The end of Blairism?
5 June 2006
The last Local Government elections in Britain in May saw the beginning of the end for Tony Blair. He remained in place only by sacrificing some of his most loyal lieutenants and assuring MPs that he would stand down next year. Below we carry three responses to his humiliation. In one, PIERS MOSTYN of the Magazine Socialist Resistance argues that electoral gains by the RESPECT COALITION represent a way forward. (http://www.socialistresistance.net/newlabournorenewal.htm). In sharp contrast Graham Bash of Labour briefing, writing in Weekly Worker, argues that the fight against Blairism can only be fought within the labour party. (http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/624/blair.htm).
A different perspective is offered by Chris Marsden and Julie Hyland of the World socialist website. They argue that the main mechanism at work in new Labour is the abandonment of socialism and even of social democracy by a layer of intellectuals and trade union bureaucrats who now act as direct apologists for the transnational companies. Their project, represented by an organisation called the Compass group, is to preserve the new Labour project by replacing a discredited Blair by an equally reactionary Brown. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/may2006/comp-m17.shtml
It is not our intention to make any detailed intervention into that debate. Each position represents some aspect of reality. It is true that the majority of the organised working class in England still support the Labour party. It is true that Marxists should intervene where workers break away and radicalise independently. It is almost certain that Brown will replace Blair and that the battle of ideas will still need to be fought.
We make two points:
The first is the universal nature of the dilemma. Similar problems face the Irish left. Do we support sections of the trade union bureaucracy in attempts to revive labourism? Do we build electoral alliances with whomever happens to be dissatisfied? Do we accept that a new party of the working class is some way off and that we will have to restate and repopularise the ideas of Marxism?
The difficulty is not that those on the
left hold different positions. The difficulty is the almost universal
dishonesty of the left, both in their unwillingness to state the positions
that they do hold and in their almost pathogenic revulsion against political
debate with critics. The result is not only a movement filled with errors,
but one unable to learn even from their crassest mistakes.
By Chris Marsden and Julie Hyland
17 May 2006
When Home Secretary John Reid pronounced that the Compass group was leading a left wing coup to depose Prime Minister Tony Blair and return to “Old Labour” values, he could not have been more wide of the mark.
An examination of Compass, its personnel and its politics reveals it as an attempt to save New Labour from electoral oblivion and thus safeguard the careers and influence of a layer of party apparatchiks and advisers. They include figures that have played a central role in fashioning New Labour, as well as a relatively younger layer who have made their fortunes thanks to their ability to trade on their access to the government.
Their hope is that public hostility to the government can be dispersed by the simple expediency of replacing Blair with Chancellor Gordon Brown and making minor modifications to Labour policy in order to assert that it is now more in tune with the will of the electorate.
Compass was launched in September 2003 amidst growing public disaffection with both the government and the entire process of official politics. Blair’s decision to join the US-led war against Iraq in the face of widespread popular opposition, and the exposure of his claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, had destroyed the prime minister’s credibility. Together with the government’s pro-business agenda this had left Labour’s standing at an all-time low. With a general election in May 2005, many became worried about a political meltdown.
Compass set out to become the rallying point for those within and around the party machine—policy advisers, academics and pro-Labour journalists, together with Labour MPs and councillors fearing the loss of their seats.
This is a social layer motivated by powerful economic self-interest. Though by no means numerically substantial, it plays a crucial political role.
The Blair government in fact rests on two constituencies. It functions as the political representative of a global financial oligarchy, which dominates all aspects of economic and political life. But Labour’s refashioning as a right-wing, overtly pro-capitalist party was a major political operation that involved thousands of party and trade union bureaucrats. Once it came into government thousands more gravitated around this core in order to secure access to the seat of power and the wealth that was to be opened up through Labour’s privatisation of essential social provision.
