Labour razzmatazz shatters illusions

Tony Blair has every reason to be pleased with himself. The Labour Party conference went like clockwork

The Labour Party conference last week represented a major triumph for the Blairite ‘modernisers’. The left, or what still passes for the ‘left’ in the Labour Party, was revealed to be utterly impotent and marginalised. Just as significant, the events at Blackpool had the appearance of an American-style rally rather than a conference, which at least implies debate and discussion.

The American connection does not end with the razzmatazz and Hollywood trappings. The political ‘programme’ on offer, a cynical mixture of sentimental nostalgia and populist authoritarianism, also bears the heavy imprint of the Democratic Party. New Labour is shedding its Old Labour skin and, just like its cousin in the US, is presenting itself as the genuine defender of conservative/middle-class values.

Tony Blair’s semi-surreal speech at Blackpool was the perfect symbol of this unearthly transmogrification. He laid out “his covenant with the British people” and plans for a “decent society”, religiose phraseology straight out of Bill Clinton’s book. Naturally, patriotic imagery and sentiment was abundant.

He outlined how New Labour “stands in a tradition whose flame was alive in human hearts long before the Labour Party was thought of. A tradition far above ideology, but not beyond ideals”. Blair reassured us in the manner of an evangelical preacher that the Britain of the future “will be envied throughout the world not just because of our castles and palaces and our glorious history, but because we gave hope back to the generations ... and we built the age of achievement in our lifetime”.

For New Labour the working class is the invisible class and it is the middle class which represents the future.

The near total victory of Blairism at Blackpool has led to the curious situation where Labour figures, historically associated with the right are now being re-invented as guardians of ‘leftwing’ values. We have already seen this with Roy Hattersley, a cynical anti-working class politician, who has managed to acquire an element of ‘leftwing’ kudos in The Guardian.

This bizarre rewriting of history found its most dramatic form in the ageing shape of Lady Barbara Castle, whom the bourgeois media are setting up as an icon of the ‘left’. Barbara Castle attempted to introduce the first major piece of anti-trade union legislation in the late 1960s with her notorious In place of strife. In some respects all the anti-trade union laws passed since then have been built on top of Castle’s reactionary agenda.

Nevertheless, her pathetic rebellion against Blair’s pension plans has been painted to make her look like the reincarnation of Che Guevara, bravely battling against impossible odds. In best Labour Party tradition she was cheered wildly by the conference - which then voted against her in large numbers, thanks mainly to the block vote of the major unions.

In these circumstances you would have naturally assumed that no group which calls itself leftwing or pro-working class would entertain the notion of supporting Labour - at the ballot box or anywhere else.

Sadly, this is not the case. The largest group on the revolutionary left, the Socialist Workers Party, insists that we should be voting Labour, despite everything. Socialist Worker cannot understand why, “with eight months before the election, it is Tony Blair and New Labour who are rocking the boat” (October 5) - longing for the good old days of Old Labour, but still prepared to vote New Labour to ‘kick the Tories out’.

Publications like Socialist Outlook and Workers’ Liberty are even more Labour-loyal. The former claims that “for the left the fight for policies in the interest of the working class is inseparable from the fight for party and union democracy” (September 21) - the “party” being the Labour Party, naturally. Workers’ Liberty is even more hardline, as it is “convinced that the only way forward is a Labour victory” (September).

We must reject the siren calls of all those left organisations which want us to vote for Labour come the general election. The position of those groups who claim to have a working class agenda and yet still advise us to vote Labour is becoming more and more untenable. The grinning Tony Blair will put the boot into the working class from day one and we need to be prepared now.

Opposition is already growing, primarily in the form of the Socialist Labour Party. Revolutionaries need to give this opposition a positive programme that leads to the future, not back to Old Labour. Continuing to hang onto the tails of Blair’s party under these conditions can only foster more passivity and demoralisation.

Eddie Ford