The battle for Labour’s soul

by Daphne Liddle

THE FRONT line of the class struggle is inside the labour movement and right now there is a very heated battle going on over the choice of the next leader of the Labour Party and the role of the unions in relation to the party

Nick Cohen, writing in the New Statesman, has told Labour that Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, is the party’s enemy and accused McCluskey of “imposing a useless leader on it in Ed Miliband and an equally incoherent programme”.

Meanwhile McCluskey said last week that Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party could be reconsidered at the union’s conference in July.

Two years ago at the Durham Miners’ Gala McCluskey laid down a challenge to Miliband: “The Labour Party must understand it can only exist if it remains the voice of ordinary working people,” McCluskey said.

“The parliamentary Labour Party today does not look like, or think like, the working class communities it seeks to represent. That is a serious problem. It is increasingly the preserve of people who glide from university to think tank to the green benches, without ever sniffing the air of the real world.”

He said that the Labour Party has no God-given right to exist and that if it fails to represent the working class then “what is it for?”

Miliband failed to respond to McCluskey’s challenge. Although he distanced himself from the worst of Tony Blair’s New Labour policies, his own policies were different only in nuance — “austerity light”.

In the run-up to the election he added a few leftish policies, like getting rid of the hated bedroom tax and controlling rents. But he failed to challenge the economic validity of austerity. He accepted the ruling class mantra that it was absolutely necessary for the working class to continue to suffer a steady decline in living standards so that the fortunes of the wealthy could be saved and increased.

He did not challenge the cruel Work Capability Assessments; he did not speak up for people who had benefits sanctioned for ridiculous reasons (in reality because of budget cuts) and who have been left destitute and in some cases suicidal.

He failed to speak up about food banks and rising homelessness.

But the big union leaders, including McCluskey, have also failed the working class. The modern giant unions have become unwieldy and the leaders out of touch with the members.

Amalgamated branches are so big they can no longer function with regular meetings where workers can attend and express their views and influence policy.

Full-time officials are now more likely to be graduates fresh from the Labour clubs in their colleges than workers who have made their way up through the industries they are supposed to represent.

The Labour Party also is staffed and run by people who have never experienced the real world or who have any idea what class solidarity is. They really do not know what the Labour Party is for.

Diane Abbott last week described the Labour Party as a “spadocracy” (spads being special advisors to MPs). “The candidates for the Labour leadership are coming forward. And two things are clear. The first is that they are all former special advisers, or spads....

“What’s also remarkable is that they all come from one wing of the Labour Party. Not a single one of the current candidates opposed the Iraq war, not a single one supports taking back the railways into public ownership, not a single one opposes “austerity-lite” and not a single one opposes the welfare cap.

“In other words, the views of millions of Labour supporters and the majority of Scottish Labour supporters will not be represented in the ongoing leadership debate. ...

“Spads are great at schmoozing and PR. Some may even be good at policy. But it’s rare that at any time in their career they will need to have vision. Because that’s their bosses’ job....

“And we are now entering a leadership battle where a whole range of ideas is excluded.”

The right wing accuses the left of failing to be “aspirational”. That means promoting the illusion among exploited workers that if they only work harder they could one day join the filthy rich elite.What is needed is inspiration — that the existing capitalist system is seriously flawed and the world does not have to be like this. There is a better way, called socialism and promoting socialism is the real job of the Labour Party and the unions.