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A referendum on New Labour

This article is over 24 years, 7 months old
PRESSURE from trade unionists, Labour Party activists and Londoners has forced Blair to put Ken Livingstone's name onto the ballot paper for Labour's candidate for mayor of London. Blair knew that the London party would have split in two if he blocked Livingstone.
Issue 1674

PRESSURE from trade unionists, Labour Party activists and Londoners has forced Blair to put Ken Livingstone’s name onto the ballot paper for Labour’s candidate for mayor of London. Blair knew that the London party would have split in two if he blocked Livingstone.

Despite all the slurs, Blair knew that the vast majority of Londoners want to see an alternative to pro-market policies. Everyone must now get behind Ken Livingstone’s campaign. Labour leaders will use every dirty trick in the book.

Labour officials are using rehashed Tory smears to denounce Livingstone and the GLC. In the 1980s the GLC campaigned for cheap fares and opposed racism. Blair said on Thursday of last week, ‘I will never go back to those days.’

The Labour Party leadership announced that they are going to extend the election until 16 February. They hope to use the extra time to get Dobson’s campaign back on track.

Blair has designed the election process to help Dobson. MPs, MEPs and candidates for the London regional authority will have a third of the votes. Trade unions and societies affiliated to Labour will have another third, and ordinary London Labour Party members the final third. This means a single Labour MP’s vote is equal to 900 ordinary party members’ or 5,720 union members’ votes.

Almost every MP, MEP and regional authority candidate is backing Dobson. Yet a poll in last week’s Guardian found 63 percent of Londoners would vote for Livingstone.

Blair has turned the Labour mayor of London contest into a referendum on New Labour. Livingstone himself downplays any disagreement with the party leadership. ‘I think all the Labour candidates would make good mayors,’ he said last week. ‘There isn’t a great deal that divides us.’ But Ken Livingstone is popular precisely because people see him as a symbol of opposition to Blair.

Livingstone is the only Labour candidate against the privatisation of London Underground. Livingstone voted against the government’s recent cuts in disabled benefits. Dobson and Jackson helped push them through. Livingstone was one of only seven Labour MPs to vote against Jack Straw’s racist Asylum Bill.

It will be very close

A CONFIDENTIAL Labour Party memo leaked to Socialist Worker shows just how close the contest is likely to be. There are three sections in the electoral college. Each section is worth 33 percent. The memo claims that the votes will be:

MPs/MEPs/London Assembly candidates: Dobson 29, Livingstone 4.

Trade unions: Dobson 10, Livingstone 23.

Members: Labour’s document guesses this section could break down Livingstone 19, Dobson 14.

Overall this would see Dobson winning by 53 to 47 percent. The memo gives the most optimistic outcome for Dobson. The closeness of the vote should give heart to everyone determined to stop Blair’s stitch up.

Trade unionists’ rally shows people want to defy Blair

OVER 650 trade unionists attended a debate on ‘The Future of Transport’ in central London on Tuesday of last week. It was called by all three rail unions – the RMT, ASLEF and TSSA.

John, a rail worker from north London, summed up the mood of the audience when he said, ‘I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 13 years. I didn’t join so they could carry out Tory policies. I’m going to leave the party if they stop Ken Livingstone standing as mayor.’

As the meeting started it was unclear whether Livingstone was going to be allowed on the shortlist. All three Labour mayoral candidates were invited to speak. Frank Dobson pulled out at the last moment, claiming that he was tired! It was a working class audience. When Livingstone entered the hall a huge cheer went up.

Glenda Jackson spoke first. She parroted Blair’s pro-business policies. She said, ‘I am an advocate of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for London Underground. The government just does not have the funds to rebuild the tube.’ Jackson received polite applause at the end of her speech.

Livingstone has used recent speeches to highlight the differences between himself and the leadership. This time he spoke in a more conciliatory manner. The meeting only came alive when he attacked Railtrack, saying, ‘I will never transfer London Underground over to Railtrack. That is my pledge.’

The audience was well to the left of Livingstone. People came to hear him attack Blair’s pro-market policies. Finn Brennan, the ASLEF branch secretary of East Finchley and Golders Green, made a powerful speech attacking rail privatisation. He said, ‘Livingstone is the only candidate who supports the nationalisation of the railways. That is why we will be backing him.’

Halfway through Finn’s speech the news came through that Labour had postponed the decision on whether Livingstone could stand. The announcement was greeted with boos and cynical laughter. The debate that followed centred on the question of whether socialists should stay in the Labour Party. John Cartridge, a TSSA member, said, ‘For 31 years I was a Labour Party member. I left because I couldn’t stomach the party’s manifesto. What is happening to Ken Livingstone sums up all that is rotten with New Labour.’

Candy Udwin, a Socialist Workers Party member and branch secretary of UCLH UNISON, got the biggest cheer of the night when she said, ‘Glenda Jackson, let me tell you about PPP. They said the same thing when they sold off our nursing home, our wards and wages and conditions. PPP is privatisation. Londoners want to see someone stand up to Blair.’

One women in the audience pleaded, ‘I know everyone is very angry. But you must not resign from the party.’ She then begged, ‘ Please, Ken, tell them not to leave.’ In his summing up Livingstone said, ‘My advice to Labour Party members is I joined the party to change it. That struggle goes on. This movement belongs to us and no one else.’ Only half the audience clapped.

Even though Livingstone has made it onto the shortlist the bitterness with New Labour is as deep as ever. Fred, a tube worker, added, ‘I’m backing Livingstone. I left the party last year. Since leaving I have got involved in the campaign to renationalise the railways and I’ve lobbied the Labour Party conference to demand that it stops attacking the poor.’

Make your choice

  • Get your union branch to back Ken Livingstone.

  • Produce posters and leaflets urging a Livingstone vote.

  • Get your union branch or region to organise hustings for all three candidates or their representatives. If you can’t get the candidates, set up your own debate.

  • Organise petitions in support of Livingstone.

  • If your local MP is one of the 44 London Labour MPs openly backing Frank Dobson, take the petitions to their surgery to show that people want an alternative to Blair’s Tory policies.

    Election timetable

  • 26 January: Labour sends out ballot papers to party members.

  • 16 February: Labour ballot closes. The result will be announced three days later.

  • 4 May: Election for mayor of London and London Assembly.
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