Labour must be
made to listen
Following the recent EU and local government elections Elizabeth Farrell
of the New Worker talks to New Communist Party General Secretary Andy Brooks
about the present situation and the way forward.
NCPB General Secretary, Andy Brooks
Elizabeth Farrell: First of
all, what do you think of Labour’s poor performance in last month’s local
and European elections?
Andy Brooks: Well it didn’t come as any surprise to us. Many Labour
supporters sat on their hands and others used the opportunity to register
their protest against the Labour government over the Iraq War. The major
beneficiaries in the local elections were the Liberal Democrats, who were
cashing in on their vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq. And in the
European elections one of the biggest winners was UK Independence Party (UKIP)
which positioned itself between the Tories and the fascist BNP to garner
a substantial number of European parliamentary seats. The only exception
was in London, where the Labour vote largely held. That was clearly due to
the leadership of Ken Livingstone, who is an outspoken critic of the invasion
and occupation of Iraq.
EF: Some on the left were expecting a swing towards Respect…
AB: Yes – and a lot of that was wishful thinking from George Galloway
downwards. The Respect Coalition was based on two fallacies. One is that
there is a “Muslim constituency” in Britain that would rally to a pro-Islamic
platform. The second is the belief that you can conjure up a left social-democratic
alternative to Labour outside the Labour Party in a matter of months, aimed
at working people but without any significant support from organised labour.
Time and time again we’ve seen working class leaders – and George Galloway
was one of them – diverted down this road to nowhere.
The basis of bourgeois democracy is the manipulation of the largest number
of votes by the smallest number of people. British bourgeois democracy is
essentially a two-party system, and in parliamentary and local elections
voters are choosing governments or council administrations. The “choice”
of course is very limited – either the openly big business party of the Conservatives
that until recently was trusted by the entire ruling class to represent their
interests, or the reformist social-democratic Labour Party that until recently
was supported and financed by the mass of organised labour.
Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance have
come and gone. The revisionist communists died the death of a thousand cuts
in the futile pursuit of the dream of the “British Road to Socialism” from
the 1950s onwards and the rump that is left in the CPB are still walking
down that road to oblivion. They argue in practice that the only way to defeat
social democracy is to imitate it. Like Respect today, they demand social-democratic
reforms while campaigning against the only mass force capable of implementing
reforms – the Labour Party.
The problem that Respect and the others face is that there’s really no room
in the British political spectrum for more than one social-democratic party.
So they all end up denouncing the Labour Party as the major enemy of the
working class and ignore the fact that it is the ruling class that oppresses
us. Objectively, they end up in the camp of the class enemy. But working
people are often much wiser than those who hope to lead them and that’s why
these parties remain isolated amongst the working class.
As for the “Muslim vote”, it simply does not exist. There are religious lobbies
from all the major faiths in this country but none of their clerical or self-appointed
leaders represents the entire community of nominal believers. Most Muslim
workers, in fact, have voted Labour in the past. And apart from a better
than average vote in London – still less than that of the Greens who did
get on to the London Assembly – Respect’s national vote was less than two
per cent. Galloway’s campaign and the results of that campaign were entirely
EF: What about UKIP which won 12 seats in the EU parliament?
AB: But what does that swing represent? UKIP isn’t an alternative
to the Tories though it has an alternative Tory platform – on one issue alone.
UKIP says it stands for British independence but the “British” it represents
are a section of the ruling class and the “independence” it says it’s defending
is only against the European Union. UKIP says nothing about ridding the country
of US imperialism’s military bases and it says nothing about Britain leaving
Nato. That really would be defending “UK independence”.
UKIP represents that section of the ruling class most opposed to the
Euro and the institutions of the European Union who want to force the Conservatives
into a Eurosceptic straight-jacket. That’s all it is.
EF: After these elections what do think the focus should be for
AB: Well I think that, when we look at what the elections are telling
us, we see that the majority of people are opposed to the war in Iraq and
that they want to see British troops withdrawn. Labour’s poor performance
in the local elections – the worst since 1910 – shows that as long as Blair
is leader and as long as the Labour government continues along Blair’s path,
Labour will not enjoy the confidence of the mass of working people.
