TONY BLAIR got his standing ovation on Tuesday at the Labour Party conference. But that won't be enough to deal with the disgust and disquiet millions of Labour voters feel at what his government has done at home, and abroad. The disquiet even found some reflection in other parts of Labour's conference. And Blair's invocation of Margaret Thatcher's 'I'm not for turning' speech, and his threat of even harsher treatment for refugees, will fuel the anger against him.
That anger can lead some people to look to chancellor Gordon Brown as some kind of alternative to Blair. Sections of the press went into overdrive after Brown's speech this week, praising him as the 'soul' of 'Old Labour'. Some trade union leaders went further.
Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis hailed Brown's speech as 'inspired' and representing a return to 'traditional Labour values'. GMB leader Kevin Curran talked of 'a Labour speech by a Labour chancellor with socialism as its base'.
Many people hate Blair so much that they are desperate for any alternative. But Brown is every bit as committed to New Labour's right wing agenda as the prime minister he wants to replace. The TV drama The Deal last weekend focused on the bitter rivalry between Blair and Brown. It also made clear the truth that Brown, even more than Blair, was the key architect of the policies which New Labour has pursued in office. Brown is a champion in Britain and across the world of the neo-liberal package of policies-privatisation, 'flexible' labour and bowing down before the global corporations.
He is also a champion of imperialist war. Brown fully supported the war on Iraq and reaffirmed his backing for the occupation of Iraq in his conference speech this week.
Brown as chancellor has already poured £3 billion of public money into funding that war and occupation, and has made it clear that more is there if needed. At home Brown was the key figure in pushing through the privatisation of air traffic control and of London's tube. In hospital and schools it is Brown who insists that privatisation in the form of the Private Finance Initiative must be implemented. Brown dared to talk on Monday of making people's opportunities in life 'not depend on class or background'.
Yet he champions the tuition fees which will deny working class people access to the education which he and all the New Labour cabinet enjoyed for free themselves. Brown is the greatest fan in the cabinet of the US model of deregulation, of flexible labour and 'enterprise'.
Brown has slashed taxes on business profits in Britain to levels lower than even the Tories ever dared. It was Brown too who handed control over interest rates to the unelected bankers who head the Bank of England. Brown talks of 'fairness'-yet, as we show on the centre pages of this week's Socialist Worker, has presided over a growing gulf between rich and poor in Britain.
The chancellor boasted in his conference speech that his key aim is to tackle child and pensioner poverty. Yet six years into a Labour government 30 percent of children in Britain live in households below the official poverty line. This is the same as under Margaret Thatcher, double the level in France and five times the level in Scandinavia. Brown was also the man who famously insulted pensioners with a 75p rise and who has presided over a vast expansion of degrading means testing.
He has unveiled a barrage of complicated tax credits which few understand, and millions of people in need don't get. And he refuses to tackle pensioner poverty in the way pensioners themselves demand, by restoring the link with earnings.
On Monday he once again posed as the friend of the poor around the world. But in what must be one of the sickest jokes of recent times he then insisted all aid to the world's poor must be channelled through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Brown in fact sits as a key governor of the IMF, the very body which has imposed austerity plans and structural adjustment policies across the globe and condemned millions to poverty and death.
The only real difference between Brown and Blair is that unlike the prime minister the chancellor has some roots in the Labour Party, and has a middle class Scottish accent rather than a plummy southern one. Beyond that and personal rivalry they are both cut from the same Tory cloth. There is a deep thirst in Britain today for a real alternative to Blair and what the New Labour government has done.
The millions who opposed war, who are sick of privatisation, insecurity and much more both need and deserve more than Gordon Brown. The challenge for all of us on the left, and in the movements of resistance to war and the effects of capitalism, is to work to fill the vacuum in British politics by building a real, and genuinely socialist, alternative to both Blair and Brown.