The manoeuvrings around the succession to Tony Blair are resonant of the machinations of court circles under a feudal monarchy. There is even talk of a "coronation" for Gordon Brown, just in case people mistakenly think we are still living in a parliamentary democracy where elections used to be custom and practice. Any disturbances inside New Labour are to do with whether Brown could actually lead it to victory at the next general election against the resurgent Tories rather than any issues of principle. After all, Brown, together with his putative challenger David Miliband, have played central roles in transforming old Labour into the party that has wholeheartedly embraced market-driven globalisation and big business. At the last election, for example, corporate donations exceeded those from the trade unions for the first time. The fact that some of these donations are coming home to roost in the form of a police corruption inquiry that has reached into the heart of Downing Street only indicates how cavalier New Labour has been its relationship with business, as well as the law. Now the Tories are saying, if you want Tory-type policies then why not vote for the real McCoy. The middle-class who switched to New Labour in droves are lapping this up while large sections of working-class voters gave up on New Labour a long time ago.
There are organisations that could potentially halt Brown’s crowning at Westminster – the trade unions. They know that Brown and Blair represent exactly the same thing politically. Derek Simpson, the leader of Amicus, has even said you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two in terms of policies. If they were really serious, they would put their weight behind MP John McDonnell’s campaign as the candidate of the left. He is putting forward socialist policies in a direct challenge to New Labour’s programme of breaking up public services and courting the corporations. McDonnell needs the endorsement of 44 MPs to win the right just to be on the ballot when Blair steps down next month, which is a very tall order. If one of the big trade unions were to put its weight behind McDonnell’s campaign he would at least stand a better chance of getting on the ballot as MPs came under pressure from the outside. Yet Simpson and other union leaders are lining up behind Brown in yet another betrayal of their members’ interests, despite the fact that they will get nothing in return. The truth is that New Labour came into being as a sort of transitional organisation, one that could get the British economic and political establishment over the hump of the tired and divided Tories. Far from putting an end to Toryism, New Labour has created the conditions for its revival under David Cameron. In so doing, it is has written its own epitaph.
Paul Feldman, communications editor