Tory revival will squeeze left

Carey Davies comments

The Conservative Party is enjoying something of a revival. Recent ploys to undermine and embarrass the Labour government with new policy promises targeted at Labour's weak spots in the eyes of middle-England voters have been successful - the Tories are now ahead in some polls, accompanied by a distinct shift in media coverage of Brown, with the Sunday newspapers now targeting him for attack.

Of course, Brown's ruling out of an autumn general election, as has been universally recognised, is a reaction to the Tory recovery. David Cameron's labelling of Brown as a "weak politician" and accusing him - Blairishly - of "not being straight" with the British people have hit home.

Undoubtedly the Tories are in a stronger position than they were only a week ago. In the form of their stamp tax policy they struck a resonant populist note, and with their suggested raising of the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million they clawed back a substantial amount of their traditional support from Labour. Chancellor Alistair Darling's announcement on October 9 that Labour itself is to raise the inheritance tax threshold (to £600,000), target 'non-domiciles', tax flights, not passengers, etc, etc, was a (rather pathetic) attempt to pull the ground from under Conservative feet. The Tories have succeeded in reviving without having to ditch many of their core shibboleths - and in fact shoring up quite a few.

And, importantly, anti-Brown sentiment is beginning to seep in. He has gone from being 'the honest Scottish bloke who's gonna sort us all out' to having every appearance of a pompous opportunist with a nasty devious streak (which, of course, he always was, being a professional bourgeois politician; mainstream politics is basically a game to see who can most effectively hide this fact). Moreover, David Cameron's job as Tory leader looks more secure after his successful speech in Blackpool.

This resurgence will confound those who still believed the Conservative Party to be a spent political force. This included many on the left, who argued that the 'death' of the Tories and the disillusionment of many with Labour provided fertile ground for a 'halfway house' project. The unions were prepared to break with Labour and the membership would defect, but only to an organisation that was social democratic rather than Marxist: ie, with 'old Labour'-style politics. Hence Respect, the Campaign for a New Workers' Party, and - bizarrely - even some comrades in the Campaign for a Marxist Party.

This has proved to be a false view - Respect has scored a few successes but is now virtually defunct, and the CNWP was and remains a complete non-event - but a resurgent Tory Party means they will be even more squeezed. Many traditional Labour supporters will not want to 'let the Tories in' and, given that the union big guns remained loyal throughout the Tory slump, it is hardly likely that their leaders will suddenly see the light now. There can be no Labour Party mark two - the genuine article still exists and the unions in their overwhelming majority are not going to abandon it.

All this means that Respect, the currently most successful attempt (relatively speaking) to set up a party to the left of Labour, looks doomed. Its current in-fighting and factional battle for control is actually more a symptom of the project's failure than its cause. Similarly an RMT-led bureaucratic Labourite alternative cannot hope to provide the basis for a new mass party.

Short cuts to the big time are, and always have been, dead ends. There is absolutely no alternative to the unity of Marxists as Marxists, standing firm on the principles of extreme democracy and working class socialism, rather than pretending (?) to be admirers of the failed tenets of warmed over reformism.

The current state of affairs is yet more proof that all halfway house schemas are destined for failure. Let us hope that the Tory resurgence has one positive effect - that the left will learn through bitter experience and begin to rethink its strategy.