What is Blairism and how do we fight it?

I became active in left politics in 2004 – angry at the Iraq war, I joined the million plus people marching in Hyde Park. The largest demonstration in British history. But the Stop the War Coalition had no real strategy of how to oppose New Labour, it made no difference to the policies of Blair – no threat to the system. Demonstrating is important in raising our spirits, in realising our collective strength – but unless we harness that power – either by forming a political party to challenge the status quo, or using the power of the unions to strangle the bosses’ profits at source – leaders can ignore democracy.

I joined what was the Socialist Party – I thought that, in small way, I needed to get involved in building an alternative to New Labour. I was persuaded of the need for revolution as opposed to gradualism, which was an important step in my political awakening – previously, I would have described myself as Old Labour.

Labour was formed, in 1900, as the Labour Representation Committee, a party of the trade unions, bringing together Britain’s left wing parties, including Marxists, in order to represent the interests of the common people, as opposed to the interests of the bosses. Keir Hardie was its first leader – Keir Starmer, in claiming to be socialist, said that he was named after Hardie. This morphed into the Labour Party in 1906.

Labour’s peak was the Attlee government of 1945-51, the post-war deal which brought in the welfare state, the NHS and nationalised much of the economy – but crucially didn’t go far enough, for example leaving the banks under private control. This radical change was brought about by huge anger at Churchill’s government, particularly by the armed forces, who returning to Britain, voted overwhelmingly for Labour.

The architects of this victory leant on Clause IV of Labour’s constitution, “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”. This crucially called for the economy to be brought under state control. This came out of a similar desire for change after World War I, in 1918. In 1959, the right-wing Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell attempted to remove this from the constitution, but was blocked by the trade unions – which at that time, still had a say in the Labour Party.

The predecessor to the Socialist Party, Militant, had a policy of entryism within Labour during the 1980s. This meant that they could not openly organise within the Labour Party and meant campaigning for right-wing Labour MPs. On the plus side – a big plus, we saw the election of Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall as Militant MPs, reflecting the huge anger against Thatcher in working-class Liverpool, Coventry and Bradford, which had seen Britain’s manufacturing industry decimated by the Tories and campaigned for decent public housing, and investment in schools and services. Militant also had control over Labour Party Young Socialists, the youth wing of the Labour Party, and a sizeable membership of around 8,000 at its height. 1990 saw an important victory in the defeat of the Poll Tax, and the demise of Thatcher.

Neil Kinnock sowed the seeds of Blairism when he expelled Derek Hatton, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, removed Labour’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, began the process of watering down Clause IV, and attacked Militant. By 1992, the leadership of Militant had been expelled, causing a split between those who wanted to remain within the Labour Party, and those who saw the need to build a new party of the working class. The majority, under Peter Taaffe, decided to form the Socialist Party.

Tony Blair introduced what was euphemistically called The Third Way – social democratic policies, a mixed market economy, and supported militarisation and cuts to services. He rebranded Labour as New Labour – Any commitment to socialism was scrapped. Thatcher famously described New Labour as her greatest achievement. Blair massively reduced the power of the trade union movement at conference, and made conference decisions non-binding. Labour became a safe pair of hands for the capitalists. Blair saw a decline in Labour membership. “Blair, in common with all modern party leaders would have liked a mass membership, but had no desire to delegate any form of responsibility or power to it”. Gordon Brown brought in PFI which has strangled our NHS and led Labour, after Blair’s resignation in 2007, to electoral defeat.

In response to Blair, the railway workers’ union and fire brigade union both disaffiliated from New Labour. The late, great Bob Crow led the fight for a new workers’ party, supporting TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) – this later suspended electoral activity in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was a fluke of politics that brought Corbyn to leadership – desperate to restore funds to Labour, Milliband ruled that you could become a registered supporter of Labour for less than the price of a pint (later increased to £25 by the right-wing Labour NEC in time for the 2015 leadership ballot) – and it was fortunate that a few right wing MPs such as Frank Field, actually nominated Corbyn to be on the ballot in 2015, in the expectation that he would be crushed.

But Corbyn made mistakes – he was too accommodating: not expelling right-wingers, but attempting to keep the Labour Party “united”, this only emboldened them; campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit; going along with the constant media cries of anti-semitism, even being apologetic for it and not speaking out against the witch-hunting of left-wingers; not appealing to the wider movement enough, not calling for strike action to bring down the Tories and relying instead on Parliamentary democracy. Corbyn also failed to nominate a successor, which paved the way for the right to win back control of Labour.

So this brings us to Keir Starmer, who has talked of a national unity government given the coronavirus pandemic, has put forward no real opposition to the government’s policies, only mild criticism at best, and every indication is that there will be a return to Blairism. The crying need for a new workers’ party re-emerges.

Find out more about the fight for socialism here – http://www.socialistalternative.net

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: