Just how far Tony Blair is prepared to go was shown last week when he replaced foreign secretary Jack Straw – because Straw was seen as too soft on Iran. A man who just weeks ago paraded US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice around north west England is now no longer regarded by Blair as being sufficiently enthusiastic about waging war alongside George Bush.
Despite Labour’s disastrous poll showing, Blair made it clear this week that he is digging in at Downing Street. He said his successor would be given “ample time” to prepare for the next general election, but that suggests he may intend still to be there in a year, 18 months or even two years time.
Every day he remains means Britain will slavishly support Bush in his military adventures, it means more lives lost in Iraq and it means more free market madness at home.
Within hours of Straw being shuffled out of office, the new foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, was in New York, backing up US officials as they ratcheted up the pressure on Iran. Blair’s appointee was asked whether she believed a military strike on Iran was “inconceivable”, a word used repeatedly by Straw. She refused to say it was.
Blair has also made it clear that his domestic “reforms” will continue. The numbers of nurses being sacked continues to rise while Labour looks set to extend privatisation by giving the green light to the sell off of Royal Mail.
Blair is defying voters who decisively rejected his policies in last week’s local elections. Overall only a quarter of the 36 percent who voted backed Labour, so just 9 percent of those eligible to vote backed the party.
Despite that, Blair has reshuffled the cabinet to surround himself with loyalists
committed to the same fanatical agenda. While the media focuses on conflicts between Blair and Gordon Brown the simple truth is that if a few dozen Labour MPs and union leaders found the resolve to call on Blair to quit then he would be gone. But few seem prepared to go further than moaning – anonymously – to the press.
We cannot wait for these people to muster a modicum of resolve. We need to step up resistance to any attack on Iran, health cuts, pension attacks and further privatisation.
We will have to fight just as hard over those issues if Brown is prime minister. But kicking out Blair would give strength and confidence to struggles against the other architect of New Labour.
Last week’s council elections show how Respect can offer an alternative based on just such a fightback.
Across the country we need to follow the lead from Birmingham, and the east London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets in creating a popular, radical alternative that can offer hope to those of us who pay the price for each day Blair remains in office.