Britain: Time for a new workers’ party

TONY BLAIR may claim he is not the ’wobbling’ kind. But the long shadow of the Iraq occupation, the hostage crisis and Labour’s majority being reduced to less than 30 seats at a general election were likely to leave Blair, his ministers and Labour MPs wriggling uncomfortably in their Labour conference seats this week.

A vast array of Blairites, Brownites, union leaders and media commentators have sought Blair’s ear to advise him on how to overcome public cynicism for Labour to win a third general election. However, none of them have an answer to their biggest problem, which is that Blair’s party is not trusted and millions of disillusioned voters have deserted Labour, never to return.

The impact of the hostage crisis surrounding Kenneth Bigley, with Blair’s unwillingness and inability to do anything, is the eye of the permanent hurricane of Iraq that engulfs Blair. His refusal to apologise, even though he conceded he was ’wrong’, has intensified the huge anger against him and the feeling that he should be held to account.

As Brian Reade observed in the Daily Mirror, Blair is more than happy to apologise for other government’s mistakes – from the potato famine in Ireland to Bloody Sunday and the Guildford Four – but won’t apologise for his own, no matter how damning and conclusive the evidence against him is.

Yet, even if the motion on Iraq is debated and passed at Labour Party conference – limply calling for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq without directly criticising Blair – Blair won’t change course and will continue to doggedly uphold the interests of George Bush’s imperialist clique.

Similarly, union leaders may get resolutions passed at Brighton which are mildly critical. But, the chances of the government changing its pro-big business stance – under Blair, Brown or anyone else – is as unlikely as the Countryside Alliance merging with the League against Cruel Sports.

Market forces

UNION LEADERS believed they had extracted some concessions from Blair through the Warwick agreement, at Labour’s national policy forum in July. But those limited ’promises’ look increasingly threadbare just weeks after being pulled out of the wardrobe.

Even on rail renationalisation – a policy supported by two-thirds of the public and 75% of Labour voters, and one that could win some support back for Labour – the government didn’t even want it on the agenda and blatantly said they would ignore the conference decision.

Agreements made at Warwick on pensions and the two-tier workforce are already being subverted by the government. Blair’s government are doing everything possible to assist capitalism’s rapacious market forces through opting out of cutting workers’ hours and cutting public spending.

The leaders of the main unions are crying foul and threatening industrial action over pensions and public-sector attacks but simultaneously cling to the wreckage of the Labour Party hoping they may influence Labour’s election programme.

However, Blair and his followers have spelt out their directions and intentions for a third term very plainly to the union leaders. Stephen Byers has advised Blair to be like Thatcher and go on and on. And that means continuing neo-Thatcherite policies of more privatisation, more attacks on workers’ rights and living conditions and continuing to ignore the wishes and needs of anyone but big business.

One million manufacturing jobs have been lost under Labour since 1997 and thousands more are under threat. Yet, the government says in true Thatcherite vein that you can’t buck market forces.

Union leaders claim that if Labour changed course and pursued the policies agreed at Warwick and the TUC it could win back millions of voters to Labour. But even if such policies were forced through Labour’s conference, Blair, Brown and the rest have stitched up Labour’s decision-making so tightly there is no chance of them going in the manifesto let alone being acted upon.

If the union leaders genuinely want a party to campaign for decent pensions, shorter working hours, an end to discrimination in the workforce, massive investment in public services and manufacturing and renationalisation of rail – to name a few policies – then they can only achieve that by breaking from Labour and beginning the process of establishing a new mass party. Such a party could win the support of the disillusioned millions who have deserted Labour and the millions of workers who have been looking for a Left alternative to Labour for some time.

Editorial from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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October 2004