[Marxism] Labour Left Briefing Editorial on outcome of British General Election

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Fri May 20 07:27:14 MDT 2005

This is the editorial from the latest 'Labour Left Briefing'
(LLB). The Labour Left are the biggest component of the left in
Britain and this assessment echoes that of Alan Simpson,
Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group, which I posted up the
other day.

However, the analysis seems flawed to me and I'll comment on why

Jack Cade


Finish the job!

The General Election produced what most voters claimed to have
wanted in advance, namely a Labour Government with a greatly
reduced majority. New Labour may talk about an historic third
term, but this was no cause for their celebration. Just 36% of
the electorate voted Labour - the lowest share of the vote on
which a majority government has been formed since 1832. Only 61%
bothered to turn out: the Labour Party won more votes in 1979
when it lost to Thatcher.

The Tories gained 31 seats, but their share of the vote barely
increased, so this result cannot be read simply as a shift to the
right. The biggest swings from Labour were to the Lib Dems, who
gained on the very issues where they were perceived to be to the
left of Labour, namely on Iraq, civil liberties and tuition fees.
Five of the seats gained by the Lib Dems, for example, had
significant student populations. The quadrupling of the vote to
192,000 for the British National Party underlines how little
eight years of Labour government have achieved for the most
socially marginalised and excluded sections of the white working

There is evidence that Campaign Group MPs faced less of a swing
against them than Labour MPs as a whole, and hostile swings were
highest among high-profile Blairite ministers, some of whom, most
notably Stephen Twigg, lost their seats. The biggest punishment
for a Blair supporter was the defeat of Oona King in east London
at the hands of George Galloway, on behalf of Respect. This was
despite the Labour Party spending an estimated £250,000 on her
campaign, undoubtedly at the expense of other Labour marginal
seats in London. Respect performed creditably in four other
constituencies, all of which had high concentrations of Muslim
voters. Talk of the "birth of a new power", however, may prove

The return of a Labour Government with a reduced majority might
allow Labour's left wing to exert a greater veto over unpopular
policies. Already these once isolated MPs are being repeatedly
canvassed for their views by the mainstream media. To forestall
this scenario, Tony Blair announced the day after the election
that he had "listened and learned". Despite the decisive
rejection of Conservative policies by the voters, Blair now
"understood" the electorate's desire to "fix" the asylum system
and deal with antisocial behaviour. Bills already being prepared
for the new Parliament will tighten immigration controls, create
yet more criminal offences targeting young people and slash
incapacity benefit.

Blair's new ministerial appointments also reveal just how little
he has learned. They include two individuals who had earlier
resigned for deceiving Parliament (David Blunkett and Beverley
Hughes), a former Conservative MP (Shaun Woodward), a prominent
contributor to Labour's election funds (Lord Drayson), and a
policy advisor (Andrew Adonis), believed to be largely
responsible for tuition fees and privatisation in state
education. This "business as usual" approach is precipitating
anger and outright rebellion at all levels of the Party.

Within 48 hours of the results being declared, MPs were lining up
to call on Blair to go. Nor were these the usual suspects: former
Cabinet members Robin Cook and Frank Dobson joined the growing
chorus. John Austin announced he might run as a "stalking horse"
in the autumn to lance the boil. Even Amicus leader Derek Simpson
has called for Blair to depart. Realists might argue that Blair
has little to fear from such talk: the undemocratic rule that
requires support from 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party to
validate a candidacy is a significant hurdle, and in any case
neither the membership nor any major unions are likely to support
a fringe candidate. Nonetheless, such plotting so soon after
Blair's "victory" will be a matter of concern to the leadership -
not least to Gordon Brown, who wants a managed transition, a
coronation, free from the aggravation of any debate about policy.

For the left in the Party, however, the policy agenda is crucial
if any lessons are to be learned from the last eight years. Only
a focus on policy can expose the shallow and contradictory stance
taken by so many union leaders who put their faith in Brown,
despite his total opposition to all of the policies they have
argued for in recent years - whether it be opposition to tuition
fees, decent pension increases, support for council housing,
public ownership of rail or withdrawal from Iraq.

The new situation in the Party in the aftermath of the election
is the most open and fluid for a generation and there is a window
of opportunity in which to influence the agenda. Many MPs are now
calling for Blair to go - and this is indeed the immediate
priority if our Party is not to suffer further lossses. But if
the coming battle is to be anything more than a personality
contest, we must also use the fight against Blair to get rid of
Blairism, the political doctrine that got us into this fix. 

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