This upper middle class stratum that is centred in London and the southeast, has also benefited significantly from Labour’s big business agenda. In particular, intimate relations have been built up between the personnel of think tanks whose remit is to legitimise and elaborate Labour’s pro-business policies; lobbyists who act as middle men between government, public services and corporations in hiving off public services to private capital; and finally journalists whose job it is to put a popular spin on a massive redistribution of wealth away from working people to the rich.
The New Labour breed
Neal Lawson, who is the chair of Compass, is typical of the New Labour breed. A former adviser to Blair, he also ran Nexus, a New Labour think tank, and edited its quarterly journal, Renewal.
His previous brush with fame was in 1998 when the Observer newspaper alleged that his lobbying company, Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn (LLM), was offering access to government ministers in return for substantial cash payments. A reporter posing as a prospective client at LLM’s offices said that “for a £5,000-£20,000 monthly fee, clients were instructed ‘in the political grammar of the world of Tony Blair.’”
Other members of Compass, such as Cathy Ashley and Anna Coote, work for charitable organisations, which also provide consultancy services to corporations, the public and voluntary sector in relation to government policy.
Compass also brings together representatives of all the key pro-Labour think tanks, including the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the Fabian Society, Progress, Catalyst, Renewal and the New Economics Foundation.
The most important of these is Demos, represented by its leader Tom Bentley, formerly the adviser to David Blunkett when he was Secretary of State for Education.
The business connections of Demos make Lawson’s efforts pale by comparison. Its website explains: “Demos works in most public service sectors, including education, health, policing and social care,” alongside government departments, local authorities and corporations such as Centrica, the NatWest Group, Shell and Vodafone.
Its trustees include Andrew Mackenzie, Chief Executive for Industrial Minerals, Rio Tinto, Nick Claydon, a partner in the Brunswick Group, the international PR firm which acts for almost a third of the FTSE 100 top firms, and Ed Straw, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The position of prominence enjoyed by Demos is thanks to the key role it played in the genesis of New Labour. Demos was set up by Martin Jacques, the editor of Marxism Today, together with Geoff Mulgan, a regular contributor to the magazine. Marxism Today began its life as the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
From the mid-1980s it became a focus for broader layers within social democracy and academia that were explicitly repudiating class-based politics. Its Manifesto for New Times, with its claims that the world was entering a “Post-Fordist society”, and its insistence that Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher had succeeded in determining the political agenda, were taken up by the Labour Party’s leadership under Neil Kinnock.
Together with Marxism Today’s anti-Trotskyist pedigree this opened the door for its key personnel to the highest echelons of the Labour Party—particularly those who became the leaders of New Labour. This was at a time when the Labour Party was conducting witch-hunts against the Militant group and others on the left of the party, which heralded Labour’s ditching of its previous reformist policies that ended with Blair’s junking of Clause 4, the party’s commitment to social ownership.
Compass acknowledges its intellectual debt to Stalinism in its programmatic material, much of which is written by former supporters of Marxism Today and gives a version of the British labour movement history indistinguishable from that publication.
Its pamphlet “What is the Democratic Left?” written by Lawson, Paul Thompson and David Purdey, states that the precursors of Compass came from both Labour and the Communist Party.
Crucially the pamphlet focuses on what they describe as “the death of militant labourism, with the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1984.” In contrast the pamphlet praises “the outstanding success of Marxism Today” and The Manifesto for New Times, which it attributes to its recognition of the end of the class struggle as the basis for “building a new, democratic left.”
This development within the CP was echoed in the Labour Party. Following Labour’s defeat in the 1983 general election, the bulk of the party, including most of its nominal left, “came to our senses... A crucial turning point in the ensuing civil war was the realisation by most Labour members that Militant really was an entrist, anti-democratic party that deserved to be expelled.”
