Britain: No ‘lurch to the left’ for Labour

Labour elects Ed Miliband as new leader

Does the victory of Ed Miliband over his elder brother David – a modern Cain and Abel drama in reverse with the younger brother ‘knifing’ the elder – represent the dreaded ‘lurch to the left’ feared by the right-wing press? Many Labour Party members and others hope that it is so. The voting figures however do not bear this out.

Ed Miliband won by a handful of votes; a dozen MPs changing their votes would have made all the difference by securing victory for David. Underlining the unreconstructed Blairite character of the Labour Party, David was ahead amongst MPs and the ‘ordinary’ members of the party in the Labour Party branches.

The standard bearer of the left, Diane Abbott, got the support of only seven MPs and even her own local party did not give her a majority of their votes! It was the votes of affiliated trade union members – whipped up by the general secretaries of the big unions in particular – that secured Ed Miliband’s hairsbreadth victory.

Yet an examination of the figures shows that this is far from a ringing endorsement amongst ordinary trade unionists for the ‘new’ Labour leader or the party. Nor does it vindicate the union leaders’ insistence that they must remain affiliated to the Labour Party because trade union members still look towards this party.

Despite the valiant efforts of these leaders, turnout was in general miserable. Only 8.7% of affiliated trade union members bothered to vote! The mountain – in this case right wing trade union leaders – laboured and produced a mouse.

Shop workers’ union Usdaw, which backed the elder Miliband, David, to the hilt, achieved a phenomenal turnout of 4.3%! The Unison leaders have spent more time witch-hunting militant fighters in the union’s ranks than fighting the cuts. They argued against the disaffiliation of the union from New Labour. But they achieved just 6.7% turnout with only 28,000 votes cast out of 419,000 ballot papers distributed.

Added to this were the 15% spoiled ballots in the union section. This cannot be explained away by confusion over voting procedure. It indicates most probably a conscious decision by a significant layer to spoil their ballots because none of the candidates reflected their urge for radical socialist policies to meet the challenge of the current devastating economic crisis.

Moreover, within minutes of being elected, Ed Miliband dismissed any idea that he would turn left. Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley correctly said Miliband was not ‘red’ but “barely pink”! Also dismissed early was the charge that he is now in hock to the trade unions.

Nothing better illustrates the thorough rightward transformation of the Labour Party than the phobia of the right-wing press and Blairite MPs that the party, which was founded by the trade unions could now be ‘controlled’ by them. If only this were the case! Then ordinary working-class people and trade unionists would have a possible route to enter and transform the Labour Party.

Yet even in this election, despite the fact that they are still the party’s paymasters, donating millions of pounds every year, the collective voice of the trade unions was dissipated. They were only able to have a decisive effect on the outcome of the election because of the narrowness of the contest.

Ed Miliband has made it clear that he will not ‘fully’ support the trade unions in fighting the looming Con-Dem cuts. New Labour’s parliamentary party’s opposition will be largely verbal and will not extend to opposing ‘all’ cuts. What will this new Labour leadership say to the 26,000 local government workers in Birmingham who have received redundancy warning notices, along with the newly announced 8,500 warned by the Tory-Liberal coalition in Sheffield? Tears and hand-wringing will not be enough.

Paradoxically, the very terror, indeed the paroxysms of bile, at the remote prospect that Miliband ‘may’ represent a leftward turn in the Labour Party, is a striking illustration of the explosive social situation developing in Britain now. The Financial Times pleaded: “Miliband must kill the ‘Red Ed’ tag.”

Editorials are full of warnings that along this road lies ‘electoral disaster’. Don’t abandon the ‘middle ground’, go on the so-called ‘prawn cocktail offensive’ – like Blair and Brown before him – Miliband is advised. All of this would convince the bosses that ‘they can work with him’. This is a backhanded acknowledgement that a real, left, socialist policy would find a huge echo and electoral success.

In his conference speech, Miliband pointed to the loss of five million votes by New Labour since 1997. But he also ‘praised’ Brown and Blair, while looking towards an undefined path for the future.

The electoral debacle of New Labour arose from the fact that Blair and Brown carried through their ruthless policy which enormously benefited the rich at the expense of the poor, whose numbers grew during the New Labour governments.

Miliband has now echoed the criticisms made by The Socialist on many occasions that Brown unsuccessfully sought to conjure away the economic cycles of ‘boom and bust’. This was because he was in thrall to capitalism. This economic crisis did not drop from the sky, is not an act of God, but is rooted in the contradictions of capitalism.

Wishful thinking is the most dangerous policy in the kind of crisis confronting working-class people today. It is fatal to cling to the hope that New Labour, because that is what the party is, despite the blandishments of Miliband, is not still a Blairite pro-capitalist party in its policy, in the social composition of its members and how it is likely to act in this crisis. Miliband’s policy merely proposes making the cuts at a ‘slower pace’ than the Con-Dem coalition.

At local level, Labour councils – unless they adopt the stance of the Liverpool city council of 1983 to 1987 – will become ‘little butchers’, carrying out the demands of the ‘big butchers’ in Downing Street. They will be resisted by a mass movement. Which side will Ed Miliband be on?

There will be ladles of ‘sympathy’ but it will be by his deeds that his leadership and his party will be judged. Sure enough, for the first time since the election and beyond, even according to the Sun newspaper – New Labour has gone ahead of the Tories in the polls. This has nothing to do with a change of policy on the part of its new leader. It is a reflex reaction by working-class people, largely on the electoral plane at this stage, to the dire consequences arising from the plans of the ‘deficit slashers’.

Therefore the conclusion that all socialists and active trade unionists should draw is that this is no time to foster illusions in New Labour or that there will be a ‘change’ in its programme and actions in the next period.

On the contrary, this leadership election has highlighted once more the absolute necessity to fight the Con-Dem government, not just on the industrial and social planes, but also the need to provide a clear political alternative. The basis for a new mass workers’ party, the only hope for the millions who fear the cuts about to destroy them and their families, must be created now.

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