Socialist Worker

It's the war and it's so much more

Issue No. 1905

Millions will never forgive Blair for the war. But even before the war, his policies turned people against New Labour. Helen Shooter looks at seven years of betrayal

JUST MONTHS after the cheering at Labour's 1997 election victory died down, the government cut lone parents' benefit. Just weeks later disabled people chained themselves to the Downing Street gates to protest at cuts to their benefit. The government began bullying people on benefits and forcing the sick and older people into medical tests. In March 2000 Martin Watson from Manchester said, 'To be unemployed today is to feel like a hunted animal. Listen to any speech by a Labour minister. Unemployed equals workshy, unemployed equals lazy, unemployed equals don't want a job. I was an engineer for 35 years. Then I lost my job because the bus company was privatised. The way Labour goes on about the unemployed makes it much worse. I think they're just like the Tory bastards.'

There are two million 'hidden unemployed' in Britain, excluded from work while New Labour boasts about 'full employment'. Homelessness increased by 31 percent under New Labour, according to the campaign group Shelter. Shelter also pointed out that a million children are growing up in housing that is so squalid it is damaging their health and education.

Blair's government has ensured there is now the lowest level of house building since the Second World War, and new council housing has all but disappeared. Housing activist Charlie McCormick said, 'Tory Blair-that's what I call him. He has sold his soul. They are selling off council houses. It is a criminal act. 'Our forefathers fought for public housing. What right have they to sell it off? In Glasgow we have some of the poorest constituencies in Britain. Eighty three percent of families are on some sort of benefit. This is Tory Blair's wonderful Britain. It is not working.'

ONCE, 'REFORMING' something meant improving it. Tony Blair has killed that. His 'reforms' of healthcare and education mean worse services, underfunding and more big business control. In Gordon Brown's first budget in July 1997 he insisted New Labour would stick to Tory spending limits for two years.

After Labour were re-elected in June 2001 Blair said his 'reform' programme would go 'beyond Thatcherism'. Gordon Brown echoed this, saying, 'Thatcher did not go far enough.' NHS worker Kay Young told Socialist Worker, 'The NHS is such an important service, but Labour has completely failed to give it the resources it desperately needs. Until recently I was a member of the Labour Party. I worked for Labour at the 1997 general election in Hertfordshire. But now I just feel utterly betrayed.'

In schools New Labour have continued the Tories' divisive policies. They have brought in greater selection in education, increased stress on pupils through tests, and mounting workloads for teachers. Brian Penney was a teacher in Lancaster. He told Socialist Worker, 'I was in the Labour Party for 30 years, from 1970 onwards. I was active in every by-election, council election and general election. I began to get disillusioned with Labour in their first term. There is a long list of reasons-trade union rights, the paucity of the minimum wage, PFI, student grants, the treatment of asylum seekers and, of course, education. I was a teacher. I said if Labour brought in performance-related pay I would resign from the Labour Party. They brought it in. I resigned from Labour in November 2000.' Blair's government has driven through a privatisation programme that the Tories could not get away with, including selling off air traffic control and London Underground lines. Profits came before safety and cost lives on the rail.

Seven people died in the 1997 Southall rail crash, 33 died in the Paddington crash in 1999, and four died in the Hatfield crash in 2000. The whole rail system was plunged into complete chaos from which it still has not recovered.

Instead of renationalising the rail, New Labour appointed another company, Network Rail, to run it, leaving the private companies in charge of the trains. This cost £80 million more than renationalising it would have. In 2002 the government waged war on the firefighters. Firefighter Phil Jordan from Gloucester wrote, 'As a firefighter I am at the end of my tether with the Labour Party, a party which I have been a member of for around 18 years. At our last FBU union conference our general secretary, Andy Gilchrist, argued strongly that the union had to continue to fund Labour, and only Labour. We voted loyally to stick with Labour. The government stepped in to scupper a potential deal and decided to attack the firefighters and their union. We expected a change under Labour and we got it-it's attack, attack, attack on our pay and conditions backed up by the threat of 10,000 job losses. Sickened by what the last few weeks have exposed about the party, I am leaving Labour.'

NEW LABOUR has repeatedly caved in to anti asylum seeker prejudice instead of confronting it head on. Blair's government has rammed through four major pieces of legislation attacking asylum seekers. Each one has given the right confidence to demand ever tougher measures, and encouraged the growth of the British National Party. New Labour has kept up its hostility, despite the death of 58 Chinese refugees who suffocated in the back of a lorry in Dover in 2000, and 23 Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in February.

Home secretary David Blunkett plumbed new depths with his plan to hold the children of asylum seekers. Feriba Ahmadi's children were seized by Blunkett. She said, 'Last night my daughter just screamed in her sleep. My boy is very quiet and has said very little. I never thought England could be like this.'

Six year old Haida and her four year old brother Seera were visiting their mother and their father, Farid, in prison. The parents had been locked up by David Blunkett. He ordered that their children should also be jailed. The family were deported. In April 2002 Blunkett warned of asylum seekers 'swamping' schools and services, deliberately echoing the worst bigotry of Margaret Thatcher.