What the EU vote shows, if you add all the UKIP votes along with the vast
majority of voters who didn’t bother to vote at all – which was the NCP’s
position – is that the overwhelming mass of the people hold the European
parliament in contempt and are, indeed, opposed to the capitalist European
Union. This indicates the two areas in which communists need to redouble
The paramount issue is the demand for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal
of all British troops from Iraq and the second is to campaign against the
proposed new European constitution and the Euro, if and when these questions
are put to the people.
EF: But that would demand a change of leadership in the Labour
AB: And that too is one of the conclusions being drawn from the analysis
of the June vote, if nothing else, in some Labour quarters. The Tory vote
held and in some areas improved under their new Howard leadership. And no
one can be in any doubt that a Conservative government would be far worse
than even the Blair government we’ve got today. Howard sees himself as the
inheritor of the mantle of Thatcher. He was a Cabinet minister in her government
and he believes in continuing Thatcher’s anti-working class policies with
more vigour than what we’ve got from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. If the
Conservatives were to ever be returned to office we would see an even more
ferocious attack on the unions and the working class.
But the choice for working people cannot be reduced to which one is the worse
– Blair or Howard? The choice of people clearly has to be for a Labour Party
that reflects the demands of working people and not the differences between
certain elements within the ruling class on how to best exploit those they
The campaign that the NCP puts forward is for a return of a Labour government
and for the support of independent Labour candidates who have mass support
from the labour movement. The demand for a change of the leadership and direction
of the Labour Party has to be accelerated.
At last there have been some challenges to the Blair leadership within the
trade union movement. They have not always been the most well-thought moves
and they sometimes reflect the sectarian agenda of the left social-democratic
and Trotskyite alternatives we talked about earlier.
EF: Like the calls for disaffiliation from Labour?
AB: Yes. The moves amongst the fire-fighters and railway workers are
prime examples. There’s understandable anger amongst the rank-and-file at
the Blair government’s treachery in dealing with their pay claims. But disaffiliation
means much more than simply cutting off the money supply to Labour.
It essentially writes off the entire Labour Party. And it implies that Labour
cannot be changed and that the unions that created the party in the first
place and still provide it with most of its funds can never influence it.
And all the advocates of disaffiliation have to offer, as an alternative,
is either support of left fringe social-democratic parties like Respect or
nothing at all.
Well, the Labour Party was established in the first place to provide an alternative
to both these strategies – if we can call them that – which existed in the
late 19th century. Non-affiliation, essentially allowing a union’s leadership
to pick and choose whom to back at election time, was what we had before
Labour was established. In practice it meant that the unions of those days
endorsed the Liberals.
Support of fringe parties is based on the belief that it is somehow easier
to build another social-democratic party than to defeat the right-wing and
democratise the one we’ve already got. These moves play into the hands of
the right-wing and those who ride on the backs of the left within the union
movement who argue with some justification that if it were successful the
only people who will ultimately benefit are the Tories themselves.
Nevertheless these anti-Blair motions do represent the beginnings of a campaign
within the class to defeat Blair and the clique around him. It is crucial
for Labour’s survival as a governing party that Blair, who is clearly an
albatross around Labour’s neck, is dumped.
EF: But it would have to be more than a cosmetic change at the
AB: Yes, certainly – and that’s one of the reasons why Gordon
Brown’s challenge has been so ineffectual. Though we are told of great rows
between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in the papers, all this seems
to boil down to is Brown’s belief that he has been cheated out of his inheritance
by Blair – who apparently promised him a shoe-in after one or two terms in
return for his support for Blair after John Smith died. But they are both
united in continuing the Tory policy of oppression and they are united in
supporting the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the ruling class
who see their interests best preserved in alliance with US imperialism.
Blair’s personal standing in the opinion polls remains at minus 20. Brown
isn’t likely to fare any better, given that he’s not likely to change course.
Brown’s camp is essentially Blair’s and so none of their followers can see
any immediate advantage in swapping one dead horse for another.
Their problem is that the Iraq issue simply won’t go away. Blair and his
cronies keep on telling the people to put the war behind us. Their merchants
of spin come up with cheap stunts – like the one a some months ago called
the “Big Conversation” or some such nonsense – to try to revive the hopes
that led to the massive swing to Labour in 1997 and 2001. It doesn’t work
partly because all that Blair & Co have got to offer is the same old
Tory rubbish of privatisation dressed up as “choice” and partly because Labour
has lost so much of its credibility over the Iraq war.
