Friday, November 19, 2010

Blairites on civil war footing

Dan Hodges, once a flunky for the air industry, is a PR spokesperson for the Labour Right. During the leadership campaign, he distinguished himself by predicting 1 out of 0 victories for the elder Miliband, and was dubbed "the Carole Caplin of the David Miliband campaign" for his troubles. He felt that the Comprehensive Spending Review was a humiliation for Labour not because of Labour's complicity in making it possible, and not because of what it will do to Labour's base, but because Labour's stance was not completely dictated by the Tories' position: "Come on. We know how this game is played. Match their overall spending totals, and hit them over priorities within that framework. At the same time ensure there are no uncosted spending commitments."

So, that's Dan Hodges. Now he's in the New Statesman, prophesying civil war - ironically, this article is itself a shot in the civil war that the Labour Right launched as soon as the leadership election was decided. And his argument is that the "Brownites" - that's Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, two cabinet members known for wanting to take a harder line against the cuts - are out for Ed Miliband's head. It will be Ed out, and Yvette in, if they get their way.

Now I know what you're thinking. Why do I care about these petty personality-base debacles? And if that was all that was at issue, I'd agree. I'm not a member of the Labour Party, so I don't have an immediate stake in such matters. But look at what the Blairites have been doing lately. Alan Johnson, whom Miliband installed as Chancellor on the basis of an old saw about tents and pissing, has been publicly going against the leadership on the 50% higher tax rate, saying that he would like to drop it in a few years, and that it's only a tactical response to the deficit. In truth, he is among those who thinks it was a mistake to ever introduce this popular measure.

Now, the Blairites are in The Times, calling for an end to the union link. Alan Johnson is involved again, attacking the legitimacy of Ed Miliband's leadership by attacking the way he was elected. He claims to favour the extension of "one member one vote", neglecting to note that if the principle was applied seriously in the Labour Party, Ed Miliband would have come a clear first in the first round, and Diane Abbott would have come third. Alan Milburn is making the logic explicit, however, in demanding that union affiliates don't get a vote, and that the structural relationship with the unions is abolished. Margaret Hodge, who owes everything to the unions behind the anti-fascist campaigns that worked their fingers to the bone in Barking, is also calling for Labour to cut "the umbilical cord". There's gratitude for you.

If the Blairites were to get their way, Labourism would be dead. That's what they appear to want, and why it doesn't seem to overly perturb them that in going along so slavishly with the cuts agenda they will destroy the constituencies that keep Labourism alive. Ed Miliband, with few radical ideas and a deficit of guts, was nonetheless the candidate for those who wanted to oppose the Blairite mission. He was the candidate who promised to rebuild the Labour base, to defend trade unionism and strengthen the link. That's why his victory left Blairites reeling, fuming, plotting a coup from the off. That's why rich donors like Lord Sainsbury went off in a huff.

Ed Miliband's supporters on both the soft and hard left have called more than once for him to hammer the Blairites. Crack the whip, said Seumas Milne, and make the Right toe the line. Now, there's some faint hope that his decision to 'retire' Ray Collins as general secretary signals a determination to get tough, and purge the ruthless right-wing fixers and allow a real debate in the Labour Party. Collins was known, says Left Futures, for ensuring that any policy proposal discussed at any but the lowest levels of the Labour Party was in tune with what the leadership was thinking. He was certainly part of the disastrous witch hunt that threw Lutfur Rahman out of Labour, causing the party to lose an election for Tower Hamlets mayor that they would otherwise have easily won. And it's hard to believe that the subsequent manoeuvering to get Ken Livingstone booted out for having supported Rahman, and blockade the new East End mayor by refusing to cooperate with him at either a local or London-wide level, would have taken place without Collins' express consent. But while a different general secretary might avoid such obvious embarrassments for Labour, there's little prospect of anything fundamentally changing. The Labour Left is kidding itself if it thinks it's key strengths will flow from any processes inside the Labour Party, where they have been disenfranchised, bullied, witch-hunted and demoralised for a generation now.

John McDonnell is far more realistic. The real social forces that will provide a base for the Left, and thus potentially revitalise Labourism, will not come from the clapped out media-savvy think-tanks of the centre and soft left. They certainly won't come from the small clique of supporters around Ed Miliband. They will come from the very people that Labour's right-wing old guard least understands, and most dislikes - trade unionists, protesters, climate campaigners, and so on. The students whom Ed Balls denounced, and the strikers whom Ed Miliband has preemptively warned will not receive his support. They are the only real power that is capable of taking on the Blairites, whose legitimacy and authority is built on defeat, on acquiescence and conformity, and on deference to the media and public relations flacks.