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Left launches campaign to challenge New Labour

This article is over 17 years, 8 months old
As New Labour faces problems because of the cash for peerages investigation, Simon Basketter looks at the Labour left’s attempt to win over the party
Issue 2010
illustration by Leon Kuhn
illustration by Leon Kuhn

Tony Blair’s envoy to the Middle East is a very busy man. Not with Palestine or Lebanon or even Iraq – but helping the police with their inquiries.

Lord Levy was arrested last week in the ongoing scandal over loans for peerages. Police have also quizzed at least two government ministers, Lord Sainsbury and Ian McCartney.

Tony Blair has been accused of selling peerages after four businessmen who gave Labour £4.5 million in unpublicised loans were subsequently nominated for peerages. Labour has admitted it had been secretly loaned nearly £14 million ahead of the last election.

It says much about the attitude of the government to the rich that the man at the centre of the scandal, millionaire Lord Levy, paid just £5,000 in tax during the financial year 1998-99 – equivalent to the tax paid by someone on a salary of £21,000.

Blair’s government is drowning in sleaze. It is easy to write off each allegation and each disaster as a sign of personal weakness or greed. In reality corruption is not a distortion of the system – it is an integral part of it.


A former Labour insider and fundraiser Henry Drucker, explained how he believed the system works: “If Levy thought you would give a lot of money to the party, he would invite you to play tennis at his house and say ‘there’s a fair chance Tony will turn up’. Tony turned up, of course.

“When Tony left, Levy asked for money. I’m sure Levy, being the sort of guy he is would ring up Blair ten minutes later and say, ‘we got two £500,000 cheques today’.”

New Labour’s determination to move away from its supporters in search of friends in high places isn’t just about handing over the odd place in the House of Lords.

It is the logical consequence of Labour becoming the party of business and privatisation. Private companies are raking in the profits as a result of government PFI schemes and private contracts.

Their money inevitably flows to the Labour party. The peerages are just the window dressing.

The crisis in the government has led to a debate about the future of the Labour Party. Union leader after union leader has expressed anger over the direction of the Blair government over the summer.

Now left wing MP John McDonnell has said he will run for the Labour leadership when Tony Blair stands down.

He says he wants to ensure there is no “coronation” for Gordon Brown once Blair leaves Downing Street and that he wants to repair the damage done by New Labour. He has promised to campaign across the country and urged lapsed Labour members to rejoin the party to get involved in the debate.

He said, “New Labour has systematically alienated section after section of our supporters.

“This is reflected in lost votes, lost elections, lost members and a Labour prime minister having to rely upon Conservative votes in parliament to force through legislation. For the first time in decades people no longer feel they have a political voice.”


One senior union source involved in the Labour Party told Socialist Worker, “It says a lot that Blair knew about the loans, Lord Sainsbury knew and Lord Levy organised them. But the party’s treasurer, the T&G’s Jack Dromey and other elected party officials didn’t.

“Blair has said he will be there for at least another year. I’m worried that Brown is so busy convincing the rich that he is a safe pair of hands that he forgot why we wanted him in the first place. We need the Warwick agreement implemented, not him endorsing Trident nuclear weapons.

“Perhaps John McDonnell standing will wake him up a bit. For to long we have been ignored, but that can’t go on for ever.”

Some people believe this is a chance to reinvigerate Labour. Samuel Terry, an anti-war activist in the Labour Party, told Socialist Worker, “I come from Barking, where the fascist BNP have just made unprecedented gains.

“The failure of New Labour to focus on delivering social justice for those most in need of it has instead delivered fascists.

“Until the revolution happens the Labour Party is the only vehicle for delivering radical social change and justice in Britain today.”

Many in the union and anti-war movement will disagree with this view, but it is part of the debate of where the left should go. This debate will be part of the Organising for Fighting Unions conference initiated by Respect where John McDonnell will speak.

According to John Rees, Respect national secretary, “We welcome John McDonnell’s challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party.

“It will be a boost for the whole left whether they are in or out of the Labour Party.

“Advances for the left of the Labour Party are advances for the left as a whole. Respect doesn’t think that the Labour Party can be captured for the left and we are involved in building a political project as an alternative to Labour.

“But on most issues the dividing line is between those who are in favour of the war and those who are against, and those who are in favour of neo-liberalism and those who against.

“In this context the Respect initiated trade union conference offers an opportunity for a debate about what we have in common as well as where we differ. We welcome John McDonnell’s participation in the conference.

“Many Labour supporters are coming to the conference for what needs to be a serious and fraternal discussion about the political future of the trade union movement. We encourage everyone on the left to be part of the discussion.”

Organising for Fighting Unions conference

Saturday 11 Nov 2006, Shoreditch Town Hall, London

  • Create a fighting union movement
  • Discuss the issue of political representation for trade unionists
  • Registration fee is £10 per delegate

Contact: [email protected] phone 020 7613 5624 Organising for Fighting Unions, 9 Club Row, London E1 6JX

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