Alongside the Stalinists and the witch-hunters another group is identified as a crucial element in the genesis of New Labour’s supposed “democratic Leftism.” These were the renegades from various radical groups, which Compass describes as “a third current that had its roots in the new left that emerged from the struggles and social movements of the late 1960s and 70s. Turned off by their experiences in or with the far left, many had joined Labour, but as genuine seekers for a radicalised social democracy rather than as entrists... Most of these forces inside and outside Labour supported the Blair revolution, some more sceptically than others. Labour had to change, we were prepared to be part of a modernising coalition and Blair was the necessary catalyst.”
Compass presents an accurate picture of the forces that made up New Labour. Moreover, they have every right to claim a special place for the Stalinists. As well as advisers who provided the ideological justification for renouncing the class struggle and social ownership, many of those who have become New Labour’s key personnel were trained by the Communist Party—including Reid, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, European Union commissioner Peter Mandelson and Education Secretary Alan Johnson.
There was no better place for the seedbed for right wing, anti-working class politics than the environs of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Indeed, in the midst of present faction fight, Lawson responded to accusations that he was leading an old Labour coup by retorting, “We are an organisation packed with people who were fighting Trotskyites when some of the modernisers were Trotskyites.”
Precisely who amongst his pro-Blair critics Lawson was seeking to embarrass with claims of a former connection with Trotskyism is unclear. But its use as an insult stakes a claim for Compass to the mantle of New Labour’s repudiation of socialism that will be lost on no one within the party.
The objective basis for “renunciationism”
The World Socialist Web Site has identified the political phenomenon that is described in such glowing terms by Compass as “renunciationism.” Such intellectual shifts as the wholesale repudiation of class politics and a pronounced lurch to the right always have their roots in profound objective causes.
Over the preceding decades the social interests of the labour bureaucracy had become increasingly divorced from, and antagonistic to, those of the working class it claimed to represent as it became integrated into the apparatus of the state and corporate management.
By the 1980s, this political degeneration of the old workers’ organisations had reached a turning point. The development of the globalisation of production had ended the possibility of ameliorating class antagonisms through policies based on national economic regulation. The bureaucracy concluded that its privileges were no longer compatible with efforts to secure even the most minimal concessions for the working class. Rather their continued usefulness to capital depended on carrying through the systematic destruction of the previous social gains won by the workers’ movement.
The embrace of a Thatcherite economic and political agenda by the Labour Party and the Trade Union Congress found its echo in similar organisations throughout the world. But the most striking expression of renunciationism was the ascendancy of a capitalist restorationist wing within the Stalinist bureaucracy, led first by Mikhail Gorbachev and later Boris Yeltsin, which presided over the liquidation of the Soviet Union.
The transformed relationship between the old bureaucracies and the working class also impacted directly upon a section of the middle class that gravitated around the official labour movement in academia and local government. At the very point that the bureaucratic apparatuses and programmes that had been used to discipline the working class and suppress the threat of revolution were at the point of collapse, they too made their peace with capitalism and sought a new basis for maintaining their privileged social position.
This is what in 1997 united the supposed leftist intellectuals—whether nominally Stalinist, Labourite or Trotskyist—behind Tony Blair and New Labour.
For almost a decade, they were able to utilise the ideological confusion caused by the betrayals of the old workers organisations to their personal and political advantage.
But this is now coming to an end. In this month’s local elections Labour lost more than 300 seats—precisely the type of electoral debacle long feared by Compass—which has served to ignite the bitter faction fight within the party.
Should Labour lose office the gravy train comes to a halt. The place of Demos, et al. would be usurped by their pro-Conservative counterparts as big business advisers and go-betweens. It is this, rather than any questions of principle, that motivates Compass to make moves against Blair in the hope of rescuing New Labour.
What does Compass stand for?
As might be expected from a group of academics and policy advisers, Compass has produced reams of material supposedly outlining its vision for the future. In the end, however, it all boils down to pinning its hopes on a fresh bout of rhetoric and a new face at the top.
