Perhaps John McDonnell could draw some comfort from Groucho Marx after his exclusion (for a second time) from the contest for leader of the Labour Party. Groucho once quipped that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member.
McDonnell could only have secured the required 33 nominations – he ended up with about half, including two right-wing mavericks Kate Hoey and Frank Fields – with the active support of the anti-socialist, New Labour majority that runs the party. It wasn’t going to happen.
They were never going to lend McDonnell their votes precisely because he has systematically struggled and campaigned against them, inside and outside parliament, on picket lines and in rallies. By all accounts, he did not pull his punches on Monday evening when he challenged the main contenders over New Labour’s record.
McDonnell has also argued for a genuine socialist alternative to corporate globalisation, taking up the theme that another world is possible. So if he didn’t get on the ballot, it’s because of his principles which New Labour is consciously opposed to.
In 13 years in office, lest we forget, Blair and Brown – with the help of the two Milibands, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham – turned Labour into a management team for global capital. They gave political blessing to the generation of a gigantic financial bubble which has now burst, leading to massive spending cuts. And, make no mistake, if New Labour had won the election, they would be announcing major cuts as well.
The New Labour establishment has lent support to TV personality Diane Abbott to provide themselves with a cover of respectability. There is no other way to explain the last-minute rush to nominate her led by David Miliband. This followed McDonnell’s decision to withdraw under pressure from Abbott’s supporters, even though she had fewer nominations at the time.
It was ironic indeed that a black woman MP secured her 33rd vote from Phil Woolas. His anti-immigrant rhetoric as a minister in the outgoing government was music to the ears of the far right. Nevertheless, Woolas was given a big hug by the raging opportunist Abbott – who sends her son to a private school – after signing her papers. Steve Bell just about summed it up with his “Diane and the Tokens” cartoon in today's Guardian . Another Groucho Marx quip might be appropriate here: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”
For all the media speculation about who succeeds Gordon Brown, the future will be decided on the streets and in communities and not in the House of Commons. We are moving into the territory of extra-parliamentary action as the Lib-Tory coalition prepares to cut wages, raise VAT and destroy whole areas of public services. This will be class war with a vengeance and – just as in the Thatcher period – Labour will oppose militant resistance to workers being made to pay for the crisis of capitalism.
The mass opposition to Cameron and Clegg that is on the horizon will need a dramatically fresh political perspective. Any idea of returning to New Labour is a nightmare too far and would, in any case, only be a change of management!
There is something in the coalition’s declaration that the “old politics” is dead. Why try and breathe new life into a corpse when the opportunity is there to create a revolutionary, democratic politics in its place? McDonnell and his supporters have an essential role to play in the discussion about where we go from here politically which they should not pass up.