The crisis within New Labour shows no signs of abating as MPs stare electoral oblivion in the face come the next election. In fact, matters are getting worse. Wendy Alexander, its leader in Scotland, has broken ranks with Gordon Brown’s position on an independence referendum in a bid to steal some votes from the nationalists, while opponents of the abolition of the 10p tax rate are resuming their campaign. These are further indications that New Labour has reached and passed the point of no return. It seems inconceivable they can win the next general election – whatever Brown does.
The votes are simply not there any more (and, in truth, haven’t been for some time). Evidence from last week’s elections shows that New Labour sustained a double whammy, losing the support of both formerly loyal working class voters as well as the middle class who had benefited from tax cuts and rising property prices. So it seems that New Labour’s one great “legacy” will be to return the country to Tory rule, allowing a party that was almost wiped out in 1997 to recover sufficiently to take over the reins of power, as it has already achieved in London.
What of the future for New Labour itself as an organisation, and what can its remaining activists do under these conditions? They could and should:
• Denounce New Labour’s leaders for siding with big business and financial power over the interests of working people, thereby creating the conditions for a Tory comeback.
• Recognise that Brown is incapable of changing tack and adopting new policies radically different from the present ones, especially as the economic position is worsening.
• Abandon any notion that New Labour somehow exists separately from a kind of more traditional, reformist Labour party hiding secretly in the background. The truth is that New Labour has remade all the structures and policies of the party in its image, destroying the old organisation in the process. History cannot be rewound.
• Acknowledge that capitalism in the period of corporate-driven globalisation does not allow sufficient space for governments of a reformist character and that this poses an historic political challenge for the labour movement which founded Labour to perform precisely that role.
• Support all struggles against the government and campaign for the defeat of the capitalist Brown regime inside and outside parliament. This is the best way to prepare for a return of the Tories to government.
• Call on the trade union leaders to break off all relations with New Labour, and to withdraw financial support from a government that has trampled over workers’ rights and is now enforcing pay cuts in the public sector.
• Demand that union leaders call a conference to discuss the political crisis and accept that the way forward lies beyond New Labour, in the creation of a forward-looking political alternative that can challenge and overturn corporate power and control.
• Appreciate that large numbers of people are alienated from the political system and do not believe that voting from time to time gives them any meaningful influence over government. Any new movement must therefore propose forms of democracy and involvement that extend beyond the extremely limited and somewhat discredited parliamentary system.
A series of bold initiatives along these lines would begin to end the political impasse that New Labour has helped to create. The deteriorating economic position is equally an opportunity to discuss alternative policies and solutions and that’s why the LEAP/Labour Representation Committee conference “Beyond the Market Economy” on May 24 is timely.
AWTW communications editor