These are the people who most enthusiastically proclaimed New Labour as a “third way” and Blair’s government as progressive politics for the modern era. Its embrace of the market, they insisted, did not lessen Labour’s commitment to a more egalitarian and democratic society. Rather it offered the only realistic, practical means for achieving these ends.
What do they have to say after nine years of a Blair government?
Labour has presided over a historically unprecedented increase in the wealth of the super-rich at the direct expense of working people. It has dragged Britain into one imperialist adventure after another and is set to do so again, this time against Iran. In order to stifle political and social dissent it has abrogated fundamental civil liberties that bring into question the very rule of law.
Yet in response Compass merely issues a gentle reprimand to the government for being too defensive—not “sufficiently new” or “sufficiently Labour” in Lawson’s words—and even calls for some reference to “class” while insisting that it was correct to rewrite Clause 4 and nail “its colours to the mast of public service reform.”
Iraq is barely mentioned and there is no record of the group mounting any organised opposition to either the war or the ensuing occupation. And Lawson succeeded in writing a 40-page pamphlet, grandly entitled “Dare More Democracy,” that fails to even mention, let alone oppose any of the government’s actual attacks on democratic rights.
Instead he makes clear the Compass group’s only real concern: to identify the hot button issues that can win back the support of “Labour’s swing voters” or “switchers” from the middle class professions and the skilled workers.
Compass offers very little that can do so. Most of its documents are made up of banalities and soundbites. It thrashes around looking for some political and ideological examples of a successful social democratic party or philosophy for government—flirting with the so-called “Swedish model,” communitarianism, environmentalism, post-modernist critiques of consumerism and proposals to focus on lifestyle issues that will bring personal “happiness” unconnected to material wealth.
It can only offer such a thin gruel because its aim is to claim the mantle of New Labour, rather than offering any real political alternative to it.
One of Lawson’s most revealing comments was on the difficulties Compass faced in drafting its manifesto. “We really had to try and find the right language,” he told the Guardian. “We still wanted the government to succeed. But how do you say, ‘You’re heading the wrong way—turn round and come this way’ in a way that isn’t Old Labour? We averaged about six words a day over two years because we were constantly ripping up drafts: ‘No, no—that smacks of old politics.’”
The “right language,” as far as securing the support of New Labour and its corporate backers is concerned, prohibits any genuine popular appeal. It means there can be no suggestion of a commitment to the “old politics” of redistributing wealth to working people, let alone forthright opposition to colonialism and war. All that is left is to warm over the discredited nonsense of the “third way” about democratic market capitalism and personal self-realisation.
The aspirants to the New Labour crown grouped around Compass who are now acting as cheerleaders for Gordon Brown face precisely the same political dilemma as that faction grouped around Blair. It has proved impossible to reconcile politics that serve the interests of a financial oligarchy with efforts to build a stable electoral base.
Compass portrays New Labour’s difficulties
as a problem of presentation, when it is a problem of substance. The millions
of workers who have become hostile to Blair’s government have every reason
to be. And they will not be deceived by the efforts of Compass to buttress
the disintegrating ideological façade that has been used to conceal
Labour’s role in facilitating the political monopoly of a fabulously wealthy
12 May 2005
Graham Bash of ‘Labour Left Briefing’ looks forward to Blair’s demise in the aftermath of the May 4 local elections
The local election results on May 4 were bordering on devastating: we saw Labour down to 26% and the Tories above 40% for the first time in a generation. What it means is that is it now far less likely that Labour will win the next general election and form a majority government unless there is a decisive change of political course by the party.
I did a lot of work locally in Hackney in these elections for Labour. I was keen to do this not simply for the effect my efforts could have on the result, but because I learn a tremendous amount. The message I got from people was quite unequivocal. It was an active hatred of Blair and a depth of anger from many about the Iraq war that was sobering.
One response from a longstanding Labour voter will stay with me. He told me: “I would like to vote Labour; but there just isn’t a Labour Party to vote for. Get rid of Blair and Blairism and I will be delighted to be a Labour voter once more.”