Working people, and the people as a whole, saw through Lord Hutton’s whitewash
and the lies over the “dodgy dossier”. They want answers to clear up the
mystery behind the strange death of Dr Kelly. And above all they want out
EF: But are there any Labour challengers who fit the bill on the
Some are saying “Anyone But Blair” in the same way as the anti-war movement
in America argues to back the Democratic challenger to Bush. And while there’s
no real direct left social-democratic focus in Parliament as such the Socialist
Campaign Group’s influence and its links with organised labour are growing.
There is a growing number of MPs opposed to the Iraq war – those who backed
Robin Cook when he took the principled stand against the invasion – who could
provide the basis for an alternative leadership challenge.
Some are opposed to the Iraq war for different reasons to us. Some, and this
view is reflected amongst the Liberal Democrats and a minority of Tories,
are horrified at Britain’s isolation in Europe and the world because of Blair’s
total identification with George W Bush. The pro-EU section of the ruling
class who support European integration and the Euro feel betrayed by Blair,
who posed as a Europhile but has in practice stalled on the Euro and destroyed
Britain’s relations with France and Germany over the war. The ruling class
is openly divided over Iraq and the direction of British imperialism and
so it’s not surprising to see this division within Labour’s right-wing, which
is much bigger than Blair’s personal camp within it.
EF: Where do you think Blair will be by the next general election?
Do you think he will still be leader?
AB: I sincerely hope he won’t be leading the Labour Party in two years
time and I sincerely hope he won’t be leader in a few months time. If he
doesn’t go, it will be a disaster for Labour at the polls. The current course
is a recipe for Labour defeat and the major beneficiary of a Labour slump
will be the Liberal Democrats – who are not the friends of the labour movement.
The basis for Blair’s defeat over the Iraq issue alone exists, and must be
supported through the continuous mobilisation of the anti-war movement across
the country. The anti-war movement unites all classes and strata around the
central issue of war and peace. The Iraq War, like all wars, benefits only
a tiny minority of the ruling class – those that directly profit from war
and those whose neo-colonial interests are served by Anglo-American military
might throughout the world.
A Blair defeat on this issue would be a tremendous advance even if it meant
strengthening the hands of the pro-EU lobby at the same time.
Of course what we want to see is a democratic Labour Party and a democratic
leadership that reflects the demands of working people.
The defeat of Blair is only the first stage in the process of defeating the
right-wing class collaborators within the labour movement. We want a Labour
government that rolls back the decades of Tory legislation that has oppressed
working people. We want the return to free collective bargaining and the
restoration of union rights. We want the restoration of the “welfare state”
and the public sector so criminally sold off by Thatcher, Major and Blair.
We want a health service that this immensely rich country, which we are constantly
told has the fourth greatest economy in the world, could easily afford. We
want decent, affordable housing for everyone and we want decent pensions
so that workers can enjoy their retirement without fear of poverty.
All of this can easily be paid for by restoring income tax to the levels
set when Labour was last in office in 1979. The rich have enjoyed the longest
tax-break since the Second World War. They’ve got plenty and they can easily
afford to disgorge some of their loot now.
EF: And the future?
AB: Well that depends on the growth of the communist movement in Britain
and throughout the world. When the counter-revolutions took place in the
Soviet Union and eastern Europe the hired hands of imperialist academia told
us that “history was dead” but it was socialism they were burying with their
words. That, like many of their other prophecies in the past, has proved
to be premature.
Only socialism can solve the problems of the world today. In Asia and in
the Caribbean working people are building a new future for themselves along
the socialist path. The American imperialist dream of world domination is
dying in the streets of Iraq just as the illusions of the “Third Way” and
all the other rubbish Blair & Co spouted when they first came to power
has died in the minds of the British people.
The entire wealth of the world comes from workers pushing metal in factories
and peasants tilling the land. Yet outside the remaining socialist countries
they only receive a miserable fraction of the wealth they produce through
At the same time the ruling elite live the lives of Roman emperors through
the capitalist system that guarantees them ease, health and everything money
can buy – all off the backs of the workers. Socialism will end this rotten
system once and for all. The sooner the better.
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