The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 29th September 2006

Marching for peace in Manchester

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by Daphne Liddle

at this week’s annual Labour conference in Manchester voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion from the giant public sector union Unison in opposition to the Government’s accelerating programme of privatisation of the National Health Service.

 The vote coincided with the second one-day strike of workers employed by NHS Logistics against plans to sell their Government-owned supply company to the German parcel firm DHL.

 Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had argued against Unison’s motion in vain. She said “I know that many of you are unhappy about the sale of NHS Logistics.

 “But as Health Secretary I have to ask is this right, is this fair for patients? So I’m not gong to turn my back on a billion pounds worth of savings.”

 The Unison motion described the “immense damage” being done to local health services as NHS trusts struggle to resolve growing budget deficits by making serious cuts in beds, jobs and services.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis described Wednesday’s conference vote – made via a show of hands – as a very good decision”, insisting that the motion was not “seeking to lay down the law but drawing attention to the problems in the way in which the NHS was being reformed”.

 He went on: “Wards closing, hospitals closing and a great deal of money being siphoned off into the private sector – all we ask for is these issues to be reviewed,” he said.

 The debate became heated when conference chairperson Gary Titley cut off Dave Prentis in mid speech because he had exceeded the five-minute time limit.

This evoked a strong protest from Labour treasurer Jack Dromey, who is also deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

“Labour’s reputation as the party most trusted with the NHS will be tested as never before,” he said. “Blair should leave privatisations that were doomed to failure to the Conservative Party. This is their agenda. Not ours.”

 His words were cheered by NHS workers in the conference hall, who waved placards saying: “Keep the NHS Working” and “Save our NHS”.

 Unfortunately the vote is not binding on conference policy. But strength of feeling on this issue is building throughout the country and even the most dedicated New Labour control freaks and spin doctors could not keep this debate off the agenda.

After the vote Prentis warned ministers: “If they don’t listen we will lose the next election. We have got to stop this arrogant approach from the top that they know what is best.”

 Earlier on Wednesday the Labour leadership had also faced defeat as delegates voted for more central government funding to build council houses. The votes was taken on Tuesday and announced on Wednesday – after Blair’s farewell speech. The motion had been carried by 65.65 per cent to 34.35 per cent.

 The rebel housing motion, moved by Gravesham Constituency Labour Party, demanded that the Government pursue a “fourth option” of direct investment in council homes.

 The fourth option campaign has the support of many unions and rebel backbenchers, such as Austin Mitchell and is backed by the Labour Representation Committee.

 Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee opposed the motion and it was the second year in succession that the leadership had been defeated on the issue of building more council homes.

 The Defend Council Housing campaign claims that Labour built fewer council homes than Mrs Thatcher.


Pantomime season

This week’s Labour conference in Manchester has produced some carefully choreographed dramatic performances, with the prima donnas of New Labour at first seeming to be at each others’ throats and then coming together for a sentimental final conference speech from Tony Blair. It was aimed to get the audience weeping into their Kleenex and inspire an emotional farewell to Blair as leader. But it was as far removed from reality as an Enid Blyton story.

 For a start, the audience was carefully chosen and was dominated by New Labour supporters. The agenda was also carefully tailored to keep the real world outside the conference hall.

 The Labour Representation Committee reported that the majority of resolutions from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) across the country had been blocked from the agenda. Resolutions critical of Government policy on a range of issues had been ruled out of order. These issues include: Iraq, Trident replacement, the council housing “fourth option”, nuclear energy, trade union laws, Venezuela, incapacity benefit, school admissions policy, party political funding, and Thames Water.

 Then we had the grand performances with first of all Home Secretary Reid as the loyal friend declaring that Blair should never have promised to resign. That was followed by Blair as the tortured hero at the weekend, interviewed by Andrew Marr for the BBC and refusing to endorse Brown as his successor. Then came the Machiavellian Mandelson admitting there was a rift within the New Labour leadership and attacking Brown for failing to reconcile himself to not being Prime Minister.

 On Monday, while Brown was giving the speech of his life to woo the delegates, Cherie Blair, taking on the part of Lady Macbeth, was reported to have called Brown a liar as he said it had been a privilege for him to work for Blair. It seemed as though the Blair camp was ready to sink the whole New Labour ship rather than hand over the tiller to Brown.

 On Tuesday morning rumours were reported on Channel Four News that Blair was going to use his speech to take back his pledge to resign within a year and elicit a request from the audience to stay on for longer – perhaps forever.

 Fortunately Blair did not do this. But he did lay on the emotional farewell with a trowel and finished by saying a few nice things about Brown after all – healing the rift for a happy ending. Cue applause and tears – comic opera substituted for political debate.

 The show of histrionics succeeded in banishing issues like Iraq and the desperate state of the NHS not only from the conference chamber but also – more importantly – from the headlines.

 The massive peace demonstration on Saturday in Manchester and the huge demonstration in Nottingham against NHS cuts – the latest in a series of very big marches in towns throughout England – received virtually no news coverage. Proper debate on these issues – the issues that the Labour membership wanted debated – is more dangerous to the New Labour usurpers who have taken over the party than their dramatic performances and pretended splits.

 Brown made clear in his speech that his policies will not differ from Blair’s. Anyone who thinks he is just saying this to appease Blair and that once he gets into power Brown will turn out to be a real socialist is kidding themselves. The only ounce of consolation in swapping Brown for Blair is that it will finally get rid of Bush’s chief henchman and undermine Bush.

 Blair may have mesmerised the hand-picked delegates in Manchester but the ordinary workers on the streets are not fooled. The main response on the streets of Lewisham to this paper’s headline last week, Sack Blair Now, was, “Never mind sack him; shoot the bastard!”

 He must go but so must his criminal policies. Labour members and trade union leaders must not let him mesmerise them yet again. The best way to stop him is to support the leadership bid of John McDonnell – and to remember that the real battle is going on outside the conference hall, outside of Parliament and in the streets of Manchester, Nottingham, Plymouth, Gloucester, London and all the other places where people are mobilising to demand an end to the war and to defend the NHS.

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