A SOCIALIST CRITIQUE OF NEW LABOUR
(from Strategic Voter website, Spring 2005)

Labour Party

So, you may ask, aren’t we just anti-Labour?

A non-member’s tale of disillusion

In early 1997 the present writer spent very many hours writing to the press and and going house to house distributing tactical voting leaflets to encourage a high Labour vote in Dumfries. Even, in 2001 I wrote one letter in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard giving Russell Brown support (albeit highly qualified).

A day or two before the big Iraq vote I had a long phone call with Russell, begging him to break free from the cocoon of lies he and his colleagues were being wrapped in (select ‘insider’ briefings that the WMD had been removed to Syria). Now that he is standing again (in Dumfries and Galloway) it gives be no pleasure at all to report my sadness at such a decent, likeable working class man having been ‘absorbed by the Borg’, or swept up in some spell-binding New Labour Cult.

Another turning point came for me when the government licensed racist pornographer, Richard Desmond, as a fit and proper person to own a national newspaper (The Express) - and just by co-incidence the General Secretary of the Labour Party happened to meet with Desmond to receive a brown envelope (maybe it was white) with £100,000 just a day or two before the deadline for big Party donations having to be publicised.

By this time I had become used to reports of New Labour sleaze on a regular basis, but what really depressed me was the realisation that maybe there never will be a ‘fight back’ of Labour Party members on any scale. Maybe the MPs and the members will put up with almost anything. Certainly none of the many ‘reclaim the party’ initiatives which happen every 6 months or so seem to have come to anything.

Maybe I should have been in there helping them? Although, rightly or wrongly, I had never been a regular Labour Party member, the knowledge that there was a Labour Party was always there in the back of my mind, a comforting knowledge of some sort of bulwark - for all its faults and mistakes - against the worst excesses of commerce and tyranny.

When for months Home Office lawyers were permitted to argue that the Belmarsh detainees should remain locked up on secret grounds said to be based on ‘evidence’ extracted (effectively) under torture in Guantanomo Bay, solicitor Gareth Pierce observed that ‘the whole country has lost its bearings’.

Of course, all of us who remain quiet are implicated in such like atrocities. There is something very unwholesome about scapegoating Labour politicians or Labour activists for not being more active than we were - or weren’t - on this or other issues. But even so, I keep wondering: where were and are the member-led sit-ins in Labour Party offices in Sheffield or London, on this or many other issues?

Now I see New Labour not as a bulwark against tyranny but as a significant part of the global transmission system for Neo-Con corporate tyranny. And I grieve.
Party members feel betrayed

How much more must those who have been loyal Party members mourn the way the New Labour elite have treated the party faithful and hi-jacked or ignored its internal procedures!

As John Rhyss Harris puts it: ‘Sneering at its core support is one of New Labour’s more unpleasant traits’. In the same issue of the Guardian, Roy Hattersley, once on the Right of the party, claims that ‘Not being Labour is again emerging as the underlying principle of the government’s re-election strategy’ (26/1/05).

Already the FBU and the RMT have taken the hint and withdrawn support publicly. Other unions are sharply scaling back financial backing, or targetting it only towards ‘those MP’s who share our aims and values’ (letter from GMB).

In common with members of other abusive cults, many Ministers, Labour MPs, branch secretaries and ordinary members and supporters remain in denial about what that nice Mr Blair has been getting up to in our name. Most of those who do resign feel constrained not to speak out publicly. Even so there must be many who would privately welcome a tiny Labour majority or hung Parliament with Labour the biggest party. Such outcomes would ‘give Labour a fright’, moderating its worst excesses.

It is ‘New’ Labour which is anti ‘true Labour’ values.

Credit where credit is due

As for us, we are independent and it is important to us to give credit where credit is due. We acknowledge, among other positive factors:

the fine opposition to the Iraq war of some Labour MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn, Lynne Jones or John McDonnell (Parliamentary sponsor of an a dynamic Ministry for Peace process, which deserves emulation by coalitons working on other issues);
the ‘green’ credentials of Alan Simpson for example, and the rearguard struggles of other Labour MPs on immigration/asylum and the authoritarian steps being pursued under the framework (or pretext?) of ‘the war on terror’.
We welcome government plans for the creation of a new legal entity, the public-interest company, as a non-private-profit framework for community and social enterprise.
And we certainly respect the fact that for all its faults this Labour government is developing potentially far-reaching plans for family-friendly children’s centres, which - IF properly funded and community-controlled - could really create an institutional base in every neighbourhood for women and many other carers to put forward non-market, non-Statist values such as caring, sharing and respect between people of different genders, ages, classes and ‘races’.
IF these children’s centres are geared to the needs of children and parents and not developed in ways designed to force or shame mothers back into work irrespective of the needs of their children, then we can think of few reforms which could do more to revolutionise the quality of life in this country.

Criticism where criticism is due

We also acknowledge the subjective sincerity of New Labour leaders and party members in pressing for debt relief for many poor (oppressed) countries. However we would be more impressed if the IMF (in which Gordon Brown plays a very important role) did not impose Western-oriented economic policies which cause immense misery and keep poor countries on an impossible treadmill.