The attitude of that solid Labour man was not exceptional. This was a message we were getting from many, many people. In my area, due to some good organisation, the Labour vote held up very well, but overall the result was a disaster. What I think is of particular interest is New Labour’s own response to the drubbing the electors gave them.
The voters decisively rejected New Labour, humiliating them at the polls. Yet, if anything, the subsequent cabinet reshuffle reinforces its Blairite content. It is remarkable that Jack Straw can be sacked for being too ‘independent’. What sealed his fate is his stance that it was inconceivable that this government would ever join a US-led military assault on Iran.
For Blair, that was a step too far and Straw had to go. It is a slap in the face of both the party and the electorate, as is the appointment of the unspeakable Hazel Blears as our chair. And, of course, it is a joy to see the back of Charles Clarke. But the left has to be very wary about how we celebrate his downfall. We must make sure that there is no hint that we in any way endorse the chauvinist hysteria about foreign criminals that actually drove him from office.
What we have to concentrate on is the serious erosion of Labour’s base. This has directly led to an increase in abstention and - worryingly - a substantial revival of the Tories. Also, in some areas such a Barking, Labour’s traditional vote has gone to the British National Party. That is a dangerous development and an absolute indictment of the legacy of Blairism. It is a product of the total failure of this government to connect with the interests and concerns of its traditional working class base.
People who enthusiastically turned out to get rid of the Tories in 1997 have found that the Tories are still in power, if not in office. They are disillusioned and are turning away both from the Labour Party and from politics more generally. When people turn their backs on the labour movement and the political process, we are facing a crisis.
What does it mean for activists in the labour movement? It can only mean challenging for the future of the Labour Party - the very existence of a political party of the working class now hangs by a thread. I have also stated that the New Labour project is to separate the Labour Party from its historic trade union base and, if successful, it would destroy the party’s very nature as a working class entity.
All this talk of an orderly transition from Blair to Brown leaves me cold. The left does not want an orderly transition. I want Blair to be driven from office, with his and New Labour’s treacherous policies in tatters! Of course, we want to get rid of the leader of this alien political trend in our ranks - that goes without saying. But the rot goes far deeper than that. There is no point in replacing Blair with Brown if New Labourism remains intact. What is critical is that Brown is the main architect of most of the economic policies of New Labour.
What stands out for me is the fact that Blair remains in office because he is allowed to do so. Not only by the supine parliamentary party, but also by the leaders of the trade unions. Were there to be a resolution from one of the big four unions to this year’s Labour conference calling for a leadership contest, it would be very difficult for the New Labour apparatchiks to manoeuvre that off the conference agenda. It would get support from most of the unions and from a considerable section of the constituency parties.
Unfortunately, there seems little chance of this. However, the point I’m trying to stress is that if Blair survives this crisis, goes in his own time and there is that orderly transition they are so desperate to ensure, then this would be a defeat for the left and - more importantly - a massive defeat for the working class. We would have to ask serious questions of the trade union leaderships under those circumstances. It could spell the end of the Labour Party and 100 years of independent working class political representation.
At the moment, Blair survives courtesy of the trade union leaders. They could, if they wanted, begin the process of burying Blair - and Blairism - tomorrow. If they need to have their resolve stiffened, all they need do is listen to the rank and file of their own organisations and the anger that is being articulated there.
The Labour Representation Committee - which has its annual conference on July 22 - must make itself a focus for this fightback. John McDonnell MP, the chair of the LRC, has made it clear that there must be a fundamental challenge to New Labour to transform the structures of the party, to change our policies and to change our leadership. All of this must go hand in hand. It is necessary for the LRC to embody this root and branch challenge, but it cannot do it alone. It will not be able to do it unless the trade unions and the parliamentarians play their role. They have an incentive, of course. For example, if there is not a fundamental change of direction soon, we will see swathes of the parliamentary party decimated at the next election and the trade unions will have to face up to another Tory government after 10 years of New Labour.
