An infantile disorder

Graham Bash gives a Labour left view on the outcome of the general election

The left, in my opinion, could not have done much better in this election, given the unfavourable conditions. My main fear was that a reduced majority for Labour could have meant an increased vote for the Tories, who ran the most rightwing, racist campaign for a considerable period. But the election turned out to be, above all, a disaster for the Tories. Their vote increased by 0.6%, compared to their all-time low at the 2001 election. The reduced room for manoeuvre for the New Labour leadership is very much to be welcomed. I take the view that now is the time for the Labour Party to seize the moment and to start a process not only of ridding themselves of Blair, but also of ridding themselves of Blairism. There is an argument which says we should concentrate on policies alone and that the leadership of the party is irrelevant. I do not agree. Of course policies are central, but the best way to finish off New Labour is to seize the opportunity now and do everything we can to undermine the position of Blair. Or else we will find that Blairism will be able to renew itself in office under a new leader such as Brown: more Labour-friendly in form, but fundamentally no different in practice. There could be a situation developing similarly to that of the early 90s, when Thatcherism renewed itself under the leadership of John Major. Unfortunately, there is no credible left leader at the moment. This underlines the weakness of the Labour left and indeed the labour movement. However, the more the party and the movement attack Blair now, the more we will be able to at least limit the room for manoeuvre for his successor. That is as much as we can do, given the balance of forces in the movement and the nature of the parliamentary party. It would be a considerable achievement if we could impose such a limit, if we could use the reduced majority to control the excesses of the government and, for example, prevent the introduction of ID cards and all the other flagship policies of New Labour. As to the self-limiting argument that the Labour left should now reduce its level of critical agitation out of fear that we could let in the Tories at the next election, I think we can turn this argument on its head. Frank Dobson got it right when he warned that without a change of leadership Labour could lose enormous support at the local elections in May 2006. There is now an electoral as well as a political need to change the leadership as a matter of urgency, which is a very good argument for the Labour left. A lot now depends on whether significant sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party keep their nerve and start to call for Blair's resignation. The initial signs are not encouraging, but the issue will not go away. Blair, of course, is 'not for turning' and anybody who believes that he is, is quite frankly a fool. The question is: what is the left going to do about it? Fight on policy, fight to remove him or fight on both? I think the two are very much linked. The more we fight to remove him, the stronger we will be on policy. The essential thing is to ensure that the next government is accountable to a greater extent, so that it is no longer able to wage the kind of attacks on the working class at home and abroad we have seen. That is the aim and it really is up to our parliamentary representatives - supported and pressurised by whatever movement there is from below - to achieve this. An infantile disorder I needed all my customary iron discipline and self-restraint not to use the whole of my column to abuse the Weekly Worker and its idiotic leftism and irrelevance during the general election. I take my share of responsibility. When you professed to take the Labour Party - and in particular the Labour left - seriously, I naively took you at your word. When I received the April 28 edition of the Weekly Worker, I thought it might be Mark Fischer winding me up with a spoof copy. But it really was the case that you only supported four Labour candidates in the general election, excluding Jeremy Corbyn (who is a leading representative in the Stop the War Coalition and supports its programme), Diane Abbott, Bob Marshall-Andrews or John Cryer - with the latter two standing in marginal seats. And the reason? Either (1) the Labour anti-war candidates had not bothered to reply to the Weekly Worker or (2) had not passed your revolutionary test for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Look at John Cryer, for example. He called for a timetable for withdrawal - and soon. Yet still you did not support him. Were it not for the fact that none of your leading comrades actually did anything in the elections, this could have mattered and anti-war comrades could have lost their seats (as John Cryer actually did, by 480 votes). Fortunately, few listened to your advice to support irrelevant sects such as the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Labour Party or even my old sparring partner, Tony Greenstein, rather than engage critically with the Labour left. Comrades would do well to read Lenin's attack on revolutionary phrasemongers in his Leftwing communism, or to recall his famous speech when he repeatedly attacked the Hungarian communist and ultra-left leader, Bela Kun, as an imbecile. I dread to think what Lenin would have said of Bela Kun's successors today. Galloway's success Not surprisingly, the Labour left is divided when it comes to assessing George Galloway's victory in Bethnal Green and Bow. There are a considerable number of people on the left in the party who feel very hostile towards George for all sorts of reasons: be it his alleged support for Saddam Hussein, his failure to support the Campaign Group in its principled opposition to New Labour, etc. However, there is another section - of which I am part - that can see the immense benefits of George's victory against Oona King, in what was the nearest we got to a referendum on the war. Pressure from Galloway seems to have pushed Oona King somewhat to the left: for example, when she pledged her support for the continued existence of the local fire station - an issue she totally ignored previously. But I very much doubt if this success can be extended beyond this and a few other localities. Let us be blunt about it: George's campaign was strong, because he was able to appeal - absolutely legitimately - to a primarily muslim base of support. If you look at Respect's vote, it was very good in Bethnal Green, East and West Ham and one Birmingham seat - and irrelevant anywhere else. Surely, it is rather unlikely that a national challenge to New Labour could be launched from such a localised basis. Such a tactic could only work if local success was used as a springboard for the formation of a national, alternative labour-movement party, but I do not think that Respect has either the base or the political notion to do so. One criticism I will not accept is the charge that, had Galloway really been so concerned about the war, then he should have stood against Blair in Sedgefield or against Jack Straw in Blackburn. In my opinion, if George was determined to stand, he was absolutely right to do so in an area where he had a chance of winning. It is not for me as a Labour Party member to advocate anyone voting against an official Labour candidate, but I know for a fact that there were a number of people inside the Labour Party (including Bethnal Green and Bow), who are very pleased with the result. I think it is almost out of the question to imagine him coming back into the Labour Party soon. There would have to be a fundamental sea change. Not only in the Parliamentary Labour Party, but also in George Galloway himself. There is also no reason why he would want to be back in the party. He is now a member of parliament without having to give much accountability to anybody. He is very much a free agent and I can see very few advantages for him even attempting to get back into the party - which would not touch him with a barge pole anyway.