Socialist Worker

Labour and Tories swing right as general election looms

by Chris Bambery
Issue No. 2071

As political debate centres on the imminence of a general election, this should not mask the fact that Gordon Brown's electoral strategy is to move New Labour yet further rightwards to win Tory votes.

Following Labour's conference, former Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit argued last week, 'If David Cameron described himself as the 'heir to Tony Blair' it's only natural that Brown should make himself the 'heir to Margaret Thatcher'.'

New Labour's takeover of Tory policies and Cameron's failure to overhaul Brown in the polls has meant this week's Tory conference saw the party shift on to familiar ground – promising tax cuts for the wealthy and appeasing racists – in order to consolidate its core support.

But as the two main parties shadow each other in competing to be the neoliberal party par excellence, it is re-igniting a debate among those who want a political voice in parliament for working people.

The main trade union leaders may have accepted the neutering of Labour's conference by agreeing to the abolition of motions being passed on key issues, but on the left of New Labour there is an argument going on which goes much further than saying it is necessary to 'reclaim Labour'.

Tony Benn argues, 'Bournemouth saw the beginning of the end of the Labour Party as a representative organisation seeking to use parliament to meet the needs of its supporters.'

He opposes quitting the Labour Party but has floated the idea that the Labour left dominated Labour Representation Committee could be widened to include as affiliates campaigning bodies like the Stop the War Coalition and unions who have broken with Labour such as the RMT rail union.

Leadership

John McDonnell, the left Labour MP who failed to gain sufficient nominations from MPs to challenge Gordon Brown in this year's leadership election, points out, 'The left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down.

'We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.' He argues that while people are giving up on the established parties, they have not given up on politics.

He points to the success of new social movements which 'have mobilised on a vast array of issues'. He echoes Benn in saying that the Labour left 'needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns… learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach'.

A general election will see the retirement of a number of Labour left MPs, to be mostly replaced by New Labour enthusiasts.

Across Britain Respect supporters need to engage with this wider debate on the left, as we work together over issues such as the war, while arguing for the urgent need for an independent left challenge to Brown and Cameron.


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