Business as usual

Transformation of Labour

Last week the monolithic and seemingly invincible Blair propaganda machine began to crack. After an extended media honeymoon, with papers like The Guardian reduced to Pravda-like slavishness, Blair has finally slipped up - badly.   

We are referring to the fiasco of ‘Berniegate’. After changing its story several times in as many days, Labour was forced to admit the truth. Yes, it had accepted a very generous donation from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. This led to the enjoyable spectacle of assorted Blairites trying to explain away Blair’s dramatic U-turn on tobacco advertising - when it comes to Formula One.

This story has an interesting evolution. Initially, the idea that Ecclestone had donated money to the Labour Party was treated as a scurrilous rumour and denied point-blank. Then a mere £5,000 was claimed. Next, £1 million was admitted, along with the offer of another donation. Finally, ‘Why not have your measly million quid back?’ 

This comedy of misinformation and ambiguity eventually led to a ‘contrite’ Tony Blair appearing on the BBC’s On the record. Blair reassured us that he was still a “pretty straight sort of guy” and offered an apology - of sorts. In his own words: “I didn’t get it all wrong in relation to the original decision, as I’d be very happy to explain. But it hasn’t been handled well and for that I take full responsibility.” The problem, it seems, lies purely with the presentation. Sound familiar?

Bernie Ecclestone has hardly been a loyal friend and supporter of the Labour Party in his life time - quite the opposite. He is said to have given generously to the Tory Party in the past. But now that Labour is the government ...

Ecclestone, of course, has no commitment to Blair’s particular agenda. You can rest assured that Ecclestone was informed by his advisers that Blair’s victory in the general election was guaranteed - therefore, ‘Let’s get friendly with Blair government’.

It would be too crude to make a simple equation between Ecclestones’s £1million donation and Blair’s decision to exempt Formula One from the tobacco ban. This is not how polite bourgeois politics operates - especially the ‘new’ politics as practised by the Blairites. Fingers-in-the-till corruption is not what we are dealing with here. No wonder Blair was “hurt and upset”, as he said on TV, by the idea that he had been bought off by Ecclestone’s donation.

But, on the other hand, Ecclestone’s gift was certainly money well spent. The ‘generous’ donation gave him immediate face-to-face access to Tony Blair -and the corridors of governmental power in general.

But this encounter left The Guardian - loyal foot soldier for Blair and Blairism - feeling a bit disgruntled, if not betrayed. As one article put it,

“At best there have been evasions and chaos over a signature policy. At worst Labour stands accused of selling access and influence to an elite millionaires’ club and lying about it afterwards ... Mr Blair is almost boyishly impressed, even wide-eyed, in the company of high-rolling businessmen” (November 12). 

The main significance of the whole affair lies in the fact that it exposes the fundamental and qualitative change taking place in the Labour Party. The social environment that Labour now inhabits bears little relation to that of yesteryear. Besides the virtually guaranteed trade union political funds, Labour is now getting real moneyfrom the bourgeoisie. From a Marxist standpoint we should examine and define the Labour Party on its financial basis, as well as a programmatic one. It is not inconceivable that the Labour Party may become the party of the British bourgeoisie.

Everything is quiet on the class war front. Blair no longer needs the unions - so why call them to Number 10? The company of Bernie Ecclestone and Lord Sainsbury, who allegedly has also donated £1 million to Labour, is much more desirable.           

For all of the current furore, Labour is batting on a fairly safe wicket with party funding. Given the Tory Party’s less than pristine record when it comes financial backing, Blair has every reason to go on the attack, not defence - to “universalise the row into a general lament about party finance” (The Guardian November 12).

One of Blair’s reforms will be the state funding of political parties. Jack Straw announced last week that he would rush ahead with the government’s planned bill for party registration, compulsory disclosure of donors of more than £5,000 and a ban on foreign donations. He is also considering the compulsory disclosure of the amount of any substantial donation.

Needless to say, communists oppose as a point of principle the state funding of parties. It allows the bourgeoisie to decide what is a ‘legitimate’ and what is not. It inhibits independent organisation - especially of the working class.

As internationalists, as world politicians - who fight to become part of a world party - we consider it second nature to receive assistance, including cash, from anywhere in the world and, conversely, to donate money to whomsoever we see fit. No, we would not publish the names and addresses of the comrades who have donated - revolution is not a game.

The bourgeois parties receive money and support from their class. The arrangements, the battlelines, are clear. Blair know where he stands - so too must the working class.

Eddie Ford