Welcome to the old new enemy within
New Labour is officially dead and Labourite class collaborationism has a new name, argues Eddie Ford
So, ‘Red’ Ed - as he is ludicrously called - won the battle of the Milibands, but only by a 1.3% sliver of victory. After four rounds of voting under Labour’s electoral college - which is divided into three equally weighted sections comprising the MP/MEPs, ordinary constituency Labour Party (CLP) members and those belonging to affiliated organisations like the trade unions - Ed Miliband won with 175,519 votes, whilst brother David Miliband received 147,220 votes. Fairly predictably, the other candidates - Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott - were hardly in the running. A victory by anybody other than a Miliband was near unthinkable.
Of course, David Miliband was the candidate of the ‘no turning back’ wing of the party represented by the likes of Harriet Harman and Peter Mandelson, who saw him as the natural successor and heir to Tony Blair - the latter having all but blessed the elder Miliband in his autobiography, A journey. Mandelson sniffily commented that Ed Miliband had failed to address the “concerns” of people who are not “automatic” Labour voters - obviously wanting a repeat of 1994, where Blair effortlessly won the election. In other words, Mandelson, Harman and Alan Johnson wanted the safest pair of hands possible for big business and the markets - which for them was David. Both are sons of Ralph Miliband, author of the seminal Marxist study, Parliamentary socialism (idiotically branded as “ultra leftist” by some comrades in the Socialist Party in England and Wales) which of course comprehensively debunked the myth that the Labour Party as an organisation had ever been socialist at any point in its history, acutely noting that it “always owed more to Methodism than Marxism”.
Anyway, in the end, Ed Miliband won the biggest number of affiliate/trade union first preference votes (35%), having previously secured the backing of three of the four biggest trade unions - Unite, Unison and the GMB. As for David Miliband, he in turn got the highest percentage of CLP first preference votes (43.9%). Meanwhile, Socialist Campaign Group member Diane Abbott took third place in the first round - with 9,314 party members out of 126,874 (7.34%) voting for her as their first preference, and 562 of that 9,314 opting not to give a second preference. Then in the unions, 25,938 union members out of 211,234 (12.28%) chose Abbott for first preference, while 4594 of that 25,938 did not give a second preference. When it came to the vote of the 266 parliamentary MPs, Abbott’s share was only 2.6%.
Overall, there were 36,562 spoilt ballot papers - amounting to almost 10% of the total ballots cast (338,374). This is probably best explained by the fact that trade union voters did not tick, or notice, a small box at the bottom of the page to confirm they were Labour Party members.
What to make of all this? Well, the first impression is that the left vote in this election was around 35,000 - that is, 9,314 in the LP and 25,938 political levy-paying trade union members. However, seeing how many or most Labour Party members could vote in both ways, this means that there is an indeterminable overlap between those two sections of votes. However, this still means that there was a left vote in this election of upwards of 25,000 and possibly in the region of 30,000. Arguably, if you really wanted to put a positive spin upon events, there was a hard core left represented by the 562 LP members and 4,594 trade union members who gave no second preference vote - a de facto protest vote. But an obvious strong qualification has to be added here, as not all of Abbott’s first preferences votes will have come from the left - such as those voting purely for tokenistic or ‘political correct’ reasons (because she’s black, a woman, etc).
Still, when all is said and done, Diane Abbott did very badly: she and the Labour left, insofar as she was a representative of the Labour left, were routed. Hardly surprising really, given the fact that in the form of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, they pathetically could not even support each other. Rather, the inability of the 13-strong SCG to muster, organise and discipline even its own members provides a near perfect snapshot of the current dire state of the Labour left as a whole. Indeed, in some respects, you could say that the Labour left got the candidate they deserved - a terrible one.
Damningly, only 7 out of the 13 SCG MPs gave Abbott their first preference vote - Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Linda Riordan, and Mike Wood. Good for them. Shame on the others.
Having said that, Diane Abbott was not the chosen candidate of the Labour left - that title really goes to fellow SCGer, John McDonnell. As we all know, she only got onto the ballot paper because MPs supporting David Miliband ensured that she did, doubtlessly calculating that if she took enough left votes away from Ed, it would allow their man to win in the first round. Hence Harriet Harman, Jack Straw and even David Miliband himself nominated Abbott to be one of the candidates - piously claiming to be acting in the interests of ‘fairness’, ‘democracy’, ‘equality’. Paradoxical as it may seem, although she was the only left candidate - in clear contradistinction to the four former ministers - Abbott was also the rightwing’s ‘spoiler’ candidate in what proved to be a vain attempt to ensure victory for their chosen one.
Needless to say, Abbott’s campaign hardly captured the imagination of the party rank and file - and the same goes for trade union members, even if she did perform better there come the election. Abbott’s poor showing was thrown into sharp relief by the parallel elections to select Labour’s candidate for London mayor - where the rightwing’s Oona King was trounced by Ken Livingstone.
Naturally, the Tory Party and the rightwing press are mischievously playing up Ed Miliband’s bogus ‘red’ credentials - he is a creature or ‘puppet’ of the trade union bosses, and so on. Hence Conservative Party chairman, Baroness Warsi, “congratulated” Miliband for becoming Labour Party leader but asserted on the BBC that because he owed his victory to trade union votes - quite true of course - she feared that this would lead to an “abandonment of the centre ground” by Labour. Needless to say, the Tories and the rightwing press will increasingly conjure up the spectre of the union bogeymen, especially when resistance to the cuts grows - which it inevitably will.
