Socialist Worker

Troubles ahead for New Labour

Issue No. 1832

'THERE IS every reason to think we are about to enter the most dramatic year in the story of New Labour.' 'At home and abroad in the year ahead the prime minister and New Labour will be tested as never before.' These predictions (from key articles in the Financial Times and the Observer) are spot on.

Tony Blair faces a series of issues where he is trying to ram unpopular polices down the gullets of people who feel bitter after voting two Labour governments in. The most pressing is war on Iraq. Millions of people are already sickened by Blair's willingness to act as Bush's accomplice in the murder of Iraqi civilians.

If war does start then the reality of carnage and destruction will make those people even more angry. And if the government backs war without the camouflage of United Nations approval then there will be deep splits inside the Labour Party. Observer journalist Andrew Rawnsley declared, 'I can find no majority in the cabinet enthusiastic for military action against Saddam Hussein.'

PRIVATISATION, THE decline of public services and the squeeze on public sector pay refuse to go away. Labour general secretary David Triesman, confessed this week that the trade unions and Labour were 'sleepwalking' towards separation.

This comes after the quote from TGWU leader Bill Morris in early December that 'the dividing line between the parties seems to be blurred if not erased altogether'.

We do not know if there will be a big strike in the NHS, the Post Office, the schools, the colleges, the councils or the civil service. But the government is worried that simmering anger could boil over. The firefighters' dispute has faded from the headlines. But it is far from over. There could still be further strikes, and whatever happens there will be debate on an unprecedented scale about relations between the unions and the Labour Party.

The strikes in 2002 did not quite focus the feeling to do something to fight back. But they gave a hint of how it could happen. There are key issues like pensions and top-up fees that threaten to erupt and shake the government.

Top-up university fees-elite education for the rich-are a symbol of how New Labour has trampled on even the most basic principles that people believed the party stood for. It comes on top of the desperate worry many ordinary families and students already feel about the mounting debt they face now just to survive at university.

There is frustration and deep disenchantment over the government's failure to take real action over transport, the environment and other issues.

ALL THIS takes place against the threat that recession across the world will finally hit Britain. How many people will be thrown on the dole in 2003, and how many more will be terrified that their job is about to be snuffed out?

Imagine if house prices suddenly tumble, and hundreds of thousands of people discover their houses are now worth only two thirds of what they are paying for them. What would happen if interest rates rise and the loans, credit card debts and mortgage payments suddenly become impossible to pay? And the New Labour government is far from united.

Splits over questions such as whether to join the euro threaten to cause New Labour as many problems as they did the Tories. New Labour faces a tough year in 2003.

How tough depends on what opposition it faces. If the union leaders refuse to fight then New Labour will get a breathing space on some fronts. Our job is to make the resistance as strong as possible this year, and to develop the good things about the fightbacks in workplaces, the anti-war and the anti-capitalist movements from last year.


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What We Think
Sat 4 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1832
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