Thursday, 18 September 2008

Only a left turn can save Labour

by Daphne Liddle

PRIME Minister Gordon Brown is facing a tough time at next week’s Labour Party conference in Manchester with increasing calls for a new party leader from right-wing Blairites, while Downing Street and the White House scurry around like desperate jugglers trying to shore up the great banking pillars of capitalism as they lurch and sway in the current economic hurricane.
The right-wing attack on Brown has clearly been carefully coordinated in the week before the Labour conference. Three Labour MPs – former whip Siobhain McDonagh, former vice chair Joan Ryan and former special envoy Barry Gardiner all broke ranks to call for a leadership contest – and promptly lost their jobs.
On Wednesday David Cairns, the Scotland Office Minister joined them, saying: “There are a number of ministers who have cautiously looked at the situation and say they are very uncomfortable with it. It’s been in my mind whether I should step down, and if so, when.”
These dissidents have not made a single coherent criticism of Brown’s policies; they are not opposed to privatisation, to pay caps or to the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are worried because they face losing their jobs at the next general election.


But they will not stand any chance of saving those jobs unless a leadership challenge involves a thorough debate on policies leading to a decisive turn to the left.
John McDonnell MP, who chairs the Labour Representation Committee, wrote to the press: “Witnessing the faction infighting between Brownites and Blairites has been like watching a crew having a punch-up on the deck of the Titanic.
“Just to set the record straight, I am not part of this plot and have not asked for nomination papers. I am still up for a leadership election if there is one, but it must be based on a thoroughgoing, open debate about policies and nor personalities.
“The two New Labour factions currently slugging it out have barely a policy difference between them and have supported every New Labour policy over the last 11 years, which has led us to the brink of a Tory government.
In July I suggested a compromise to hold the party together: a structured and inclusive debate about the future of Labour. If this shows support for radical change, as I suspect, it is only in this context that the party should convene an election for a new leader.”
The rebels seem to have only a handful of MPs supporting them. To mount a real challenge they would need 71 willing to nominate one challenger – and so far no one has emerged as a challenger.
To take Brown’s place in the current political and economic climate – without new policies – would be a poisoned chalice for any youthful and ambitious challenger. Only a cynical old hack seeking simply to improve their pension prospects would want the position.
But the rebellion that would have caught the headlines under any other circumstances has been completely overshadowed by the economic crisis.
Capitalism is showing itself in its true colours – commentators are taking about mismanagement by banks and governments but this is the way capitalism is; it cannot be managed to eliminate risk and gambling by speculators.
The capitalists demand a free and unfettered market and moan about taxes and then gamble knowing that ultimately the humble working class taxpayers will pick up the bill as Governments bail them out because various banks, mortgage lenders and insurance companies are “too big to be allowed to fail”.
The US Treasury has run out of funds to bail out anymore banks after rescuing insurance company AIG; anti-competition rules are abandoned as still solvent banks eat up the failing ones.
And still the stock markets plummet. Capitalism is failing.
If this does not inspire the delegates in Manchester – the trade unionists and the constituency representatives – to put working class-friendly policies back on the agenda and the word socialism back in the vocabulary, then Labour cannot win the next general election.