COMING ON top of the controversy surrounding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the death of scientist Dr David Kelly has brought about the most serious crisis that New Labour has faced since coming to power in 1997.
Before his suicide, Dr Kelly wrote in an e-mail about "dark actors playing games". In reality, he became a tragic pawn in New Labour’s cynical gameplan to divert attention from the lies and distortions they had resorted to in order to try and justify going to war with Iraq.
Faced with a growing anti-war movement, both Bush and Blair used the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), in particular the claim that Saddam was ready to use them within 45 minutes, to mask their real reasons for attacking Iraq – oil, profits and maintaining the US’s global dominance.
Three months on and no WMDs have been found in Iraq, the body count of soldiers increases daily and there is no peace and stability for ordinary Iraqis. An opinion poll carried out prior to Dr Kelly’s death found that 66% of people in Britain thought that Blair had misled them about going to war.
Distrust on this issue has combined with growing anger about foundation hospitals, underfunding of schools, top up fees and the many other anti-working-class policies that this New Labour government is pursuing.
It’s against this background that the New Labour spin machine went into overdrive. To distract from the government’s mounting pressures, spin master-general Alastair Campbell attacked the BBC and claims by journalist Andrew Gilligan that the government had ’sexed up’ it’s dossier justifying war with Iraq.
As the Financial Times pointed out in its editorial (20 July): "The spat between Downing Street and the BBC was abating when Mr Kelly’s name was leaked as a possible source of Mr Gilligan’s story. This helped keep the focus on the BBC story".
Journalists say that the Ministry of Defence went out of its way to ensure that they discovered Dr Kelly’s name. According to The Independent (22 July), Whitehall officials admitted that No10 overruled keeping his identity secret.
Dr Kelly can be added to the growing list of thousands of casualties from the second Gulf War. In his speech to the US Congress (one of the few places where he can still get a warm welcome these days) Blair said that history would "forgive" him if WMDs were not found in Iraq.
But with every day that passes, cynicism towards New Labour is growing and the real reasons for war are becoming clearer. Far from forgiving Blair, war in Iraq could become his nemesis.
The voices calling for Blair to go are getting louder. These include the right-wing media but also voices from within his own party. Former transport minister Glenda Jackson declared that Blair should resign, referring to Dr Kelly as a political sacrifice. Other Labour MPs are worrying that Blair could become a liability, risking their seats at the next election.
The Financial Times compared this crisis to the Westland helicopter affair in 1986, which claimed the scalps of two Tory Cabinet ministers and almost that of Thatcher herself.
However, it was the poll tax and the mass campaign of non-payment which eventually persuaded the Tory party leadership and sections of the establishment in 1991 that Thatcher had to go.
Like Thatcher, Blair might escape this immediate crisis, although this is not certain. He hopes that by agreeing to a judicial inquiry – which is due to report in the autumn (although these things can drag on for months and even years) – he will be able to buy a breathing space.
The remit of the inquiry will be extremely limited, carried out by a judge who is himself part of the establishment. The Socialist Party calls for a genuine inquiry, made up of workers’ and community representatives, which would look not just at the immediate issues surrounding Dr Kelly’s death but the wider question of Blair’s reasons for going to war.
A Yougov poll for the Daily Telegraph found that 39% of people think that Blair should go now. However, the fact that the BBC has named Dr Kelly as the source for their claims that the dossier was ’sexed up’ has given the government another opportunity to deflect the heat from themselves.
This has not just created a government crisis but a crisis for the BBC which, although it tries to maintain a veneer of independence, is part of the capitalist establishment. It’s likely that, following the inquiry, senior heads will roll.
It’s also likely that Alastair Campbell and defence secretary Geoff Hoon will be forced to resign, although it’s not certain that Blair himself will escape.
Even if Blair is not pressurised into resigning over this issue, his leadership has suffered yet another damaging blow. It’s possible that he could be forced to step down before the next election.
But once again the question is posed – what is the alternative? Some Labour MPs and trade union leaders put their faith in Brown as an alternative leader to Blair.
However, Brown is as much a part of the New Labour spin machine as Blair. He is the joint architect of PFI and privatisation of public services. While his tone might differ, in essence his policies are fundamentally in line with those of Blair.
The new left union leaders who call for the Labour Party to be reclaimed are wasting valuable time and energy that could be better spent campaigning for the setting up of a new working-class party.
War in Iraq, WMDs and related issues look set to haunt this government for some time to come.
How to build a credible alternative to the big business policies of New Labour and the other pro-capitalist parties is the vital issue of the day.