Issue 235 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Blair's private project

Tony Blair's response to the horrific rail crash at Paddington was to put more privatisers into his cabinet. The reshuffle which brought back Peter Mandelson also saw Alan Milburn taking over running the NHS and right winger Geoff Hoon at defence. Blair's cabinet is more loyalist than ever and even Mo Mowlam has been sidelined in favour of the grey men in suits.

The government's aim is to press ahead with selling off the remaining state assets, including the London tube and air traffic control. Milburn, the 'hard man' of the health ministry under Frank Dobson, will no doubt bring more PFI to the hospitals and more attacks on NHS workers.

It is hard to credit the arrogance and insensitivity of a government which appears unmoved by the disaster at Paddington. While most people seem to agree that this was caused by privatisation and the worsening safety standards which have resulted from it, the discredited John Prescott appeared on television the night of the crash to announce that it had nothing to do with privatisation. Even worse, the government has signed a preliminary agreement to hand control of some tube lines over to Railtrack!

There are, however, growing signs that revulsion at the values of the market is making itself felt. The wave of anger over Paddington has not disappeared. And in the same week that the accident happened, workers at Ford in Dagenham walked out over racism and bullying by foremen at the plant. The refusal of management to take any account of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry proposals on institutional racism provoked a wave of anger among black and white workers.

There is now a palpable gap between government policies and the wishes of many Labour voters. This reflects itself even in parliament, where the government is once again in trouble over its cuts in disability benefit, which have been defeated in the House of Lords and are likely to be opposed by many Labour MPs. There is also likely to be widespread opposition to government plans on air traffic control privatisation, with an estimated 180 Labour MPs threatening a rebellion.

Blair's response to criticism is to keep on with his project, ignoring the growing opposition both within and outside the Labour Party. Labour's conference was dedicated to ensuring that no voice of criticism was heard. For example, 30 resolutions critical of air traffic control privatisation were kept from the conference agenda. Everything was stage managed to delete any criticism of Blair. Since then, the formation of an electoral college to select Labour's candidate as mayor is a crude attempt to prevent any dissident voice--in this case Ken Livingstone's--from being heard.

This behaviour has had some effect for a certain period of time. But it cannot conceal indefinitely the discontent which is growing with the Labour government.

It is reflected in the recent strikes such as those among electricians, bus workers and now rail workers over safety. It was also reflected in the 10,000 strong lobby of Labour's conference at Bournemouth. There is widespread opposition to sales of council housing and the closure of schools and hospitals up and down the country.

The overriding impression of Tony Blair's government is of public squalor alongside private greed. No wonder to many people little has changed since the Tories were in office, and no wonder opposition to Blair and hatred of privatisation are growing in equal measure.


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