Socialist Worker

Labour Party conference: bursts of anger, but much silence

by Gareth Jenkins
Issue No. 2020

The Blairites and Brownites fiercely debated their ambitions by leaking copiously in the media. Meanwhile on the floor of conference you’d hardly have guessed for much of the time that anyone had any doubts about the direction of New Labour and its key policies.

Yet concern occasionally surfaced, despite the stage management.

After ministers trumpeted Labour’s achievements, a few delegates (particularly those from unions) began by agreeing about the minimum wage or improvements in pensions - but then raised implicit criticisms by pointing to job insecurity, exploitative bosses or workers dying before they can enjoy even meagre pension rights.

All of a sudden delegates blurted something out - for example, the GMB union’s Malcom Sage who said, “We are spending billions on bombs and peanuts on pensions” - and the conference would stir to life.

The leadership was defeated over its plans to raise the state pension age to 68. Barry Camfield, from the T&G union, said of the pensions plan, “Neither I nor my union are prepared to mortgage and sell out children in years to come.”

A second defeat was inflicted by delegates demanding that agency and temporary workers should have the same rights as permanent workers.

Lebanon

But such protests were forced to the margins. In the foreign policy debate, only T&G leader Tony Woodley managed to deliver an impassioned protest over Lebanon and the occupation of Iraq.

Maybe some delegates were hoping that Brown might be different. Yet nothing he said to the conference on Monday suggested that he disagreed with Blair over foreign intervention, global markets or public services.

And Brown was careful not just to praise Blair but Blair’s key supporters. Brownism, it is clear, will be Blairism without Blair.

Derek Simpson, leader of the Amicus union, was left pathetically attempting to pretend that at least Brown would be prepared to “listen”.

Jack Dromey, the party treasurer, referred to the Americanisation of British politics - the feeling that the political parties have little to say to ordinary people.

Officially, the response is to talk about new ways of bring the voter closer to the political process. Yet the real answer, which may have occurred to some delegates, is not in some new technological fix.

The problem may just be that voters are disenchanted with New Labour’s embrace of the market and imperialism.


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