Veteran anti-war Labour MP Bob Wareing has vowed to stand against New Labour after his constituency party deselected him from his Merseyside seat last week in favour of former minister Stephen Twigg.
“There’s no doubt there’s been a concerted attempt to get rid of me – and it’s coming right from the top,” Bob told Socialist Worker. “I’ve consistently rebelled against what I regard as the anti-Labour policies of the current Labour government.
“Stephen Twigg was a junior minister. He voted for all the things I voted against – the Iraq war, tuition fees, all the privatisation measures. He’s never criticised the government.”
Bob is chair of the all-party Stop the War group in parliament and has been MP for the Liverpool West Derby constituency since 1983.
He is refusing to go without a fight. He says that he is leaving the Labour Party after 60 years to stand against Twigg at the next general election.
“People have been ringing me up and saying I’ve got to fight on, and that’s what I intend to do,” said Bob. “I want a change in the direction of this government’s policies – towards socialism.”
Anti-war activists and trade unionists in Merseyside rallied to Bob Wareing’s defence this week. “Bob’s deselection is nothing short of a witch-hunt of a principled politician,” said Mark Holt, chair of Merseyside Stop the War Coalition.
“Bob has been consistently targeted for his outspoken opposition to every war that this rotten government has dragged us into. Bob’s stand on these issues makes him a hero.”
Alec McFadden, president of Merseyside TUC, also condemned the decision to deselect Bob. “He has been the foremost constituency MP in Merseyside in terms of supporting trade unions, the working class and peace campaigners,” Alec told Socialist Worker.
Stephen Twigg is a key New Labour figure who lost his seat in the 2005 general election. New Labour have been desperate to find him a safe seat and seized on in-fighting within West Derby to parachute him in.
According to Bob, two trade unions played a key role in removing him from the seat – Usdaw and Amicus, which is now part of Unite.
Bob claims there were irregularities in the ballot that deselected him. He said, “I appealed against all of this, but Labour’s national executive committee ignored me. So much for democracy inside the Labour Party.”
Bob’s challenge to New Labour will be on a range of policy issues: “Far and away the biggest issue is the Iraq war. I was proud to march, with nearly two million others, against that policy.
“But there’s also issues like pay for public servants. Nurses are offered 1.9 percent when the retail price index is at 4 percent. At the same time, fat cats in the City are giving themselves millions in bonuses each year.
“The Labour Party should be in favour of the redistribution of wealth in favour of working people.
“Before I became an MP I was a lecturer, so I know how difficult it was for students even in those days before fees. I voted against tuition fees on the grounds that they discriminate against working class youngsters.”
Bob’s deselection comes at the eve of the Labour Party conference, due to take place in Bournemouth next week. In recent years the conference has passed a series of resolutions on housing, anti-union laws and privatisation that have embarrassed the government.
Now Gordon Brown wants to remove the remaining ability of conference to influence government policy. He is proposing that Labour Party members can only refer their “views” to ministers and the National Policy Forum – which meets behind closed doors.
This is creating a debate among those who until now have argued it was possible to “reclaim” the Labour Party for the left. It comes in the wake of the failure of left wing Labour MP John McDonnell to even get on the ballot paper to challenge Brown for leadership.
Whatever the outcome of these debates, it is outrageous that a veteran Labour left winger like Bob Wareing should be tossed aside because of his principled opposition to war and privatisation.
Everyone in the anti-war movement and wider struggle against neoliberalism should rally to his support.