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Old Labour, New Labour & McLabour

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Issue 1765

What socialists say

Old Labour, New Labour & McLabour

By Helen Shooter

TONY BLAIR will be supping with the devil when he attends the dinner hosted by McDonald’s at the Labour Party conference in three weeks time. The company is a symbol for people around the world who hate the power wielded by big business.

This latest example of how eagerly New Labour courts big business has repulsed many ordinary Labour Party members. It has even upset some far from ordinary ones. Polly Toynbee slammed what she calls the “McSponsorship” of New Labour in her column in the Guardian on Friday of last week. “It is cheap and demeans not just the Labour Party but the government of the day,” she said.

“It resonates with all Naomi Klein’s observations in No Logo about the creeping branding of those things most citizens instinctively feel should be beyond and above commerce-hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, the BBC, public services and spaces.”

Toynbee is a New Labour supporter with the emphasis very much on the New. She joined the SDP, the right wing split off from the Labour Party, in the 1980s. If she feels this about McDonald’s sponsoring a conference dinner, imagine what many others feel.

Old Labour was (at least in words) about challenging big business. New Labour is about proudly bowing to big business. McLabour is about becoming an instrument of big business. This is causing tremendous tension inside the Labour Party. Blair has faced it increasingly since New Labour’s election in 1997, and more acutely since its re-election three months ago.

Many Labour Party members have not at all accepted that big business should have more say in running the NHS, schools or London Underground than the millions of people who use those services. Blair has been forced to commission “reviews” of the party’s education policy towards funding for university students and its treatment of refugees, to try to quell the members’ voices of discontent.

The Times, owned by Blair’s friend Rupert Murdoch, reported on its front page recently, “Union leaders are furious at being ‘double-crossed’ by ministers” at the prospect of the leadership retaining the vouchers for refugees after its year-long review. New Labour’s conference shows up all the contradictions inside the party in concrete form.

It has become a corporate circus of stalls, cosy receptions and dinners. Yet a large number of delegates hate the idea of profiteering out of public services and are sickened by the fat cats clinking champagne glasses with ministers. Much of the backbone of the Labour Party comes from the trade unions. Many union members will not be happy to see the same company bosses who sack workers and attack unions promoting themselves at the conference. The anti-capitalist movement has to build bridges towards these outraged Labour members.

Many of these people would describe themselves as Old Labour to distinguish themselves from the policies Blair has driven through. Some of them can come out with the same angry comments against privatisation that you would hear from young people on anti-capitalist demonstrations. But they don’t, for the moment, believe there is any alternative to remaining inside the Labour Party.

Such people can be won to playing a part in the growing movement against the power of big business and, over time, to seeing there is an alternative to the Labour Party. Blair wants to drive a wedge between the anti-capitalist protesters outside the conference and what Polly Toynbee describes as the “sullen delegates cheesed off at privatisation” on the inside.

When Blair dines with McDonald’s on the Monday of conference week it would be absolutely right to stage a Genoa-style confrontation against it. It is a corporate event where everyone attending is signing up to the idea that there is nothing wrong with the alliance between big business and New Labour. The main protest on the Sunday outside the conference is both a protest at Blair’s policies and a chance to stand with the delegates who are opposed to McLabour.

There are still people in the Labour Party like Liz Davies, a socialist and former Labour Party NEC member, who left the party after 21 years to join the Socialist Alliance this year. Her kind are a world away from the ministers and those climbing the greasy pole who will wine and dine at McDonald’s expense.

“I resigned from the Labour Party yesterday after ten years, seven as constituency secretary. The McDonald’s sponsorship was the final straw.”

  • LIZ HINDLE, Sutton Coldfield, letter to the Guardian

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