The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 13th May 2005
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ON THE ROPES
by Daphne Liddle
JUST 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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