Friday, September 20, 2013

One Nation Labour is Blairism Mark II

Over the weekend, rebranded One Nation Labour will almost certainly vote for proposals to end the historic relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago.

When One Nation Labour assembles in Brighton for its annual conference, they will have before them a slim document from former general secretary Ray Collins. Vaguely worded, it calls for a consultation on changes that are essentially already on their way.

Dubbed as an interim report, Building A One Nation Labour Party is designed to get the trade unions to act like turkeys and vote for Christmas. Behind the bland words about Ed Miliband wanting to “mend not end” the relations with trade unionists, there is another agenda.

The Labour leader can’t be a One Nation politician – he has borrowed the idea from the 19th century Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who claimed he was representing all classes – until he distances himself from “special interest” groups.

These are now seen as including the trade unions, who represent six million working men and women in Britain and their families. Up until now, those in unions affiliated to Labour have had part of their subs transferred to the party, giving them a nominal membership.

Responding to Tory jibes about “being in the pocket of the unions” – in reality, nothing could be further from the truth – Miliband wants to replace this arrangement. In future, trade unionists will have to personally join Labour. No matter that the party will lose up to £9 million a year in subs this way – this is One Nation Labour in practice.

Some unions like the GMB and Unison have expressed their opposition. But what’s the betting they endorse the Collins’ report on Sunday, paving the way for a special conference next March to ratify concrete rule changes?

After all, that’s what they did in 1995, when the then leader Tony Blair and his deputy Gordon Brown told the unions that dropping the commitment to socialism in the party’s constitution would help them to win the general election. Miliband is saying the same thing.

Tellingly, Collins sees the change in the relationship with the trade unions as part of the process that the Blairites began, with his report saying: “Importantly, these proposals go with the grain of the last big reforms of the Labour [Party] 20 years ago.”

In fact, what’s the difference between Miliband and Blair in their approach to politics? Not much in essence. At the 2004 Labour conference, Blair pledged to put “power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few”. For good measure, he added: “It is New Labour that now wears the one nation mantle.

So when Miliband told the Trades Union Congress that “change must happen” and that this was “only way to build a truly One Nation party so we can build a One Nation country", he was telling us nothing new. He wears a hollow crown.

Either as New Labour or One Nation Labour, it’s the same grand deception. Miliband, like Blair and Brown before him, believes that ordinary people can somehow benefit from a ruthless market capitalism, with a few adjustments made here and there.

Miliband’s One Nation nonsense is founded on his vision of a “responsible capitalism” which will pay higher wages because it’s somehow good for the economy. Yet there are many Britains, many nations: the stinking rich living in luxury homes and ordinary people falling behind with their rent because of the bedroom tax; global corporations and their shareholders on the one side and those on zero hours contracts on the other; the wealthy with their hold on the political process and an electorate whose votes count for little.

None of this will change while we continue to live in a class-divided society.

As Labour gathers, some polls put the hated Tories on level pegging. In the end, you need a microscope to spot the difference between the original One Nation party and the pretenders to the throne.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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