The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 13th May 2005

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by Daphne Liddle

A few days ago, before the election, Blair was in deep trouble, facing questions over Iraq. Time and again his old pal and rival Gordon Brown came to his rescue.

On doorsteps up and down the country, Labour activists cajoled and pleaded with voters to elect Labour in spite of Blair. Blair himself told voters that he would not regard an election victory as an automatic endorsement of his policy on Iraq. After the poll he admitted that Iraq had been “a divisive issue”.

 The voters did elect Labour for an historic third term – though some did it through gritted teeth or with clothes pegs on their noses.

Now Blair is arrogantly claiming the victory as his and without any consultation has reshuffled the Cabinet to surround himself with sycophants. They are strutting around as though Blair is the best thing since sliced bread and talking of a fourth election victory.

 Yet the message the electorate sent to Blair is that the people of Britain are angry at the way he took this country into an illegal war, using deceit and distortion to do so.

 In Bethnal Green, the anti-war candidate George Galloway trounced Blairite sycophant Oona King, fighting purely on the issue of Iraq.

 In Blair’s own constituency, peace candidate Reg Keys, whose son died in Iraq, won 4,000 votes.

 Blair’s majority was cut from 160 to 66. Labour candidates who had opposed the war were far surer of regaining their seats than the Blairites.

This has resulted in a significant change in the power balances within the new government. Previous controversial issues such as tuition top-up fees, foundation hospitals and privatisations provoked big back-bench rebellions.

 But with a big majority, Blair was safe. Now such rebellions will have a real impact. Blair is likely to lose future controversial measures like identity cards or other attacks on civil liberties in the name of the “war on terror”.

 This is what is meant by a lame duck Prime Minister.

 The day after the election one Labour activist told the New Worker it was obvious that Blair must go soon. The press gave the same opinion. Most front pages spoke of the voters giving Blair “a bloody nose”.

 There was a general assumption that Blair would recognise reality and start to plan for a handover to his favoured successor, Brown.

 Instead of doing that Blair cancelled his planned visit to Moscow to take part in the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazism and set about trying to strengthen his position through a Cabinet reshuffle.

There were reports that Blair’s senior Cabinet colleagues were giving him a maximum of 18 months before he should step down. Headlines referred to him as “an unburied corpse”.

From Labour’s back benches former Health Secretary Frank Dobson said of Blair: “He was an enormous liability in this general election. If he had not been leader I doubt whether we would have lost a seat.”

Eltham MP Clive Efford said: “It will be impossible for Tony Blair to stay on for long. I favour an orderly transition to Gordon Brown. The outcome is inevitable.”

 And Glenda Jackson, MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said: “The people have spoken. In fact they’ve screamed at the top of their lungs. The message is clear. They want Tony Blair gone.”

 Many other MPs, including former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Ian Davidson, Jeremy Corbyn, Des Turner, former sports minister Kate Hoey, Jon Trickett and David Hamilton expressed similar views.

 But knowing how slippery Blair is back-bench Labour MPs acted quickly, with John Austin giving Blair an ultimatum – to quit by this autumn’s party conference or face a leadership challenge.

 John Austin is willing to act as a stalking horse, putting himself forward to gauge the strength of the opposition to Blair. It was such a move that started the removal of Thatcher from the Tory leadership.

 The opposition to Blair as leader can only build as the horror of the occupation of Iraq continues and a string of controversial issues come up for debate.

 Blair must go but it seems he is not going to go voluntarily and without a fight. He has powerful friends in Washington who desperately need Blair’s support over Iraq. He thinks he can survive.

 At a meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party on Wednesday the Blairites aggressively shouted down the back-bench critics and claimed that “it was a great meeting”.

 It is plain that the fighting is going to intensify. But it is a battle that will give the grass roots of the Labour Party and the trade unions a vital part to play.

 They must not betray the voters, they can get rid of Blair and they must.


Blair on the rocks

MILLIONS of working people voted last week to give Tony Blair and his “New Labour” platform of class collaboration and war a slap in the face that hopefully he will never recover from.

The Blairites may crow that this is the first time Labour has won an election three times in a row. But it is also true that Labour was returned with just 36 per cent of the vote – the lowest share of the popular vote won by any prime minister in history. It’s even lower than the 37 per cent won by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, whose minority Labour Government was propped up by the Liberals. Not since 1929 has a party with fewer than ten million votes formed a government.

Labour MPs who had taken the principled stand on Iraq fared better in the poll that cost Labour 47 seats and reduced their overall majority to 66. The Tories made the biggest gains by drumming up their faithful on a racist platform that focused on gypsies and immigrants. Though the turn-out was slightly higher than last time many Labour supporters stayed at home. Others opted for the Liberal Democrats or protest candidates like maverick former Labour MP George Galloway who spectacularly defeated the pro-war Blairite in Bethnal Green on his new Respect ticket in a campaign that revolved almost entirely around the Iraq war.

Tony Blair told us immediately after the results were known that “we have got to listen to the people and respond wisely and sensibly”  to the will of the British people. Well the best response he can give is to pack his bags and leave Downing Street at once before he does even more damage to the labour movement that he has done his best to wreck over the past nine years.

The first signs are not promising. After his momentary act of contrition Blair is trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. His new Government contains all the old, useless faces. Discredited David Blunkett has been brought back into the Cabinet and Andrew Adonis, one of his back-room cronies who only joined the Labour Party in 1995, has been made a peer to take up a job in the education department.

The most venal, reactionary, and aggressive elements of the ruling class – those dark forces who believe their best interests are served in alliance with American imperialism – have no alternative but to continue backing Blair. Blair’s departure would leave George W Bush totally isolated in the world and jeopardise American imperialism’s insane bid for world domination.

 But the pro-European wing of Britain’s ruling circles will be heartened at the swing to the Liberal Democrats and the strengthening of that section of the Parliamentary Labour Party in favour of greater European integration.

Many more in the Labour Party now realise that Blair is an albatross around their necks that must be dumped if Labour is to remain the party of government in five years time. Some of them want Blair out at any price and believe that Gordon Brown could serve their interests. But the Chancellor is no alternative nor is his succession a foregone conclusion.

Brown has been Blair’s partner in all his treachery to the labour movement. A cosmetic change at the top will not lead to the return to traditional Labour values that millions of working people want nor will it fool the electorate next time round.

The question of who leads the Labour Party can only be answered by the labour movement itself. Demands for Blair’s resignation are spreading far beyond the ranks of the left of the Labour Party.

One Labour MP has already volunteered to act as a “stalking horse” against Blair if he gets enough support from Labour’s parliamentary bloc to trigger a leadership election. Not a moment must be lost in the drive to kick Blair out now.

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