Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Same as the old boss

On the eve of the Labour Party conference, an ICM poll showed the Tories at 35% and Labour at only 32%. What is more worrying is that the poll showed almost two thirds of voters believe that Labour does not deserve to win the next election, that the government has “run out of steam” and it is “time for a change”.

Armed with this knowledge, it seems leadership front runner Gordon Brown would rather lose the next election than change direction.

In his leadership bid speech yesterday he lavished praise on Blair and Blairism. “Tony, from the first time we shared that office in 1983 to today, you taught our party, you saw it right, you saw it clearly and you saw it through – that we can’t just be for one section of society, we’ve got to be for all of society”

There will be more privatisation under Brown, who claims that (in his own words) the “renewal of New Labour” must be built upon “a flexible economy, reformed and personalised public services, public and private sectors, not at odds but working together

Brown also signed up to more wars, and uncritical support for George W Bush’s foreign policy. He claims Blair “taught us something else, and once again saw it right, you saw it clearly ands saw it through. That the world did change after September 11th. That no-one can be neutral in the fight against terrorism, never anti-Americanism.” He promised a Brown government would continue the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – Brown specifically praised “American values” in his speech.
Continuity of foreign policy means backing Tony Blair’s own self-delusional assessment of his legacy. In a question and answer session yesterday Blair said “getting rid of Saddam and getting rid of the Taliban are things I happen to be proud of”. The British soldiers currently fighting and dying in Helmand province might dispute just how much the Taliban have been “got rid of”. And the cost of getting rid of Saddam has become a brutal occupation mired in an implacable insurgency.

Despite the fact that brown is continuing on a suicidal course of continuing policies deeply unpopular with Labours’ core voters, the criticism from the unions leaders was so faint as to be inaudible. T&G general secretary, Tony Woodley, said it was “a visionary speech from a great Chancellor”, although Woodley did correctly say “carrying on as we are will not win the next election”.
Paul Kenny GMB, General Secretary gave a master-class in saying absolutely nothing: "Gordon Brown has been quite clear that he sees himself as the natural heir to lead the Labour Party. He has claimed his share of the successes in the past and has laid out his vision for the future.
It was a speech of great substance. Gordon Brown has more substance in this little finger than Cameron has in his whole body. "
Dave Prentiss of Unison bizarrely claims that “there seems to be less reliance on conviction and more on listening and learning. There was enough in this speech that he will listen about the direction of reforms”
Derek Simpson of Amicus took the biscuit, saying that Brown had “showed a willingness to listen to people, to unions and to colleagues. It was very uplifting

So the top union leaders are going to collude in a Brown coronation. With no change on direction, no policy commitments, and full steam ahead for more neo-liberalism and imperial war. This will lose the next election.

But it seems they would rather lose the election, and endure an even worse government, than open up a debate about the future direction of the party. Which would mean publicly backing John McDonnell (like 59% of TUC delegates did)– the only leadership candidate whose policies match those of their unions. Maybe if Labour adopted progressive policies it might still lose the next election - but as Eugene Debbs said many years ago: "It is better to vote for something you beleive in and not get it, than vote for something you don't want and get it".


Phugebrins said...

Hm, while I agree that Brown won't really be any different, I don't think this is good evidence for it. Brown has put so much effort and PR into being seen to stand shoulder to shoulder with Blair so that the LP didn't look divided (before the last General Election, for example) that he can't start laying into him. Nor can he launch a new set of policies as a chancellor or as a leader-to-be, as to do so before Blair has stepped down would make him look arrogant. On the other hand, he can't campaign as a leadership candidate, because that would be hijacking the conference, and would also imply that he's not confident about getting the job. Pretty much all he could do (cynically speaking) is what he did do - pat on the back for Tony, look to a bright future, and urge the party to get back to fighting the tories. In other words, nothing of substance.

Ed said...

"almost two thirds of voters believe that Labour does not deserve to win the next election, that the government has “run out of steam” and it is “time for a change”."

Sometimes I'm tempted to worry whether Elite theorists like Schumpeter were essentially right to argue that democracy consisted, and could only consist, of a kind of perpetual seesawing motion - one elite governs for a bit and is replaced by a rival, the second lot govern for a bit and then lose power, then the first elite gets back into power for a bit etc etc.

But I can't help wondering how much the whole 'time for a change' stuff and 'running out of steam' is media generated. Why are the government 'running out of steam'? In part because the media have decided they are - (actually it seems to me that they have lots more zeal for neo-liberal policy left in them). Why is it time for a change? In part because of the media's infatuation with the newness and shinyness of Cameron.

This isn't to say that Labour's core electorate are not sick and tired of BLairism and neither is it to say that the Iraq debacle hasn't dented Labour's appeal. But I wonder how much of this 'time for a change stuff' is just a self-fulling prophecy on the part of the media - and the apparent fact that the electorate are now flirting with Cameron rather than an alternative to neo-liberalism seems to suggest, to me, that the thing is largely conditioned and channelled by media guff.

If that makes sense.

David Broder said...

I went to the Socialist Party fringe at Labour conference and they could offer no reason not to intervene in the McDonnell campaign.

Their Campaign for New Workers' Party has a very similar programme to McDonnell, and at least he's not a Marxist pretending to be something else. The amount of signatures the campaign has is less than double their paper membership.

Engage with activist layers, the rank-and-file, build the McDonnell campaign and take the ideological fight to those still left in the party.

AN said...

well phugebrins - that may all be true - but he didn't have to go out of his way to lavish prasie on Blair's foreign policy. Omission would have been quite enough to have sent a message.

And Ed - surley there are times even under capitalist democracy where elelctions offer clear ideologcal alternatives whic will result in different practical outcomes. 1974 and 1983 spring to mind. Of coourse what actually happens is part of a more complex and wider dynamic in which parliament only plays a subsidiary role.

Ed said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the mould can't be broken from time to time - I'd never take the position that parliamentary elections are just sham procedures. I'm a flipping reformist after all!

I only said I was 'tempted to worry'... The main thing was about this 'time for a change' thing. I do think that the dynamics of the 'time for a change' argument are often set by the media - who do often subscribe to the elitist alternation of 2 parties notion of government, so I'm suspicious of this 'time for a change' feeling being interpreted as the expression of imminent break through for an alternative politics - it's not.

el Tom said...

But we do still get some of what we want.

Besides, what is the point in a reformist party which cannot win elections?* There can be a balance of power and socialist principle, but from my soft-left perspective, neither McDonnell nor Blair acheive that, and Gordon Brown is a largely unknown quantity. It is hard to tell what originates from his domain, and what is due to various actors constraining him.

Give the guy a chance, let him set out his stall. Then we can see who gets the balance the best.

*About as much as there is in a revolutionary party that fails repeatedly to pull off a revolution, I'll warrant!

AN said...

Hi el Tom

Personaly i reject the usefullness of the reform/revolution divide.

We have reformist parties that don't give reforms and revolutionary parties that are historical reenactment societies of the situation a pre-capitalist Russia.

But I think the example of the Green party shows that you can push you agenda onto the mainstream political parties without winning elections, and the Labour movement has the additional ability to campaign through the unions.

The problem with Brown is he absolutley comitted to PFI, etc. So his coronation will weaken the prospect of any alternative.