Socialist Worker

Blair leads Labour to a new low point

Issue No. 1906

TONY BLAIR has always sought his 'place in history' and now he has achieved it-by steering Labour to one of its worst ever electoral perfomances. In last week's council elections Labour came third with just 24 percent. The European elections were, it is true, different. They were even worse. Here Labour polled only 23 percent.

Compare that to the low point which people like Blair point to as the reason they created New Labour. Labour moderates said the 1983 manifesto was far too left wing. It was famously dubbed 'the longest suicide note in history'.

Labour's leader, Michael Foot, was derided as a shambling dinosaur. He got more votes than Blair did last week-even though the breakaway SDP was contesting that election. Another Labour low point was 1931. Labour had split apart after prime minister Ramsay MacDonald abandoned the party and joined the Tories. Labour still managed 30.9 percent.

For months Labour leaders have insisted that opposition to the war in Iraq was confined to the metropolitan middle class and that working people did not regard it as an issue. During the campaign Labour officials said 'nobody mentions the war on the doorstep'.

But, after losing 460 councillors and control of such rock-solid areas as Doncaster, Newcastle and St Helens, nobody can now deny that the war will haunt Blair to his grave. Instead New Labour is now trying to claim that these disastrous results are indeed about Iraq-but that this is only a passing phase.

They claim Iraq will 'get better' and nobody will be angry about the war anymore. But for millions the war will remain a stain on Labour forever. And that's not the end of the story. Last week's vote was about the war-but it was also about much more.

Anger over the war was a lightning rod for years of accumulated bitterness about long hours, low pay, privatisation, declining pensions and all the other betrayals of the hopes of 1997.

It is long past the time when Blair should have gone. But we need much more than his replacement by another New Labour figure. Gordon Brown would continue with essentially the same policies as Blair and continue to harvest the bitterness of millions of people.

The Tories had a bad election last week. But if they do recover it will be because of Blair and his acolytes. Official politics is in flux and there is a widespread mood of resentment and anger.

The union leaders should be tapping into this bitterness and leading struggles against New Labour's policies. They are still failing to do so, and most are still tied to Labour. That's why it is crucial for the left to offer an alternative. Respect's successes have shown the possibilities.

As well as excellent results in London and Birmingham, the Respect list headed by Fayyaz Suleman won over 9 percent across the city of Leicester in the European elections. There were also some good council results.

We need Respect built in far more areas and with deeper roots. We will need to contest by-elections and begin to prepare for the general election. But we also need socialists to relate to every working class struggle, every picket line and march.

There are millions of people who are sick of Blair and sick of official politics. The task is to organise and focus that feeling around the left.

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What We Think
Sat 19 Jun 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1906
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