There is an opportunity to get rid of Blair - the movement must seize the moment. Drive him from office and hold the new leader to ransom! That must become the slogan and programme of the left and the trade unions. Unless we have the strength and resolve to do this, then the future is bleak.
Lastly, I have used this column so far only to talk about the struggle in the Labour Party. However, I must again comment on the prospects of the left outside Labour, as revealed by the results on May 4. If anything, it is even bleaker.
Clearly, all the attempts at working class representation outside Labour have failed. I am aware that there were some decent votes for Respect in Tower Hamlets (although I take the view that the overall result was probably disappointing for them). But none of the left alternatives on offer can represent anything more than a local challenge, at best. They can never be a national electoral alternative to Labour from the left - I have said many times in these pages that there is not the political space for it to happen.
Unless we fight for the Labour Party to be the political representative of the working class - which it clearly is not at the moment - then we are giving up on this key struggle. However dismal I feel about Labour’s performance on May 4, I see nothing outside its ranks that suggests to me that I should change my mind on this.
It was Labour’s worst local government vote on record. 26 per cent support on a 36 per cent poll meant less than one in ten electors could be bothered to back them. PIERS MOSTYN considers these and other implications of the 2006 election results.
The decline in Labour support has been apparent for at least five years. Electoral support in local government dropped from 38 per cent in 2000 to 26 per cent in 2006. With lower turnout this time, no amount of spin can put a gloss on this pummelling.
Last year’s 3rd term national victory hardly bucked the downward trend. With a poor result on a low turn out, Labour’s return to government owed everything to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system and the disarray of the Tories.
Media commentary has focussed almost exclusively on the question of leadership. It’s true that Blair has long been seen as on the way out. And with this election his authority has further drained to near invisibility.
But while a Brown take-over might boost Labour fortunes, the revival would be small scale and brief. If “renewal” –his catchword – had any chance of success it was needed in 2001 or 2002. At the very least he had to break with Blair’s Iraq and welfare state “modernisation” policies that have caused such disenchantment on the street.
Instead Brown has oriented to the right – wrapping himself in the Union Jack, emphasising “security” and spearheading the private sector take-over of public services.
What has changed this year has been the systemic character of Labour’s failure – across a range of issues and enveloping nearly all its leading players.
The theme tune to Labour’s 1997 victory, “Things can only get better”, turned into a fallacy – with inequality growing, education standards stubbornly low, unemployment rising, pensions cut and social alienation growing apace.
In practice this means the demise of what has been described as the New Labour “project”.
A recovery would be difficult without root and branch change. But this is not on the cards. No significant section of the party is organising for it or even presenting any real alternative.
Labour isn’t destined for short term oblivion. But it’s project of hegemonising British politics for a generation or more – claiming the mantle as “natural party of government” - is now looking like history. Once this aura of power crumbles it cannot be easily rebuilt.
Labour’s response at these elections was to play on the supposed efficiency of local Labour councils – something few outside the party seemed aware of – spiced up with a heavy dose of “law and order” populism.This strategy blew apart under it’s own internal contradictions.
The revolt against Blair’s Iraq crusade formed the backcloth – a simmering catalyst for radical discontent, driving away thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of voters. Blair has spent three years vainly trying to stem this drift by a phoney sales-pitch focussing on his personal “integrity” and Labour’s purported delivery on “bread and butter” policies.
But in the months prior to May 4 a string of scandals on precisely these issues provided the crunch point:
The cash for peerages scandal: businessmen buying peerages through large undeclared soft loans.
The health crisis: thousands of nursing jobs axed while private contractors creamed of hundreds of millions in PFI agreements.
The education revolt: massive opposition to an education bill that would see the ending of comprehensive schools and the return of selection.
