350,000 in London march to oppose war on Iraq

Keaney Michael Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Sep 30 10:32:12 MDT 2002


Paul Flewers writes:

Strangely enough, when the squirearchy and toffs of England's
Countryside Alliance assembled en masse last weekend to parade their
reactionary ideas, the police didn't issue their own estimate, but happily
endorsed the Alliance's figure of 400 000.

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I read a report somewhere claiming that when this parade passed Scotland Yard HQ the assembled police cheered and applauded the marchers. That says a lot about the nature of this "opposition". But it also says a lot about the UK Labour Party in a way consistent with Phil Ferguson's points re NZ Labour.

The popularity, however transient, of any opposition to the current regime says much about the effectiveness of Blair's "big tent" strategy in its effective neutering of the traditional political opposition, i.e., the other pole of the 2-party system, the Conservative Party. As New Labour occupies the "centre ground" and colonises the right, the Liberal Democrats are positioning themselves as a sort of pro-EU social democratic opposition, except that their social democracy is completely different to Labourism, not least because of its lack of a base in organised labour. Instead it's founded upon a social liberalism that could once be found in the Tory Reform Group, and has antecedents in Lloyd George and Whig reformers of the 19th century. It's a measure of how far to the right New Labour has swung that LibDem leader Charles Kennedy could get a standing ovation from the TUC and then claim, quite validly, that British politics is "up for grabs" in a way unprecedented in over 10!
0 years, and that the LibDems should be moving to take the place of the official opposition. With both New Labour and the LibDems agreed on the fundamentals of the British future (eurozone membership and active participation in Europe as a means to get out from under US hegemony) the mainstream of British politics has shifted decisively against the preferred US option, anti-Europeanism, as represented by the punk Thatcherites of the rump Conservative Party, whose misfortunes conveniently continue even now with the "revelation" that John Major had a fling with Edwina Currie during the 1980s. Space for a new kind of solidly rightwing party is opening up, and people like David Owen and Michael Portillo are well-placed to occupy it, and will receive plenty of funding from the US and other domestic sources (e.g. Sainsbury family) should they choose to follow that route.

But as yet there is no effective political opposition. Instead there have been populist rumblings of a poujadist nature, most obviously in the petrol price protests of 2 years ago, and now in the Countryside Alliance, whose popularity rests not on the substance of its case, but in the fact that it's organised enough to "stick it to Tony". Some militant trade unions are also organised enough to stick it to Tony, and have public support largely on that basis (e.g. fire brigades union), but the key difference between the toffs and the FBU is that the state is united against the latter in a way that it is very much not re the toffs. Too much of the British state is still tied to the landed aristocracy, whose tentacles reach far into the news media (Viscount Rothermere, and wannabes like the ridiculous "Lord" Conrad Black). And there is an institutionalised hostility towards organised labour that was multiplied under Thatcher/Major. Thus New Labour, as the "state party", must conti!
nually manage the contradiction of its dependency on the infrastructure of organised labour (that which has not been smashed by the combined efforts of the state apparatus over the last 30 years) for electoral success whilst reassuring its new found friends in the City and elsewhere that it "means business" and is responsible. This was always the case with the Blair project, but it's now reaching a head with the gaping credibility gap suffered by public private partnerships and the crisis afflicting public infrastructure, starved of investment since 1976. Droves of members have left the Labour Party disillusioned with Blair's policies, while trade unions are withdrawing funding and threatening to disaffiliate. This drives Blair further into the arms of capital, whether directly in courting contributions from wealthy types or corporate sponsors, or indirectly through the route of state funding for political parties, thereby ensuring that the umbilical cord connecting (however t!
enuously) the Labour Party (and other mainstream parties) with the

Thus no political party now has a mass base. Instead we have a variety of mass movements, some of which are viewed kindly by the state apparatus (Countryside Alliance and even the poujadist fuel blockaders) while others are most definitely unwelcome (fire brigades union, rail workers), and New Labour is lined up against the latter, as the repeated admonitions against Ken Livingstone for his support of the Tube strikers shows. The fragility of this status quo will become manifest once the campaigning for a euro referendum begins in earnest, and the present coalitions realign, in what will be the dirtiest political contest in Britain for many years. Unfortunately, many on the left seem to think that a rewinding of the clock back to the 1970s is possible, and that the policies advocated then by the likes of Wynne Godley and Nicholas Kaldor, if not the alternative economic strategy of the then-Labour NEC, is a realistic alternative. This ignores what happened in 1976 when the US, !
having deliberately engineered a sterling crisis with the Saudis, via the IMF imposed its own economic order upon a country well placed to chart its own economic course but dangerously autonomous in its foreign policy (Wilson refused to commit troops to Vietnam, Heath ignored the US to concentrate on Europe) and also facing an unprecedented revolutionary upsurge. Even mild-mannered Jim Callaghan, desperately trying to preserve what autonomy he could, whether by borrowing from the Germans (Helmut Schmidt was eager to help) or cutting back in NATO commitments (shock, horror) found himself unable to resist the juggernaut, despite (or maybe because of) the pending flood of oil about to start coming in from the North Sea. Pretty much all of that is now gone, but the left opposition in Britain remains wedded to its notions of an autarkic socialist commonwealth oblivious to the fact that US hegemony is the issue and the only way to counter that is to pool resources with the rest of E!
urope (incidentally the Irish left should be looking very closely
Treaty -- just what is being offered as a constructive alternative?).

There is space in Britain for at least two new parties. One will belong to the David Owen US-fellow traveller tendency, which will accept the fait accompli of EU membership but argue to remain outside of the eurozone, effectively crippling the EU as an effective counterweight to the US, precisely the US's preference. The other space belongs to a left that accepts the EU fait accompli with equal grace and instead recognises the overwhelming nature of US hegemony and works according to an agenda formulated on the basis of that recognition, rather than attempting to erase 25 years of history.

Michael Keaney

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