TONY BLAIR is continuing his campaign against Ken Livingstone. Blair and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock launched a tirade against Livingstone at a meeting of over 600 Labour Party members in Brixton, south London, on Friday of last week. Blair declared, ‘We can’t go back to gesture politics,’ and that Ken Livingstone as mayor would risk being ‘disastrous for the Labour Party and disastrous for London’.
But Livingstone’s criticism of the government’s proposed tube privatisation is far from ‘gesture politics’ and many thousands of people can see that. Neil Kinnock also lambasted Ken Livingstone. ‘As a candidate he would be an unmitigated success for the Tory press,’ said Kinnock.
The whole evening was geared towards suppressing people’s concerns about their party in government and whipping up a hate campaign against Ken Livingstone. Blair’s favoured candidate for mayor, Frank Dobson, was barely mentioned. But a large number of people in the audience were uneasy with what Blair acknowledged were ‘harsh’ comments.
One Labour Party member received enthusiastic applause when he asked why pensioners are only getting a 73p rise. ‘I’ve faced an increase on milk, butter, council tax. How can we hold our heads high and pay our bills if this is our only share in the prosperity of the country?’ he said. And when Blair praised performance related pay for teachers there was a hiss from a few in the audience.
By a WANDSWORTH UNISON member
I WAS keen to go along to the hustings meeting organised by Tooting Labour Party in south London for Labour’s candidate for London mayor last week. Frank Dobson, Glenda Jackson and Ken Livingstone spoke to an audience of over 300 Labour Party members and trade unionists.
I was amazed to hear Frank Dobson talking about the levels of poverty in London. He referred to using the opportunity of the mayor to tackle the grotesque inequality in the city. He even admitted he was sick of the Labour Party national executive’s decision not to have a one member one vote system for electing Labour’s candidate.
But he did not win the support of the audience for his defence of New Labour’s policy of the public-private partnership on London’s Underground. A lot of us in the audience didn’t see it as anything else than another name for privatisation. Dobson also condemned some council workers who take sick leave as ‘malingerers and skivers’. Comments like this can only help the Tory Wandsworth council in its battle against us.
Many of us in the audience applauded Ken Livingstone. We appreciated his comment that he thought Railtrack should be going to prison for manslaughter, not negotiated with to run transport. But I was saddened to hear him say that an outside operator should be brought in to manage the contract for transport on London Underground. Like millions of other people I don’t want to see the underground privatised in any form. That feeling is what motivates many of us to vote for Ken. He shouldn’t give an inch in that argument.
Over 100 people packed into a meeting in Willesden, north west London, on Sunday evening to discuss Labour’s London mayor selection. Most of the audience of local trade unionists and Labour Party members had come to back local MP Ken Livingstone.
However, only Glenda Jackson of the three candidates was able to make the meeting. She faced a barrage of hostile questions, many about the government’s plan to privatise part of the London Underground. Incredibly Jackson tried repeatedly to argue that ‘the underground is not being privatised’.
Pete Firmin, secretary of one of the local Labour Party branches, won wide applause when he demanded, ‘What else is it but privatisation when staff are being handed over to a private company?’ The biggest applause went to a questioner who asked if Glenda Jackson was prepared to be critical of the government. She was, she replied, but then couldn’t find anything to be critical of!
Around 150 people attended a lunchtime meeting in Lambeth Town Hall on Tuesday of last week. They listened to two of Labour’s candidates, Ken Livingstone and Glenda Jackson. Jackson became increasingly rattled by the audience’s repeated heckling of her support for the privatisation of the tube. She tried to defend herself by saying, ‘I know you don’t believe me but the public-private partnership is not privatisation.’ She was shouted down.
The NUT’s divisional secretary for Lambeth condemned the rigged voting system for the mayor candidate. She said, ‘The Labour Party is getting more like Tony Blair plc. Are you aware there are a huge number of people who feel disenfranchised by what’s going on? We’re fed up with the government telling us it knows best.’ Another longstanding Labour Party member said, ‘I feel totally disheartened. What are your stances on toeing the party line, given the complete disregard for socialist planning and principles?’ Virtually everyone in the room backed Ken Livingstone.
THERE IS a mystery surrounding a leap in the number of members the AEEU affiliates to the Greater London Labour Party. The increase boosts the union’s vote in the mayor election contest. The trade unions have one third of the votes in the electoral college which will select Labour’s candidate.
The pro-Blair leadership of the AEEU has declared its support for Frank Dobson. The union is now claiming that its London membership has almost doubled in size over the past few years, from 27,500 to 50,000. This goes against the trend in other unions. The TGWU has cut its number of affiliated members from 120,000 to 50,000 and the GMB has reduced its strength from 92,000 to 70,000.
It has also emerged that 25 percent of the vote in the trade union section of the electoral college will go to Co-op organisations which have very small active memberships. A meeting of a handful of Co-operative Party members in south London voted on Friday of last week not to hold a ballot of the Co-op’s 50,000 members. Instead there will be a ‘consultation procedure’.
‘I DON’T care what you think.’ That was the response of Hackney MP Brian Sedgemore to a lobby of his surgery on Friday of last week. Around 20 residents and trade unionists gathered to hand in a petition protesting at Sedgemore’s decision to back Frank Dobson for mayor of London.
At first Sedgemore refused to accept the petition. But finally, after a passionate argument, he agreed to take it. As the protesters left the surgery they were clapped by some of those waiting to visit the MP.
His treatment exposes the British state