The evidence of Labour’s collusion with the ConDem coalition has piled up so high that even Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, can no longer ignore it. “The real points of differentiation between Labour and the government on the economy are now very hard to identify,” he admits today.
McCluskey’s union propelled Ed Miliband into the leadership in the vain hope that he would lead the party in a new direction, away from the Blairism of the previous 15 years towards a modernised version of Old Labour.
With shadow cabinet members lining up to support the government’s public sector pay freeze, cuts in education and saying that a Labour government would continue with the ConDems’ austerity policies, a shell-shocked McCluskey hit back – at least in words.
Writing in The Guardian, he says that “this year we have seen one shadow minister after another falling over themselves to endorse savage spending cuts which are hurting real people. Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC's march for an alternative last year, and the half of the country at least who are against the cuts? Disenfranchised.”
The general secretary of Britain’s largest union, whose financial support keeps Labour afloat, says the country now has a “national government” consensus among the three major parliamentary parties. McCluskey tries, without success, to paint a picture of Miliband as a prisoner of the Blairites.
He claims that shadow chancellor Ed Balls's “sudden embrace of austerity and the public-sector pay squeeze” represents a victory for “discredited Blairism” and also “challenges the whole course Ed Miliband has set for the party, and perhaps his leadership itself”. This is desperate stuff.
Miliband has actually set the course himself. His front bench has backed many Tory policies and Miliband himself has declared that his policy is to build a fairer, more responsible, prosperous capitalism. It’s an approach that David Cameron himself has embraced enthusiastically if opportunistically.
The Labour leader attacked the mass strikes in defence of public sector pensions and instructed party-controlled councils to implement spending cuts passed down from the ConDem coalition (a policy backed by Labour-affiliated unions, by the way).
Blairism was an outright adaptation to and acceptance of capitalism and the power of financial markets. It marked the termination of the long social-democratic, reformist tradition in Labour politics, no longer viable within a globalised capitalist economy.
With the world economy in a profound crisis, Labour – along with similar parties in Greece, Spain, Portugal etc – has bent with the prevailing economic wind. It was either that or challenging the fundamentals of the capitalist system itself. Anyone expecting the latter to happen, whoever leads Labour, is living in a fool’s paradise.
McCluskey is also angry, rightly so, that as one of the party’s paymasters, he was not asked about the shift that has taken Labour into the arms of the ConDem coalition.Naturally, he has a remedy to hand if he serious about representing his members’ interests.
He could call a ballot on the case for disaffiliating from a party that clearly speaks for big business, the City and the bond dealers. As his members are, as he points out, disenfranchised, McCluskey could generate a discussion on how trade unionists and their supporters could be better served.
Unfortunately, there is no sign of that happening. McCluskey is desperate to keep the political fight inside a party that is now part of a national coalition against ordinary working people. This is, in practice, a great disservice to Unite members who will no doubt draw their own conclusions when they fight the ConDemLab pay freeze.