Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Why does so much of the left still cling, hopelessly, to Labour?

Unlike a great many on the left, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the Labour leadership election. Every time the candidates crop up in the news, I tune out. However, whilst it still goes on, there is one thing I should comment on.

At the start of the month, Alastair Darling wrote in the Mirror that "under the Tory plans 1.3 million people will lose their jobs in the next five years." The cuts "will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest," and "the inevitable cost in human terms is harder to quantify." But whilst "the Tories, with Lib Dem blessing, are doing what they always wanted to do," we "should not let history repeat itself."

Today, in the same paper, Andy Burnham tells us that the new government's "White Paper is the biggest threat to the NHS in its 62-year history." Those who value the health service should "get ready for the mother of all battles" as its future comes under threat.

They're both right. There needs to be a concerted effort to challenge both the actions of the present government and the ideology behind them. The NHS will be one of the biggest battlegrounds.

However, it is a mistake to assume that Labour is on our side in this fight.

When it is pointed out that Labour, although they said it would be more graduated, promised the same cuts as the Tories are now implementing, it's often suggested that this is because the Labour in power was "New Labour," the neo-liberal creation of Tony Blair.

Ed Miliband, for example, has run a campaign to get Labour "back to its roots." Ed Balls has pledged to "rebuild party membership, strengthen our links with the trade unions and the Co-op Party and give more support to councillors and party activists across the UK so we can win again." And Dianne Abbot has been widely touted as the left's candidate of choice.

But we need to get over this naive idea of the Labour party's "roots." And, for that matter, the idea that any party can represent working class interests over those of the ruling class.

Old Labour, held up to the light with teary-eyed nostalgia by too many people, was just as keen on breaking strikes, attacking trade unions, and serving the needs of business as its "New" counterpart. Their treatment of members of Militant Tendency (themselves no favourable bunch) is just one demonstration of this.

Amongst the current leadership contenders, we can look to their voting records as an idea of their character. 

Andy Burnham supported top-up fees, replacing Trident, introducing ID cards, a tougher asylum system, and the Iraq War, as well as strongly opposing an investigation into said war. Ed Balls was moderately against measures to curb climate change, strongly in support of ID cards and Trident, and strongly against an investigation into Iraq. Ed Miliband and his brother David have similar records.

All four are actually moderate hawks in terms of the mainstream political spectrum. They do not represent genuinely left-wing views, and they don't even come close to the libertarian left.

Diane Abbot's record is better. She voted very strongly against the Iraq war , terrorism laws, and Trident, and moderately against top-up fees. But she copped-out on climate change and opposed an investigation into the illegal war. She is a hypocrite on private education. And, like all people who gain positions of power and privilege, she is corruptible.

When these neo-liberals, and their fellows, try to claim the mantle of the left and the working class, they need to be told in no uncertain terms to fuck off. When they talk of "Tory cuts," we should remember that we face the ruling class's cuts, and even if the Tories swing the axe harder it was coming at us no matter what.

The Labour Party, Old or New, offers nothing of worth to ordinary people.

We need to organise for a genuinely radical response to the attacks ahead, not simply give the axe to someone who'll be slightly more gentle with it.