Archive article from The Socialist Issue 415
What we think
Blair staggers on... but 'PFI' Brown is no alternative
The following article was printed before Blair's humiliating defeat in the vote to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days. This represented one of the biggest defeats for a serving prime minister since the 2nd World War and is a devastating blow to Blair's rapidly diminishing authority.
"IN OFFICE but not in power, a lame duck prime minister," jeered Tory leader Michael Howard at Tony Blair (a case of the 'dead duck' denouncing the 'lame duck'!).
His pretext for this was the second ejection of David Blunkett from the government, this time leaving the Department of Work and Pensions. He tried once more to desperately cling to a minister's influence: a salary in telephone numbers, the plush ministerial limousines and rubbing shoulders with the rich London glitterati.
However, the stench arising from his recent acquisition of shares in a DNA company was too much even for the remote and disconnected New Labour MPs.
The real scandal is not just that Blunkett kept the details of his financial skulduggery from a parliamentary committee but that he engaged in it in the first place, which if it had remained undetected would have resulted in his shares appreciating to a figure variously estimated between £250,000 and £500,000!
Moreover, it is just one of the many examples of the sleazy, get-rich quick mentality which governs the outlook of New Labour's luminaries, beginning with Blair himself and his £1.6 million mansion acquired for his 'retirement'.
Many Labour leaders, from Ramsay MacDonald onwards, have rubbed shoulders with rich socialites.
They have had one foot in the camp of big business and have financially benefited from this, while purporting to represent working-class people. But never before have alleged 'Labour' leaders flaunted their acquired wealth like this New Labour gang.
They act in the same brazen manner as their rich benefactors; Blunkett not only dabbled in shares, he also accepted free membership of Annabel's night club in Berkeley Square!
Howard's jibe at Blair - first used by Norman Lamont against Tory Prime Minister John Major - was wide of the mark in one respect.
No government - particularly a Labour government - has real power which is concentrated in the levers of economic ownership and control of industry and the economy by the capitalists. Governments are made, if they obey the market, or broken if they don't, by this power.
In the case of the Blair government, it has been more subservient to the bosses than any other nominal 'Labour' government in history. It is an unalloyed big business government with not a scintilla of 'socialism' in the outlook of Blair.
On Iraq, on the latest proposals on academy schools - where the door has been opened to ownership by big business or religious zealots - on invalidity benefit, where he proposed to Blunkett that £20 a week should be slashed from claimants (40% of whom have mental health problems) Blair received the approval of the Tories.
If Cameron succeeds in his Tory leadership bid, the political choice for the time being for the British people will be between Tony Blair and 'Tory Blair'.
To all intents and purposes this government is an undeclared 'national government' with Blair unable to fully rely 'on his own side' in parliamentary votes.
His formal majority of 66 did not prevent a near defeat with a majority of just one on a clause in the so-called 'terror' bill. On this occasion, not only was his own side against but so is a body of the establishment, including the judges who considered the measure unworkable and counterproductive.
The same goes for Clarke's proposal to intern suspected terrorists without trial for 90 days. Incredibly, these police state-type measures were supported by Clarke on the grounds that they must be right because the police wanted these powers. It indicates how much the Blairites are in the pockets of the unelected police chiefs.
But Howard was correct in one sense: Blair has seen his authority drain away and has lost a stable majority in his cabinet. He is forced to rely on people like Hazel Blears (outside the Cabinet), a Blairite android, and John Hutton, newly appointed in Blunkett's place to carry out his dirty work. One ex-minister, Hutton's 'colleague' in the Parliamentary Labour Party, commented to the Financial Times: "I don't think [Hutton] has ever had an original thought of his own."
Blair's government has the unmistakeable odour of the 'last days of the Reich', with only a cabal in the Downing Street bunker now supporting him. So terrified are Labour MPs at the prospect of electoral wipe-out that many of them are in a mutinous mood, ready to kick Blair's proposals into the long grass.
The education white paper, the slashing of invalidity benefit, the meltdown and further privatisation of the NHS could all be partially defeated or withdrawn. There is even the suggestion that the equivalent of the Tories' 'men in grey suits' (the 1922 Committee), made up of trade union leaders and MPs, could approach Blair to ask him to 'take an early bath'.
However, dictators - even elected ones - sometimes have a penchant for clinging on to power when the basis for it has evaporated.
Blair wants to further savage public services in the interests of the privileged and wealthy, to privatise more industries and to stubbornly resist calls for the lifting of the ban on secondary trade union action imposed by Thatcher. This is his 'legacy', to do further major service to those he represents, big business. Any number of political scenarios are therefore possible.
The double whammy of Blunkett's resignation and near defeat on the terror bill could be the 'tipping point' for his early demise, precipitated by a majority against him in the Commons. However, he has stated that he will not go for a confidence vote if the '90-day' proposal is defeated.
He could stagger on, inflicting further savage attacks on the majority of working-class people. Only one thing is certain: he will vacate the political arena at a certain stage and probably be replaced by Brown.
But the hope that the chancellor will ride to the rescue is completely misplaced. 'Mr PFI' (Private Finance Initiative) is wedded fundamentally to Blair's New Labour project, of which he was an original co-author.
Steve Richards, political correspondent of The Independent, informs us that, at a cabinet meeting following Blunkett's resignation, Brown denounced the 'forces of conservatism', those opposed to public sector 'reform' (read further privatisation). He also opposed 'generous' increases in public sector pay.
And, as we show elsewhere, the wheels are coming off Brown's economic chariot as a gaping hole in the budget exists, which can only be plugged by savage cuts in public expenditure, by tax increases impacting primarily on working-class people or a mixture of both.
He set his face against the lifting of the ban on secondary action at the TUC. He will not support further 'democratisation' of the Labour Party.
Tony Benn, in a Guardian article, said of Blair: "His real legacy could be the destruction of the Labour Party itself, for that could well be how history will see it." He is right, but his argument applies equally to Brown.
To look for solutions within this discredited, capitalist party is futile. It is therefore urgent to take action to create now the basis for a new mass workers' party.
The RMT conference in early 2006 should be supported by all those who want to see a new optimistic road open up for the labour movement and the working class.
Together with the conference that the Socialist Party hopes to initiate in March next year, this could be a turning point in the political fightback that could provide an invaluable political weapon for the working class.
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