Red Ed closes British road to Socialism

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By John McAllion
 
The British left have long since ceased to have any faith in the leadership of the Labour Party.

The Communist Party in its “Open Letter to Workers Socialists and the Labour Movement” (2011) frankly admitted that the movement goes largely unrepresented in the House of Commons because the Labour Party leadership refuses to fight for policies that would defend public services, jobs, wages and pensions.

By John McAllion
 
The British left have long since ceased to have any faith in the leadership of the Labour Party.

The Communist Party in its “Open Letter to Workers Socialists and the Labour Movement” (2011) frankly admitted that the movement goes largely unrepresented in the House of Commons because the Labour Party leadership refuses to fight for policies that would defend public services, jobs, wages and pensions.

They recognise that the leaders of the one-time peoples’ party now tamely operate within the free  market consensus that sets the policy limits for Westminster’s three big parties.  Of course, since that letter was published, “Red Ed” Miliband has moved the Labour leadership even further to the right and ever closer into the embrace of neo-liberalism.  He has accepted a Tory cut of more than £11billion in public spending for 2015/16.

He has agreed a total cap on welfare benefits regardless of people’s needs.  He acknowledges that some kind of bedroom tax for the poor in social housing is unavoidable.  He has added his weight and that of his party to further attacks on the rights of unemployed workers.

Most recently, he has also begun to dismantle Labour’s longstanding and close relationship with some trade unions.  At its height, Keir Hardie described this relationship as “the great alliance” between the industrial and political wings of a single and united British labour movement.  Miliband now dismisses his party’s relationship with the unions as “old politics…rightly hated” by all.

With the applause of the Blairites ringing in his ears, he promises to reform the way in which trade unionists pay to affiliate to his party opting in rather than out of Labour membership.  The inevitable consequence of this change will be a massive reduction in the number of trade unionists who choose to do so.

As their numbers reduce, so too will the influence that trade unions can bring to bear on Labour’s internal policy development and on its internal leadership elections and candidate selections.  Tony Blair himself describes the reform as “a defining moment” of “real leadership” quality that shows Labour will govern for the country and not just for one section of it – the trade unions.

Trade union influence on Labour is effectively over.  Hardie’s “great alliance” is ended.  This presents the British left  with  serious  strategic problems.  While they were ever willing to attack the Labour leadership for their many failures, they drew the line at attacking the Labour Party itself.  In its “Open Letter” referred to above, the Communist Party argued that the ConDem Coalition had to be dealt a crushing blow at the 2015 General Election and that only the Labour Party is capable of winning enough seats to deal such a blow.

From their perspective, no other socialist or left wing grouping has any chance of winning anything like a Commons majority.  They did, of course, recognise the futility of winning such a Labour majority if that majority then put the present Labour leadership into Government office.  Replacing the ConDem Coalition with a Labour Cabinet that refuses to defend public services, jobs, wages and pensions and supports austerity represents little or no progress for the wider labour movement.  Their way out of this contradiction was to argue for a take-over and transformation of the Labour Party itself.

The trade unions were central to this strategy.  Acting as a kind of left wing Trojan Horse inside the Labour Party, they would act at every level to change the very nature of the party itself.  Unions would make their financial contributions conditional on the Labour leadership showing “solidarity” with workers in struggle.  At the grassroots level unions like UNITE would affiliate their members to local constituencies and guarantee the selection and election of committed working class MPs.

Labour in this way would become a mass party of the wider labour movement capable of winning elections and, more importantly, capable of delivering in office the policies of the Peoples’ Charter, the left wing programme and other Communist supported platforms.

It is doubtful that such a strategy could ever have worked. In the most recent Scottish and British leadership elections, the majority of Labour constituency activists voted for the more right wing candidates.  At the parliamentary and constituency level, the vast majority of Labour’s politicians and supporters care more about winning elections than they do about the reasons why they want to win them.  For them winning is itself enough.  There is no evidence to suggest that they see the policies of the Peoples’ Charter as in any way relevant to them or to their party’s project.

However, with the unions influence over Labour now effectively ended, the British left strategy of using them to turn the Labour Party upside down is reduced to rubble.  It is no longer credible to argue that the strength of Labour’s affiliated unions will overwhelm its increasingly right wing parliamentarians and its moderate membership.

In electing brother Ed ahead of brother David, the unions believed that they had won a famous victory against what was left of New Labour. How wrong they were.  Ed has now delivered what Tony Blair feared to attempt.  The union link is broken.  The British parliamentary road to socialism has come to an inglorious end.

Under the banner of “One Nation” politics, Labour claims to be the party of the employers and the employed alike.  Its embrace of anti-union laws, its routine condemnation of striking workers, its support for welfare to work policies that drive the unemployed into low-paid and insecure employment, its failure to address blacklisting and victimisation when in office, its collusion in savage attacks on public sector workers, its surrender to a low tax, deregulated, privatised and free market economic model – all of these and more tell a very different story. 

If Labour ever was potentially a mass party of the organised labour movement, it no longer is or can be.  It has become just another political prop for an elite state that entrenches massive inequalities in wealth and power, while keeping the workers across the nations of these islands under the iron heel of capitalism.

This article appears courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice