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The avalanche heading for Blair turmoil in Labour

This article is over 18 years, 10 months old
George Galloway, left wing Labour MP and leading anti-war figure, spoke to Socialist Worker about the impact of the anti-war movement on the Labour Party and the future of politics in Britain.
Issue 1840

‘THE LABOUR leaders appear like the swan gliding serenely on the surface of the water. But like the swan they are paddling like hell underneath. The impact of millions on the streets is immense. And what millions! A large proportion were people who voted for Tony Blair at the last election.

A large number were trade union members paying the political levy to the Labour Party, and there were many individual Labour Party members as well. There’s no doubt that MPs, ministers and even the prime minister are taking stock.

The fact that Bush announced he is prepared to negotiate on a so called second resolution into March is very significant. They were going to table a second resolution on the day Hans Blix put forward his report – 14 February. Then it was going to be on Monday of last week. Then they were going to table it at the end of last week. Now they say they are going to discuss it into next week.

The enemy is in some disarray. That was seen at the European summit and in the fiasco at NATO. It is also etched on faces of government ministers, who look like different men from just a few weeks ago.

The number of MPs who could vote against war is well into three figures and approaching the 200 mark. Of course, it depends on whether we are in fact allowed to vote in parliament on the war. But the number of dissenting MPs is still not enough. People have got to put urgent and unremitting pressure on their MPs.

The knowledge that one is to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully. MPs are, metaphorically speaking, hanged every four years. They need voters more than voters need them. The thought that they might be losing public support to the extent that they might be out of a job is a factor.

But there is an overarching issue. That is the crisis of representation in Britain. We discover – some of us knew it all along – but now the public discover that this is far from being a perfect democracy. We live in a country where it’s as if Oliver Cromwell had never happened. The monarch has the medieval power to take us to war. That power is vested in one person – the prime minister.

In this case it is a prime minister who thinks he’s a president of Britain though also the governor of the 51st state of the US. The democratic deficit is even wider. It is clear that whole sections of the British population are not represented in parliament at all. They are locked out.

There is the left, which is some millions strong. The trade unions, who are seven million strong, are virtually unrepresented, as we saw from the firefighters’ dispute. Ethnic minorities are largely shut out, despite the presence of a few ethnic minority MPs (some of whom have been co-opted). Young people are largely excluded. That is reflected in the low turnout at elections.

This creates a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum. Politics abhors a political vacuum even more. And so the vacuum is being filled on the streets and in public meetings. The Stop the War Coalition’s idea of a people’s assembly as a counter to the lack of debate in parliament is an excellent initiative that is pregnant with possibilities.

We could have in fact two parliaments in Britain, one representative, the other almost wholly unrepresentative. There is already a sort of dual power in the country with millions demanding one thing and parliament refusing to hear them or even properly debate their concerns.

This situation will last longer than the Iraq crisis, and be of political importance for a long time to come. The message for the Labour Party is stark. Either there has to be a regime change in the Labour Party or Mr Blair will succeed in breaking the Labour Party.

If he breaks the Labour Party, the need for a labour party will not have gone away. Some of us will be prepared to rebuild a labour party from the wreckage. One of those things has to happen.

The demand is growing that if Mr Blair takes us into this war and occupation of Iraq then he will have forfeited the right to be the prime minister of Britain and forfeited the right to be the leader of the Labour Party.

The exact form these things will take remains to be seen. But there is already deep disaffection in the trade unions with the government, there is the incredible anti-war movement, and the left is growing.

I am fond of a quote from Lenin when he said there are decades in which nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen. I suspect we are now entering those weeks.’

Turmoil in Labour

Fight for what you believe in

RICHARD PRICE is stepping down as chair of Gloucester Constituency Labour Party in protest at government policies. He spoke to Socialist Worker.

‘I joined Labour because I loathe the Tories and everything they stand for. I have been brought up to think that the Tories are the party of the ruling classes, that no ordinary working class person has any business voting for them and that they are the anti trade union party.

I have always thought of Labour as the party of social justice, the working classes and the party of the trade unionist. My reasons for standing down as party chair in Gloucester are because of a number of factors – not just because of the leadership’s policy on Iraq.

I am also dissatisfied with the government’s current attitude towards striking firefighters and local government workers during last summer’s strike action. Talk of reintroducing legislation from 1947 which would put the power to impose employment conditions and rates of pay on the fire service into the hands of the government has shocked me.

Certainly regarding Iraq, I believe my views are held by the majority of ordinary Labour Party members. Many of them are reluctant to leave the party though – they believe that Tony Blair is just one person in the party and they do not see why they should leave it to him.

These are people who have been in the party a great deal longer than myself. There are circumstances in which I could leave the Labour Party. Iraq is a major matter of principle and conscience for me. I would certainly resign from the party if military action is taken by Britain without the support of the UN.

That is not to say that I agree with action even with the UN’s consent. If something is wrong now, it doesn’t suddenly become right just because the Security Council says so – especially if they have been bribed and bullied into changing their minds.

The 15 February demo was a fantastic display of the strength of feeling over Iraq and conflict in general. I spent the day marching with six members of the Gloucester Labour Party, and I know of many others in the local party who also attended.

What has given me most hope is that the level of British people’s apathy in politics has been proven to be a myth by that demo alone. If people have something to believe in, they’ll come out and fight for it. People are not apathetic about politics – they are apathetic about mainstream political parties.

We need a political organisation in Britain which truly represents and protects the interests of ordinary working people above all else, and which fights prejudice from extremist organisations like the BNP.’

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