Issue 239 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
The self inflicted wounds to Labour caused by the fight over Ken Livingstone are deep. Tens of thousands of activists are disgusted by a leadership which parrots about democracy but refuses to allow Livingstone as a candidate. Tony Blair has won no hearts and minds over this issue, nor will he be able to do so. His dilemma rests in the fact that those voting for Livingstone did so because they remember his record at the GLC, and they identify his politics with public spending and ownership, and with socialism. Those who voted for Livingstone are in tune with the wider population of London and elsewhere, who in all opinion polls show big majorities for 'Old Labour' values which Blair so explicitly rejects.
The wider crisis of reformism--symbolised for so many by Blair--is precisely about the gap between the expectations of working class people and the inability of their traditional parties to deliver even their most basic demands. The shambles over Labour's electoral college adds insult to injury because of the arrogant and contemptuous way Labour's apparatchiks behave.
That is why the Livingstone affair can lead to a splintering of the Labour Party. At the time of going to press we do not know if Livingstone will stand as an independent, but he is clearly considering it very closely. If he does, all hell will break loose inside the labour movement. In the unions that voted heavily for Livingstone, such as the FBU, there will be pressure to support him regardless of the consequences for affiliation to the Labour Party. There may not be a massive exodus from the Labour Party in London, but that is largely because many Labour activists see no organisational alternative at present. At the same time it is obvious that many activists will effectively refuse to campaign for Frank Dobson.
The initial successes of the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) in attracting support for an openly socialist campaigning slate in the May elections demonstrates that a significant minority of workers are prepared to break with Labour electorally for the first time in many years.
A win for Livingstone would be rightly perceived as a kick in the teeth for Blair. But he should stand as a focus for all the anger and grievances inside the working class movement, as a socialist and trade union candidate, not as an independent hoping to pick up the votes of stray Liberals and Tories. There is little sign that he understands this. Instead he is continuing his cautious campaign of trying to appeal across the political spectrum.
This is a shame, because it means the focus of opposition to Blair becomes blurred. Instead of being along class lines, supporting the exploited against the exploiters, it tries to win support from both sides. But this is impossible to do without compromising the interests of one side--usually the exploited.
The LSA has a quite different aim. It wants to use the elections to provide a voice and a platform for all those who want to fight back against the rotten system of exploitation. It is only a small voice, and the main aim of standing in the elections is not to win seats but to put forward socialist ideas. London's Evening Standard, writing the day after a big central London meeting of the LSA, declared that 'so far the mayoral debacle has been a great success for the far left' because it 'has allowed the left and disgruntled moderates to make common cause'. In fact, that has begun to happen because of Blair's policies. The more they continue, the more space there is for a left alternative to grow.