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Exposed from the inside

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Issue 1743

Book shows ‘New Labour is Thatcher’s legacy’

Exposed from the inside

LIZ DAVIES, who was on Labour’s most important elected committee, recently resigned from the party and backed the Socialist Alliance.

Now her book, Through the Looking Glass, has been published which describes the two years she spent as a member of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC). It describes in detail the “least democratic, most stitched-up and most arduously unpleasant meetings I have ever attended”.

This was a world where Tony Blair could refuse to answer an innocuous question by saying, “There is a trick in it which I cannot see.” New Labour is a party where Liz Davies’s motion calling for the restoration of benefits to asylum seekers could be ruled out of order because “it was not about welfare”.

Labour’s NEC was a forum where the war against Iraq could not even be discussed, let alone voted on. It was a leadership body where, a few days before the London mayor election, the great majority of the NEC convinced themselves that Dobson could beat Livingstone (because Dobson was backed by business and the Police Federation). It was a democracy where minutes of meetings were often different from what had gone on, and where the party’s general secretary could say, “It’s a rule but it’s not written down.”

It was an atmosphere where Tony Blair could seriously argue that the Guardian was a Tory paper, and where party officials could present a paper saying that the London mayor election result was “a disaster for Livingstone”. Liz Davies was one of four members of the centre-left Grassroots Alliance grouping elected to the 33-strong NEC in 1998. They never represented any threat to Blair’s hold on the party machine.

Hardly anyone ever voted with them, and Blair was required to listen to their critical questioning for just five minutes every two months. However, the Grassroots Alliance members were still subjected to a combination of intimidation, ridicule and contempt.

By Christmas 1999 Liz Davies “could not face the thought of being on the NEC during the coming general election campaign. I realised I could no longer honestly and publicly describe myself as a supporter of the government. Its record on asylum, civil liberties, privatisation, cuts in welfare, its attacks on the poor, its subservience to big business, and its willingness to bomb people in other countries had made that impossible. The government was on some issues making things worse-implementing destructive policies more akin to Thatcherism than to any form of socialism or social democracy. New Labour is Thatcher’s legacy to the Labour Party and her ultimate triumph. No young person filled with ideas and enthusiasm would consider joining today’s Labour Party.”

Having already voted for Ken Livingstone and the London Socialist Alliance in May last year, she has now decided it is time to make the break with Labour.

At a Socialist Alliance rally last week in London she implored members of the Labour Party to ask themselves whether they could honestly remain inside a party which had moved so far from any commitment to social justice.

On almost every page of her book there is a breathtaking example of New Labour’s sheer nastiness towards its perceived opponents within the party, its links to big business and its refusal to listen to the concerns of ordinary people. It is not pleasant to read how dreadful New Labour is, but this book gives the evidence to make any socialist wonder if they can stay a Labour Party member or vote Labour rather than socialist.

Unions failed to defend members

ONE FORCE which could have made life much more difficult for Blair inside the party was the trade unions. They had a substantial section of both the NEC and the National Policy Forum (which vetted what was presented to the conference) as well as half the votes at the conference itself.

But they utterly failed to stand up for their members and their unions’ policies. At the National Policy Forum in July 1999 the leadership rolled over its opponents. Liz Davies writes, “Even the amendment proposing the abolition of wigs and gowns for barristers was subject to heavy Millbank whipping, and was voted down by the same overwhelming majority as the rest. On several occasions the chair, Ian McCartney MP, did not even bother to look up as he announced that an amendment was defeated. I looked round the hall to see all of the trade unions present voting against restoring the link between pensions and earnings, against defence of incapacity benefit, against restoration of rent controls, against increasing some national insurance contributions for the rich, etc. I had witnessed virtually all the trade union delegates abandon their members’ clearly stated policies and priorities in exchange for substanceless assurances from Millbank.”

The trade unions’ defence at that meeting was that they had won a review of the welfare state. Nothing has been heard of this review since-unless it is the frequent assaults upon various benefits.

On the NEC the unions were equally compliant. “Their bargain with Millbank seemed to be that, provided Blair, Prescott and the others argued the government’s case in a language of social justice, they would not press union policies at the NEC. The height of their political sophistication consists of saying what you don’t believe and voting for what you don’t believe in order to hold some virtually indiscernible ‘influence’ over a leadership that holds you in contempt.”

Prescott is no alternative

“JOHN PRESCOTT is quick-witted and utterly cynical,” Liz Davies wrote about the deputy prime minister, who is sometimes seen as an alternative to Blair. At the NEC, unlike Blair, he spoke in clear, concise sentences and his point was always understandable. But he never uttered a word that deviated in the slightest from the New Labour message. He likes to sound down to earth, but he knows exactly what he is doing. The apparent New Labour, ‘Old Labour’ distinction between Blair and Prescott is useful for both of them. Whenever New Labour is committed to a policy that seems unpalatable to ordinary party members, Prescott is able to use his ‘Old Labour’ image to suggest that the policy is really progressive and deserves the party’s support. In reality, however, Blair and Prescott are two sides of the same coin.”

Left’s ‘striking enthusiasm’

EVENTS OUTSIDE the Labour Party had a big effect on Liz Davies. She was active in supporting the miners during the 1984-5 strike, in speaking at anti-war meetings, and in supporting people fighting back against council cuts.

She describes how immediately after her election to the NEC she mingled with demonstrators lobbying the conference, and how she was at home with them. In April 1999 she spoke at a rally organised by the left after the UNISON minimum wage demo in Newcastle: “I was struck by the enthusiasm of the audience, their determination to spread their campaign in comparison with the misery and pessimism voiced at Labour Party meetings.

“And unlike the Labour Party meetings there were numerous young faces in the hall. I spent very little time at the National Policy Forum in July 2000. I had been invited to speak at the Marxism 2000 summer school and it was a much more attractive proposition.”

Through the Looking Glass: A Dissenter Inside New Labour, Verso, 15 Available from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848 or buy online at

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