti-trade union laws. If she were now to take a clear socialist position on these issues, it would still be possible for her nomination - despite coming about as a sop to diversity - to represent an opportunity to put a fighting, left programme to young people, workers and trade unionists.
Nonetheless, the next New Labour leader is going to be a pro-capitalist politician, be it David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham or Ed Balls. You cannot get a cigarette paper between the policies of these four. It is true that the two Eds have belatedly discovered that they were opposed to the Iraq war, but neither has responded to John McDonnell's demand that they call for immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. And despite Ed Miliband's attempts to appear marginally to the left of his brother, he - like the others - does not call for repeal of the anti-trade union laws and has opposed the BA strikes.
While all four candidates are quick to criticise the Tory and Lib Dem cuts, they nonetheless fully advocate the need for huge public-sector cuts. Where it is Labour councils carrying out cuts - such as Kirklees in Yorkshire, one of the first councils in the country to threaten compulsory redundancies as part of its £400 million cuts budget - you will not hear one word of criticism from them.
In the coming months and years Greece and Spain will come to Britain, both in the scale of the cuts we will face, and the movements that will take place against them. This will sharply pose the need for a political alternative to the capitalist politicians.
The failure of John McDonnell to get on the ballot paper shows again that such an alternative will not be created by reclaiming New Labour. Instead, the task of building a new mass party of the working class is posed - which stands against all cuts and for the socialist transformation of society.
In The Socialist 16 June 2010:
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