Such policies have sickened many Labour supporters. In 2000 Bill Morris, former leader of the TGWU union, attacked the government for 'giving life to racists'. Most of the major unions have now passed policies supporting the rights of refugees. New Labour fuels the climate of racism against both asylum seekers and Asian people.

After Asian people in Oldham and Bradford were forced to defend their communities in 2001 against racists, Blunkett called for exemplary sentences against them. In 2002 he demanded that Asian people speak English in their own homes. Blunkett turned on the BBC for showing a documentary that exposed police racism, The Secret Policeman. The government has brought in vicious anti-terror legislation that means all Asian people are targets.

Labour's legacy is to make a generation of young Asians feel like strangers in their own country.

NEW LABOUR'S 1997 promise of a 'foreign policy with an ethical dimension' is now a sick joke. In seven years Blair has gone to war four times. Blair joined US president Clinton in launching air strikes on Iraq in December 1998. They dropped 400 cruise missiles. Labour also supported sanctions on Iraq that have cost 5,000 Iraqi lives every month.

In March 1999 Blair joined the NATO attack on Serbia with devastating air strikes that pounded civilian targets. Blair and Bush launched their 'war on terror' against Afghanistan in September 2001. Many thousands were killed. The country is still run by rival warlords. Then in March last year Blair and Bush began their war and occupation of Iraq, which continues today.

This war provoked a massive anti-war movement. The war focused growing discontent. In March 2003 pensioner Eva Littlefair from Preston said, 'I first voted for the Labour Party in 1945. Since then, I never missed voting Labour in any election. I was disappointed with Blair even before he got elected because he dumped the red flag and Clause Four. Since then I have seen things just falling away. This isn't the party I loved and that me and my husband worked so hard for through the 1950s and 1960s. Labour said they were spending millions on the NHS but I was a nurse, my daughter is a nurse, and my granddaughter is a nurse-we know what is happening. All these things made us fall out with Tony Blair. I left the Labour Party after 58 years.'


Racism

Police stop and search rates for Asian people in London increased by over 41 percent between 2001 and 2002.

For black people the rate was 30 percent up and for white people it was 8 percent up.

Under New Labour black people are still eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.


Education

By 2002 students taking their A levels were the most tested pupils ever to get through the education system. They had endured 105 exams.

New Labour brought in £1,000 tuition fees and top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year.

The average debt for students leaving university is expected to be a mimimum of £15,000.


Poverty

In 2002 figures showed inequality was 10 percent higher under New Labour than under the Tories.

Last December New Labour abandoned its pledge to end child poverty by 2020.

Britain has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialised world.

In April a select committee reported that 3.6 million children live in poverty in this country.


Pensions

In 1999 New Labour insulted pensioners with a 75p a week rise in pensions.

'New Labour has done nothing for pensioners,' said Ted. 'We had enough from 18 years of the Tories. We've had Blair for three years and nothing has changed. I would never vote for New Labour again and there are millions of other pensioners who feel the same.'

New Labour imposed humiliating means tests on pensioners.

Blair refuses to restore the link between pensions and earnings, broken by Margaret Thatcher. That would mean pensioners got an extra £51 a week.

Blair wants to make thousands of public sector workers work an extra five years before they retire.

Labour stands back while private companies strip away the pensions that workers have paid into for decades.


How trade unionists fell out with new labour

JULY 1998
Blair tells a business conference that public sector workers have 'put scars on his back'.

SEPTEMBER 1998
David Blunkett tells workers to stop their 'hysteria' over job losses as the sackings mount up.

APRIL 1999
30,000 trade unionists march in Newcastle for a decent minimum wage for young and old.

AUGUST 1999
Labour weakens legislation limiting working hours. 'I have nothing but four letter words to say about New Labour,' says a trade unionist.

APRIL 2000
100,000 march against the closure of Longbridge car plant in Birmingham.

DECEMBER 2000
Left winger Mark Serwotka elected general secretary of civil servants' union.

JANUARY 2001
10,000 car workers march against the closure of the Vauxhall plant at Luton.

SEPTEMBER 2001
Labour tries to suppress report that shows how it fiddled the figures to favour private companies taking over London tube.

FEBRUARY 2002
Left winger Bob Crow elected to lead RMT union, sending 'shudders through Downing Street', says the Financial Times.

JULY 2002
Two major trade unions, the RMT and the CWU, vote to cut their funding to New Labour at their conferences.

February 2002
Blair enrages trade unionists by calling them wreckers. 'Proud to be wreckers' T-shirts appear.

AUGUST 2002
Blair's favourite union leader, Sir Ken Jackson, defeated as general secretary of Amicus.

OCTOBER 2002
Firefighters walk out in first strike of a dispute still continuing. Scottish Labour minister calls them 'fascist bastards'.

JULY 2003
Up to one million council workers, the majority women, strike. Some 90 percent of those asked to strike do so.

NOVEMBER 2003
New Labour pushes foundation hospital legislation through parliament with a slim majority.

JANUARY 2004
Civil servants begin ongoing dispute which sees 100,000 strike against poverty pay.

FEBRUARY 2004
RMT union, which helped found the Labour Party, expelled from Labour without even a hearing.


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Article information

Features
Thu 10 Jun 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1905
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.