Likewise Labour’s heartfelt mission to cut child poverty often seems to be running up the down escalator created by the depradations which rampant commercialism makes in the quality of life in poor working class communities:

more money is often absorbed by the rising cost of toys and young fashion junk which becomes outmoded or falls apart quicker and quicker;

hospitals built and run for profit which ‘tax’ patients and visitors for every little provision which used to be free http://www.unison.org.uk/campaigns/index.asp ;

‘loose-touch regulation’ of gang-masters, sub-contractors, loan-sharks, phone-sharks, advertisements aimed at children, gambling and drink industries, Coke machines in schools, etc;
erosion of neighbourly support-systems due to constant disruption at work and having to migrate South to find work, selling off of Council homes and houses, playing fields and allotments, higher prices at our local baths, reduced hours in local libraries, erosion of the ‘social wage’ which comes from having strong accountable municipalities and quality public services http://www.centre-public.org.uk.
Much is made of Labour’s historic levels of public investment. Yet too often we look beneath the surface and find that perfectly repairable schools, health clinics etc are being torn down and hugely expensive privately funded replacements are being built, often in unsuitable places, with countless billions still to be paid in future years out of health and education budgets http://www.ucl.ac.uk/spp/about/health_policy/ppp_gen.php .

For all Labour’s historic achievements, we feel sad that the current Labour Party seems to be heading in the wrong direction - towards a more stressful, unequal, corporate-dominated, insecure, consumerist, unsustainable Britain riddled with sleaze, hype, porn, gambling, addictions, fears and civic apathy - and quite happy to continue with an out-of-date electoral system with a massive pro-Labour bias.

Our assessment

We hope that disillusioned Labour supporters won’t support Labour candidates uncritically just because they are better than the Tories. This doesn’t exclude some support for the best of them - or ‘True Labour’ - in tactical contests with pro-war Tories, especially the worst of them.

Nor does it rule out voting New Labour if the Tories look likely to win the election, in fact our strategy would require it!

My MP voted against the war. Why should I punish him/her for the crimes of Tony Blair?
Won't we let in Howard by the back door?
But my MP voted against the war
How MPs voted on the illegal invasion of Iraq
StrategicVoter's position on anti-war Labour and Conservative MPs

I still feel guilty at the thought of deserting or voting against Labour
I'm worried about hostile reactions from friends or Labour people
Guest link from Eurolegal on the Iraq War Disaster

http://www.iraqoccupationfocus.org.uk
http://www.iraqbodycount.org
Moving mini-film on Iraq war

Resources

http://www.labour.org.uk
http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk
http://www.waleslabourparty.org.uk
Guest link from Eurolegal on the Iraq War Disaster

http://www.iraqoccupationfocus.org.uk
http://www.iraqbodycount.org
Impeach Blair has commissioned some devastating reseearch
http://www.monbiot.com - Labour just can’t answer George Monbiot’s devastating and brilliant demolition of PFI rationalisations such as here and
http://www.p3watch.ca/news_items/no302004.htmhere.

http://www.dumpblair.co.uk - very good on Blair’s links (through Enron) to Bush and the neo-con drive for world supremacy, aka ‘war on terror in the post 9-11 world’.
http://www.red-star-research.org.uk - maps New Labour’s networks of millionaire donors, advisors, quangos, etc.
http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk
http://www.sonowwhodowevotefor.net - linked to John Harris’es book: So Now Who Do We Vote For?
http://www.labour-watch.com/sleaze - a huge archive of Labour sleaze stories from the Telegraph, Times, Independent and BBC, unfortunately served up more in hatred than in sorrow - though to be truthful, this is an occupational danger of this sort of research, as occasionally reflected in some of the above also.
Books

George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ was one of the first books to open the eyes of many people to the scale of New Labour’s corporate ‘project’.

David Osler covers some similar ground in ‘New Labour, plc’.

Prof Allyson M Pollock is incredibly knowledgeable and marshals irrefutable evidence in ‘NHS plc: the Privatisation of Our Health Care’.

Lobster Editor, Robin Ramsay’s excellent little book, ‘The Rise of New Labour’, puts the current ‘usual suspects’ in the context of earlier waves of organised ‘Atlantacist’ infiltration in the labour movement and British politics since World War Two, with active roles played by the American Embassy, CIA, MI5 etc [as well as the decisions and habits of all of us who by our ambitions, guilty secrets or attachments to peer-approval and enemies allow such agencies plenty of ‘handles’ to control us by, one should always remember].

Articles

Red Pepper is a lively source of constructive critique. Although the Guardian’s editorial line is often very close to New Labour, some of its reporters get beneath the ‘Pravda’ (official truth): e.g. Nick Davies on the culture of targets and how this easily leads to institutionalised cheating to appear to meet them; or e.g. Felicity Lawrence on food policy and on this brilliant assault on 'The Third Way's Dirtiest secret': (extract follows)

‘It is not just the sex industry that traffics and exploits migrants, but our key sectors - food and agriculture, contract cleaning, hotels and catering, construction and care homes. Moreover, the state uses migrants’ forced labour in many cases - when it outsources local authority care to the private sector, when it uses agencies to recruit NHS nurses who end up living on £5 a week, when it uses contract cleaners provided by the cheapest bidder for its offices, or when subcontracted migrant labour is used on private finance initiative construction.

‘The UK has Europe’s most flexible labour force; it lives in fear and squalor, is paid a pittance and is bussed round the country to work in the shadows of the night shift.

‘If exploitation of migrant labour turns out to be at the core of our competitiveness, as this report suggests, then tackling the problem requires Labour to address the structure of big business and its regulation - to rethink the philosophies inherited from the Tories that advocate subcontracting, outsourcing, competitive tendering, low piece rates, short-term contracts, workforce mobility and a light touch on red tape. But that undermines New Labour’s whole narrative - the third way in which economic growth, based on global competitiveness, can be combined with tackling poverty and inequality.

‘The lives of migrant workers described in this report make a mockery of the government’s programme of social justice. Social justice for our own population turns out to depend on the importation of an underclass of foreigners to create our wealth. We compete with countries that have no labour rights by importing their conditions.’ (Guardian, 3/2/05)