Labour prepares for government

Tony Blair - an unnerving mixture of Jekyll and Hyde - has unveiled his latest plans to annihilate all (potential) opposition to his one-man show. The Labour Party is transforming itself right in front of our eyes. The 34-page document, ominously entitled Labour into power: a framework for partnership will, in, the words of The Guardian, “complete his sweeping modernisation of the Labour Party” (January 29). Well, that is certainly one way of putting it.

Blair has fixed his sights determinedly on two targets: the National Executive Committee and the annual conference. For the upwardly mobile Blairites both these bodies represent an unnecessary thorn in the side of New Labour’s realpolitik flesh - therefore they must be neutralised. What is most significant and abhorrent to watch is the complete subordination of the left to these plans. It has become totally subsumed to the inglorious cause of getting Labour elected - irrespective of what it says it will do when it gets elected.

The ‘reforms’ outlined in Labour into power are part and parcel of the “Americanisation” (as Tony Benn bitterly complained) of the party. The Blairites want the annual conference to become a Democratic Party-style ‘showcase’ rally, with loads of mindless clapping and cheering, along with the compulsory issue of balloons to all those unlucky enough to be in attendance. To use typical New Labour-speak, the annual conference will be a “presentational body”, where the ‘great leader’ is patted on the back for his magnificent achievements. In some respects, the Labour Party conference will be a horrible mixture of American razzmatazz and ‘official communist’ a la Eastern Europe adoration.

The annual conference will no longer debate resolutions from local parties, but instead debate proposals from regional and national policy ‘forums’ which are already being developed up and down the country. Naturally, these policy ‘forums’ are stuffed full of the fresh-faced ‘trainee’ Blairites who are currently flooding into New Labour, which has seen its membership double thanks to Tony. The ‘left’, such as it is, will be impatiently swept aside by these ambitious recruits, eager for their slice of the New Labour government pie - and the slices, you can guarantee, will be plentiful and generous.

Of course, these ‘reforms’ operate more on a symbolic level in some respects. Contrary to some left mythology - and the view of rightwing newspapers - the annual conference has never been a bastion of Bolshevism, a leftwing sword of Damocles which hovers menacingly over the heads of the nervous rightwing leadership. Hugo Young of The Guardian summed it up with brutal frankness, “The Labour conference is the most sentimentalised shrine in the entire political landscape ... It seldom stopped Labour cabinets doing what they wanted, and could never force a policy upon them” (January 30). However, it could on occasion embarrass the leadership, when some delegate would forget where he was and start making militant leftwing noises. Obviously, this cannot be allowed to happen again. Any sign of dissent would ruin the New Labour image of monolithic unity behind the all-wise leadership. Enter Labour into power.

The NEC is to be ‘downgraded’ - Blair does not want to see any Dennis Skinners, Tony Benns etc, emerge in the future. Gordon Brown has already announced that he will not be standing for election to the NEC in October, as he wants to make space for so-called “ordinary party members”. The new, revamped NEC will be ‘opened up’ to include representatives from constituency parties, the Cabinet, the PLP, the European PLP, local government, black and Asian members, etc. Naturally, this ‘watered down’ NEC would have a ‘responsibility’ to support the Labour government and never rock the boat.

An important aspect of Labour into power is the further weakening of the union link. Blair is absolutely set on basing the Labour Party on individual membership, as opposed to the current federal and collegiate structure based on unions, constituency parties and affiliated organisations - the NEC being a perfect manifestation of this ‘hodgepodge’.

Bourgeois commentators are delighted. Donald Macintyre of The Independent sarcastically refrained: “None of the party’s most famous names jostling for a place on the national executive? No knife-edge card votes on fundamental issues of policy, such as public spending totals or scrapping Trident?” (January 30) but no democracy either, Donald. The document shows the utter contempt for democracy which permeates politics today. The Labour Conference will become no different to the Tories’ annual rally. Discussion is embarrassing, so the job of members is not to debate politics but to loyally stroll along to the conference to stick their hands in the air and to turn it into just another ad campaign.

Eddie Ford