It would be stupid to deny that Ed Miliband is marginally to the left of brother David - or that his election means nothing more than Blairite business as usual. After all, by his slight feint to the left Ed Miliband got himself elected - to the annoyance, though hardly hair-pulling despair, of Blair, Mandelson, Harman and all the rest of them. So, in that sense, the Labour entryists of the Grantite Socialist Appeal - the British section of the International Marxist Tendency - are not wrong to argue that Ed Miliband’s election was “against the wishes of the British establishment”.
Yes, in the words of the Socialist Workers Party, it is “very positive that the man chosen by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair isn’t Labour’s leader.” Or as Counterfire - the Reesite split from the SWP - put it, Ed’s victory was a “defeat for Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, the ‘New Labour’ establishment, right-wing commentators, and big business donors who funded David Miliband’s campaign.”
Indeed Ed Miliband himself has declared that the “era of New Labour is over” and that he is part of the “new generation”. Furthermore, during his speech at the Labour Party conference on September 28, he catalogued some of the “errors” of the previous Labour government - namely, that the Iraq war was “wrong”. He also told conference delegates that he understood their “anger” at a Labour government that “claimed it could end boom and bust” and had not “stood up to the old ways in the City, which said deregulation was the answer”. New Labour became “naive” about the markets and “we must never again give the impression that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. In the name of the “new generation” he concluded by calling for the “good society”.
So Ed Miliband’s election does signify a break with New Labour. Chances are, he will appear on demonstrations, protests, etc against the coalition government’s cuts. Clearly, he will not be so overtly hostile to the unions as the Blairites. They could hardly disguise their contempt for unions, bedazzled as they were by business entrepreneurs and multi-millionaires.
However, the essence of Miliband’s “new generation” and “new politics” are captured by Bertolt Brecht poem, Parade of the old new, where we read: “I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as the New … The New went fettered and in rags; they revealed its splendid limbs. And the procession moved through the night, but what they thought was the light of dawn was the light of fires in the sky. And the cry: Here comes the New, it’s all new, salute the New, be new like us! would have been easier to hear if all had not been drowned in a thunder of guns.” New Labour is dead, long live Old New Labour.
Unfortunately, Ed Miliband is no Marxist - unlike his father. He is committed to capitalism and therefore represents the politics of the class enemy within the labour movement. He could not move fast enough to flaunt his pro-establishment credentials, contemptuously dismissing the “red Ed” moniker as “tiresome rubbish” - who could disagree? And to make it clear that there would be no “lurch to the left” under his stewardship, he declared: “I am for the centre ground of politics”. Furthermore, typically of the old new politics, Miliband promised to address the “big injustices facing the middle classes” - as if this were the great majority of the population in Britain. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Most of those whom the media, mainstream politicians and rightwing academics call the middle classes are members of the working class, eg, nurses, teachers, office workers and computer technicians.
Naturally, Ed Miliband was keen to reassure us that he was his “own man” and would lead a “responsible opposition” which would cooperate with the government where it could. For instance, Labour “won’t oppose every cut the coalition proposes” - pointing out, more honestly this time, that “there will be cuts” and “there would have been if we had been in government”.
Self-evidently, as Diane Abbott’s failed leadership bid graphically reminded us, the Labour left is a truly sorry sight, an incredibly reduced body compared to the past - and we are hardly talking about the ancient past here. Right up until the 1980s there was a relatively sizeable and militant Labour left, a force - to one degree or another - to be reckoned with by the Labour leadership. But now, surely beyond doubt, the Labour left is at its lowest ebb historically. Frankly, it is not impossible for any self-respecting socialist to regard individuals such as Peter Hain, Jon Cruddas, etc, as any part of the left - however generously you want to define the term. The reality is that, in purely Labour Party terms, they are centrists - with leftwing pretensions. All you can seriously talk about in terms of a Parliamentary Labour Party left is the Socialist Campaign Group - which, if truth be told, is more dead than alive both politically and organisationally. Its website has not been updated since October 2008 and you need a very good memory indeed to remember when the last edition of its ‘monthly’ paper, Socialist Campaign Group News, came out.
For a perfect example of the totally directionless Labour left, look no further than Dennis Skinner, the supposed epitome of the ‘hard left’ - he voted David Miliband! The spineless logic was, presumably, that Miliband would have more popular appeal out there in the country - and of course the Murdoch press; therefore he was the man to go for if your only project is to ‘beat the Tories’ come what may at the next general election. Such wretched reasoning reveals a remarkable lack of belief in your own politics: bending to manipulated popular opinion, as opposed to trying to shape or lead it. Dennis Skinner et al act as unflattering testimony to the state of the Labour left.
As these things stand today, we are in a situation where the trade union leaders or bureaucrats - the ‘awkward squad’ that so excites the rightwing press - are in formal terms way to the left of the parliamentary or constituency Labour Party. Many trade union leaders call themselves leftwing or even Marxist. Now these people are claiming credit for the election of ‘red’ Ed - and of course are quite right to do so. But, just like the Labour left, these trade union leaders have a debilitating lack of ambition - most of them aspire to is to be treated “equally” with the likes of the Confederation of British Industry. What incredibly low horizons. Not even a hint of fighting for an alternative vision of society, of the working class ruling society! At the very least, as far as communists are concerned, they should have used their undoubted influence - the very influence complained about by Baroness Warsi - in order to force the leadership to allow John McDonnell to stand.
Though we backed her leadership bid, the CPGB never had illusions in Diane Abbott - quite the opposite. We critically supported her election campaign to make a space for Marxist politics within the Labour Party, a bourgeois workers’ party, as part of our strategic aim to overcome Labourism.
- Socialist Worker October 2.