Sleaze: salacious sex and corruption stories that ensnared a string of top Labour ministers – Blunkett, Jowell and Prescott.
Party managers responded by cranking up the authoritarianism. Critics who defended civil liberties were labelled “poisoners”.
But the exposure of Home Office incompetence in the management of released prisoners exploded this in a second – like a pinprick to an over-inflated balloon – as hypocritical cant.
Not only did these scandals wreck Labour’s self-description as the party of competence and integrity, but in erupting so spectacularly during an election campaign highlighted Labour’s loss of political control. This was a devastating blow to supporters for whom at least some semblance of authority was the bottom line, having long said goodbye to principle.
How things have changed. In 1997 Blair rode to power pledging to end the corruption, sleaze, maladministration and individualism of the Tory years.
In the preceding two decades there were few major conurbations that weren’t solidly pro-Labour. A prime example was London. The GLC and nearly all the inner city councils were ruled by a Labour Party at its most left wing. Now they run barely a handful.
How ironic, given the 2006 results, that the shift to the right from the mid-80s was sold as necessary to win back support. To achieve this, Labour collaborated with Tory attacks on local government – savage cuts, rate capping, “parental choice” in education, council house sales and so-on.
A decade later with Labour in government it was full steam ahead – assets were flogged off, services privatised, education taken out of effective democratic local authority control and local accountability and democracy dismantled through the introduction of mayoral and cabinet government for councils.
For the past decade the Lib Dems – with a ruthless and opportunistic local party machine – reaped the benefit. The Tory revival appears now to have put a stop to that. The question is how far this will go?
A full swing of the pendulum back to popular endorsement for the Conservatives seems unlikely. The deferential vote is a fading memory and New Labour is wearing Thatcherite clothes.
Nonetheless the quirks of the voting system can allow a party with barely a third of the poll to form a government, making Cameron a possible future prime minister in what would be little more than a lottery on a three-way split, with the abstention rate as the decisive factor.
As the three main parties converge into the same political territory – barely distinguishable on a left-right continuum - a continuing cycle of public disillusion seems almost inevitable. Whereas most voters have expressed this by not voting, a growing minority are clearly turning to the small parties.
Most worryingly this includes the BNP – which is carving out a dangerous space with a doubling of its councillors. Labour’s complete abandonment of depressed working class communities is the primary dynamic behind this fascist resurgence.
The Greens did well, showing an emergent new strength in some inner city areas. But the fact that Green councillors have been running Leeds in coalition with Tories and Lib Dems for the past four years shows that there are problems. While many voted Green to kick Blair from the left, the party is nationally incoherent and in some areas locally opportunist.
Respect, confounding critics on left and right, performed impressively – well into double numbers of councillors. There has been a genuine breakthrough in two East London boroughs and most of the 150 candidates performed strongly – with many coming second or third.
But new problems are now posed. Respect cannot continue as an ad hoc coalition. It needs the democratic machinery of a political party to ensure its representatives are accountable, policies are developed and its profile and campaigning is developed. To build a serious base it must draw thousands of the new voters into active participation – not just rallies and leafleting.
Secondly in countless wards, Respect councillors were running neck and neck with the Greens – the combined vote of the two sufficient to allow one to win or come very close second. This has to be addressed. Respect need to push the environmental agenda to the fore and try to make local agreements with the Greens where possible.
Last but not least proportional representation has to become a central concern.
More broadly, the loosening of Labour’s links to the unions will continue, possibly soon brought to a head as a result of the cash for peerages affair. State funding for parties is a real possibility. After all Blair and Cameron’s only alternative is continuing corruption scandals or rebuilding mass individual memberships. This calls for a decisive new orientation by Respect.
With Labour poised to go through a period of instability, signified by Blair’s panicked morning-after cabinet blood-letting, its dream of a smooth leadership transition has gone sour.
Respect - having established itself as
the only serious left alternative – should seize these opportunities.