The Labour Party traditionally filled two roles. It claimed to give a voice to working people’s aspirations for change and then ensured these were directed along constitutional channels. Tony Blair’s New Labour doesn’t even bother with the hopes of working people.
Once he talked of creating a mass membership party of over half a million – but now membership has fallen to 198,000, down from 407,000 in 1997 when Blair came to power.
The pressure group Compass held a meeting last weekend to discuss life for Labour after Blair – just as newspapers focused on New Labour supporters wanting Blair to quit and there is talk of a need for Labour to move leftwards.
But while Hazel Blears, the chair of the Labour Party, admitted there is anger over Iraq – she quickly moved on to talking about how the party could reconnect with its supporters.
The plan is that Gordon Brown will succeed Blair, possibly without even an election. He will offer nothing in substance different to Blair because he is just as much a fan of neo-liberalism as his Downing Street neighbour.
Across Britain working class communities have been left devastated by 30 years of free market policies. Many council estates have been sold off and private firms invade the NHS and education. People look at New Labour and see nobody speaking up for them.
A new force needs to rebuild confidence at grassroots level, giving voice to demands for change and organising to upset the lords of misrule who govern us. We all need Respect.
Sickness and wealth
The figures showing a rise in measles cases have led to debate about the MMR vaccine. There has been much less publicity for evidence that children in the most deprived areas of the country are being put at risk because of the government’s bizarre financial incentive system for vaccinations.
One in eight GPs’ practices in the poorest areas are not giving any immunisations, because they cannot hit government targets.
Childhood immunisation for diseases such as whooping cough, meningitis C, polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella is an “additional service” under the GP contract, which means practices can choose not to provide the service.
Individual GPs who carry out vaccinations are paid for the proportion of children they manage to immunise each year. It is harder to hit these targets in poorer areas, so some GPs opt out.
In the 60 most deprived primary care trusts, 12.5 percent of practices have chosen not to carry out childhood immunisations compared with 0.2 percent in the 60 least deprived. A market-based NHS is endangering children.
The war comes home
Last week saw US losses in Iraq pass the 2,500 mark.
To understand the slump in support for George Bush look to the US media – not just the national titles but the local ones. From coast to coast there are reports of communities, often among the poorest, receiving a newly arrived coffin from Iraq. And for every voice quoted supporting the war in Iraq there is at least one questioning the war and the lies with which it was sold to the American people.