frontline 14


The End of New Labour?

After ten years as Labour leader Tony Blair has been at the centre of the changes that have transformed the Labour Party in Britain. He has been the figurehead for New Labour and has presided over the changes that transformed the party. These started with Kinnock’s attacks on the socialist left such as Militant within the party. Militant rightly pointed out that they would not stop there. They continued on to the dumping on Clause 4, which committed Labour to public ownership.

Since then the right-wing reforms have not stopped. We have seen the privatisation of swathes of our schools and hospitals through the disastrous and expensive PFI/PPP schemes. We have seen the introduction of top-up fees for students and foundation hospitals. Overall there has been an extension of the market into more and more areas of our life.

This week we saw another example with Tony’s war-on-crime. Of course it is not the dog-eat-dog values of the market that are to blame for crime and other social problems in the eyes of New Labour. They don’t pin the blame on the growing divide between rich and poor. They pay no attention to the alienation of those living precarious existences in a low-wage, insecure “competitive” global economy. No according to Tony, still grubbing around for the votes of the Tory right, the “permissive liberal values” of the sixties are to blame. It seems almost like a bad joke, a parody of Thatcher. It would come as no surprise to hear him announce a return to “Victorian values”.

Many thought that the embracing of Thatcherite neo-liberal economic and social policy was the culmination of the process of bourgeoisification of the party.


But the enthusiastic support that Blair showed for George Bush’s aggressive neo-conservative foreign policy went beyond even this. Blair’s New Labour government became the toast of the White House when they backed Bush over Iraq. The Iraq war saw a Labour government joining in an imperialist adventure designed to secure US military dominance of the planet.

Around the world the reasons given for going to war have been exposed. The Butler report in Britain, reports by the US Congress and the Australian government have all found that intelligence agencies exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq. In other words they produced lies to justify the political aims of their masters.

The Butler report did not blame Blair for the mistakes. Senior civil servants are not known for upsetting their political bosses; the ruling class looks after its own. But the public in Britain and around the world have not been fooled. The July 200 ICM poll in the Guardian showed that 55% of voters think Blair lied over Iraq. A record number now oppose the Iraq war - 56%.

The veteran Labour politician Roy Hattersley was once regarded as being on the right of the party, but now he has come to be regarded as a left, by virtue of standing still as the party careened to the right. Roy Hattersley has described Blair as seeing the Labour Party as “a vehicle for the expression of his personal philosophy” and talked of an exodus of social-democrats from the party whilst calling for Blair to go and Blairism to stop.

Will Blair Go?

But the transformation of the Labour Party goes beyond Tony Blair and his personal philosophy. Undoubtedly Blair has had an important personal influence of the party. But his elevation to this position of influence has come about because of the changes in society worldwide. The seeming victory of neo-liberalism, the defeat of Stalinist communism, the weakening of the organised trade union movement and of socialist ideas, all had a profound effect on Labour and social-democratic parties worldwide.

Whether or not Blair will survive is now an open question. The increasing public opposition to him, particularly over issues like Iraq, puts the seats of Labour MP’s in peril.

This has been underlined by the results of both the European Parliament elections and the two recent by-elections. Labour slumped to its worst ever result in Europe, losing out to the Liberal-Democrats, Tories and UKIP. In this issue of Frontline we take a closer look at both the European election results and UKIP phenomenon. In the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election Labour only narrowly held the seat and in Leicester Labour lost out to the Liberal Democrats. This result, in which the Respect coalition polled strongly, underlined the importance of Iraq.

If Blair is deposed, he is most likely to be replaced with Gordon Brown, who has masterminded much of New Labour’s economic policy and fully backed Blair over the war in Iraq. A Brown victory could complicate the process of trade union uncoupling from Labour, but will not change the neo-liberal nature of the party. Just as they are beginning to do in Germany now, trade unions will still have to look to recreate a party that stands in the interests of working people.

Whatever the outcome of Labour’s leadership struggle, socialists must continue to expose the agenda of New Labour and to argue for trade unions to break the link with the government that is attacking them. In Scotland the SSP has had some modest success in attracting trade union support, although there is much work still to be done.

In England a more complex situation exists and the creation of a new force to represent working people will require a shift by trade unions, the socialist left and the type of broad anti-war coalition that Respect represents.