Britain: Labour leadership contest – appealing to big business

The Labour leadership contest begs the question: what is the point of the Labour Party?

Paraded before us are a series of Blairite advocates of the austerity-lite and Tory imitation that failed to inspire support in the general election and led to the party losing 4 million voters since Tony Blair took office in 1997.

Ultra-Blairite Chuka Umunna has withdrawn from the race citing media pressure on his family. What does it say about the determination to fight the Tories of this former shadow business secretary? Compare that to the thousands of young people who have already taken to the streets to take on the Tories.

Frontrunners in the race are former health secretary under Gordon Brown, Andy Burnham; Yvette Cooper, who was Brown’s work and pensions minister. Other hopefuls are reported to include Liz Kendell and Mary Creagh (who?) and Tristram Hunt – ’Mr me too’ on Tory education policies.

All five went to Oxbridge, four of the five are former ’spads’ (special advisors to ministers), not one opposed the Iraq war, none supports rail renationalisation (backed by a majority of the public), none opposes austerity-lite or the benefits cap.

All agree that Labour needs to be seen as the party of big business. They offer no hope whatsoever to the millions now fearful of the Tory austerity onslaught that faces us.

Burnham spoke at Unite’s conference last year and is the preferred candidate of the unions. The appointment of Rachel Reeves as his campaign coordinator says everything that is needed about where he stands.

Reeves, as shadow work and pensions minister, said Labour is "not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work." And Burnham’s call to arms has consisted of a harking back to 1997 and the pro-privatisation, pro-war Blair government.

Unions gagged

The trade unions, the mass organisations of the working class, who created the Labour party so they would have an independent political voice, are locked out of the process. Under Ed Miliband, changes were made to end the bloc vote of the unions and destroy the last vestiges of a working class voice in the Labour party.

Now, trade union members can sign up as ’affiliated members’ to vote in the leadership contest but not have a collective voice. Any members of the public – for £3 – can participate in what is more akin to a US-style primary than a chance for the working class to put its stamp on events.

At the FBU firefighters’ union conference (report page 5) a motion to discuss reaffiliation to Labour was withdrawn.

This followed a third of the conference attending a fringe meeting where Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) speakers put the case for the building of a new party that could offer a programme to the ’aspiring’ working class – ie one that is 100% anti-austerity, that called for nationalisation of the banks and for democratic socialism.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, has said that he is not considering disaffiliation for the biggest union and funder of Labour. But 200 Unite members stood as TUSC candidates and many more participated in May’s elections.

The Labour leadership election, due to end on 12 September, will convince many more members that they need a new political voice that stands unapologetically for the working class.