Sunday, September 26, 2010
And it is a defeat inflicted by the trade union membership, which is beginning to rally itself for a fightback against the Tory cuts package. If they didn't want to sack the Blairites in this context, I think we'd have grounds for being deeply worried. As it is, I am still encouraged by this result, and I think it will give some more confidence to workers on the frontline organising against the cuts - particularly if, as I suspect may happen, Ed Balls becomes the shadow chancellor. This, for me, is what it's really about. The class struggle always plays out in the Labour Party in a particular way. The question is whether the labour movement is prepared to have a political leadership that is in many ways hostile to the organised working class, openly spurning the unions; or whether it wants a traditionally Labourist leadership that seeks to represent the working class politically while trying to reconcile its interests with those of 'the nation' - ie national competitiveness, ie capital. This is not an inconsequential difference for the working class. Unless there is a concrete, left-wing alternative to Labourism available to us, then the political project associated with Blairism - of replacing social democracy with bourgeois liberalism, in imitation of the US Democratic Party - was always going to be catastrophic for the working class. So, the defeat of Blairism is a step forward.
Sadly, the result also comes with a sour lesson in how weak the Labour Left is, as Diane Abbott actually received fewer votes than Andy Burnham. I know from bitter arguments online and in the flesh that many left-wing Labour members didn't support Diane, ostensibly on grounds that I think are preposterous - her son's private education came up a lot, as did her television appearances with Michael Portillo. In reality, I think these rationalisations had little to do with it. The Labour Left is still deeply demoralised, and scarred, by years of Blairism. It is also numerically depleted by the mass defections of the Blair era. Milibandism of the 'Ed' variety is their dipping their toes in some moderate waters which, if successful, might encourage them to become more adventurous later on.
The trouble is that, as one particularly astute Twitterer pointed out yesterday, the Labour Right is never going to accept the leadership of a trade union-friendly centre-left. They're already sending out signals of a bitter turf war that they're prepared to wage in the coming years, with the help of their contacts in the Murdoch papers. The slightest sign of any deviation from orthodoxy will be the subject of relentless flack and destabilisation. The capitalist media is already on the attack over trade union members determining the outcome of a leadership election - the idea that a future Prime Minister could owe his position to bolshy toilers offends their sensibilities. We need a strong Left, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, to keep pressure on the new leadership. Inevitably, Ed Miliband will let down his supporters, and he may not even survive the next five years. The question then will be whether the party comes back under the control of the Blairites, or whether the pressure from the rank and file keeps the right-wing on the back foot.