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Crisis tearing at Labour’s roots

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Issue 1686

London mayor.. Time to break with Blair

Crisis tearing at Labour’s roots

By Martin Smith and Charlie Kimber

THE LABOUR Party is in turmoil over the election for London mayor. The issue has become the lightning rod for all the anger about New Labour’s betrayals, and about what sort of party Labour has become. Tens of thousands of Labour members and supporters know that the party hierarchy is treating them with contempt.

Branches and regions of trade unions that have been the bedrock of Labour since its formation 100 years ago are urging Ken Livingstone to stand for mayor. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s London regional council denounced the Labour selection fix last week and urged Livingstone to stand. The union said, “Based on the massive democratic mandate given him by our movement, we believe it is Ken’s duty to [stand].”

The FBU firefighters’ union in London also backs Livingstone. And the Communication Workers Union executive voted down a motion pressing Livingstone to accept the outcome of Labour’s selection and back Dobson. Blair’s London fix is creating a crisis inside the Labour Party. A delegate meeting of the three constituencies in the south London borough of Southwark met last week.

They voted by over five to one to condemn the stitch-up and called on Frank Dobson to stand down. The Labour Party campaign organiser for north Southwark and Bermondsey, Piers Corbyn, has resigned his post in protest. Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, former parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey and party member for 22 years, has torn up his party card. Tatchell is not alone. Labour Party branches report that members are leaving in droves. A swelling tide of working class people want to see Livingstone break from Labour and stand on a socialist and trade union platform.

Bevan broke away

IN A disgraceful remark deputy prime minister John Prescott lumped Livingstone together with Oswald Mosley and Ramsay MacDonald, implying that those who break away from the Labour Party have always catapulted to the right. Prescott did not mention those individuals who broke away to the right in the 1980s to form the SDP, and who are now at the heart of Blair’s “project”. These include Roger Liddle, Lord Sainsbury and Lord Jenkins. However, it is not true that people who have broken from Labour have always ended up on the right of politics.

Aneurin Bevan is one of the great heroes of the Labour Party. Bevan was expelled from Labour in the 1930s because he would not kow-tow to those in the leadership who refused to fight fascism effectively. Stafford Cripps, another Labour hero, also broke from Labour over the same issue. After the Second World War he returned to the party and became Labour chancellor.

Many of the most principled leaders of the working class movement have been outside or found themselves in opposition to the Labour Party. In the early part of the 20th century these included Tom Mann and John Maclean. In the 1980s these included miners’ leaders such as Arthur Scargill. It is not that those who have broken to the left of Labour have found themselves “in the wilderness”. The decisive question is whether or not they have done so to give a lead to the working class and trade union movement.

Life outside Labour?

A history of struggle

“THE MOST difficult decision I have ever had to make.” That was how Livingstone described the question of whether he should stand outside the Labour Party. Many Labour Party activists around Britain are also agonising over their future. On almost every political question the vast majority of people are to the left of the Labour Party. Organising that mood requires a break from Labour. Although many Labour Party members have been and still are good socialists, the fight for socialism has always taken place outside Labour. This includes:

  • The wave of workers’ struggle of 1910-4.
  • The 1926 General Strike.
  • The 1930s mass movement against unemployment.
  • The 1960s protests against the Vietnam War.
  • The 1970s strikes by the miners and the dockers.
  • The 1970s fight against the Nazi National Front.
  • The successful mass campaign against Thatcher’s poll tax.
  • The 1984-5 Great Miners’ Strike.

Socialists have tried to reform the Labour Party. But every attempt has been blocked.

Stand left

AS PAUL Foot told the launch meeting of the London Socialist Alliance on Monday of last week, “I’m unhappy with the word ‘independent’. I want to see Ken Livingstone stand as a socialist candidate for mayor.” Foot is right. If Livingstone’s candidacy is based on the support of businessmen, Liberals and even Tories then he would be trampling on the mood against New Labour. 

That feeling should not be hitched to politics which challenge the style of New Labour but accept most of its policies. This is what has happened in Wales. Blair’s man Alun Michael has now been ditched. But the “alternative” is Rhodri Morgan-who has accepted nearly all of New Labour’s policies.

Socialist Alliance gathers strength

MIKE MANSFIELD, the left wing barrister famous for exposing miscarriages of justice and representing the families of Stephen Lawrence and Ricky Reel, has announced that he is backing the London Socialist Alliance. Prominent anti-racist campaigner Suresh Grover has also lent his support. The London Socialist Alliance will be standing in the Greater London Assembly elections in May.

LSA candidates include “Journalist of the Decade” Paul Foot, RMT rail activist Greg Tucker, black socialist Theresa Bennett, writer Mark Steel and health worker Candy Udwin. The response to the LSA has been fantastic. Nearly 1,000 people attended the LSA launch. Mike Marqusee, writer, longtime Labour Party member and former editor of Labour Briefing, announced he was backing the LSA on BBC TV last Sunday.

“The election stitch-up has compelled me to support an alternative. That is why I’m backing the London Socialist Alliance,” he said.

  • Pass a resolution backing the LSA at your workplace, community group or student union.

Support Ken Livingstone standing as a socialist candidate for mayor of London.

  • If you want to campaign for the LSA or find out more about what it stands for phone the campaign hotline on 020 7928 4213.

THE LONDON Socialist Alliance pledges to:

  • Stop the privatisation of London Underground and campaign to renationalise the railways.
  • Fight for a fully fun ded NHS.
  • Make the Metropolitan Police accountable and combat racism.
  • Campaign for a de cent minimum wage without age restrictions.
  • Oppose the sell off of council homes and build 25,000 new council homes every year.
  • Set up tough new controls on pollution.

Seventies lessons

IF AN organised socialist opposition is not built outside Labour then right wing forces will grow from the discontent with the government. This is what happened at the end of the 1970s. Massive anger built up as the Labour government cut workers’ living standards and attacked trade unions. Many workers became cynical, unpolitical, and bitter towards the possibility of change. This mood fitted the rise of Thatcher’s scapegoating politics and opened the way for a growth of the Nazi National Front. We must not let that happen again.

Lobby the Scottish Labour Party conference

  • Assemble Saturday 11 March, 12 noon, Regent Road, Edinburgh 
  • March to Labour Party conference, followed by a rally 
  • Bring your banners

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