Issue 251 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
After 21 years of active membership, and after much deliberation and some soul-searching, I have resigned my membership of the Labour Party.
I joined the Labour Party in 1979, when I was 16. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, I held numerous local party positions, and campaigned for a Labour government in each and every general election. I was a Labour councillor between 1990 and 1998. Like other socialists, I threw myself into support for the miners (both in 1984-85 and 1992), into the anti poll tax campaign, into peace and anti-racist campaigns. Notoriously, I was selected by Labour Party members in Leeds North East in 1995 to be their prospective parliamentary candidate, and then vetoed by Blair because I was considered too left wing. Despite that I continued my party membership. I was a member of the Labour Party out of belief, not for self advancement. In May 1997 Labour Party voters got rid of the Tories after 18 long years. Like many other socialists, my expectations of New Labour were limited, but I looked forward to the introduction of a minimum wage, increased employment rights, a ban on foxhunting, the repeal of Section 28. I hoped that the Labour government would repeal the Tories' prohibition on asylum seekers receiving welfare benefits.
This time round I find myself wondering how I can deliver leaflets on behalf of New Labour. How can I, and many other Labour Party members, deliver leaflets boasting of the government's attacks on asylum seekers, of its threats to civil liberties, its promises of more privatisation or another crackdown on benefit claimants? How can I try to persuade working class people to vote for politicians who treat them with contempt? I came to the conclusion that New Labour should be challenged electorally.
Since 1997 New Labour has presided over an increase in the gap between rich and poor. Five million people cannot afford one or more of the basic amenities of life (according to global definitions of poverty). The richest 20 percent of the population take home 45 percent of the country's post-tax income. Corporation tax and capital gains tax have been cut by New Labour to the lowest levels in the European Union, and more cuts are proposed in a second term. In refusing to restore the link between pensions and earnings, the government has excluded pensioners from sharing in the economic prosperity of the country. The Labour Party's long-standing commitments to a minimum wage and greater employment rights have been implemented, but the version passed through parliament was a watered down version of the labour movement's original purpose. New Labour defends privatisation--in the teeth of public opinion and the recent disasters--and proposes to extend it to the London underground and air traffic control. It invites private corporations into the NHS and into education.
New Labour's attacks on civil liberties are worse than Michael Howard's were. Under New Labour a freedom of information bill restricts rather than extends freedom of information. Jack Straw wants to abolish the ancient right of defendants to choose to trial by jury. Legal aid is being systematically withdrawn. We have a higher proportion of our population in prison than any other European country, and both New Labour and the Tories are determined to make it even higher. New Labour's most despicable act has been to attack asylum seekers.
The pernicious influence of big business lies behind New Labour's ideology. Big business's influence extends from ministers doing individual favours to the whole direction of government policy. Privatisation, reduction in welfare benefits, watering down of employment rights and the minimum wage, tax breaks for the rich and selling arms to repressive regimes are all policies that benefit big business. Big business's influence extends to the Labour Party. In the last two years donations from big business have equalled donations to the party received from the trade unions. Big business donors to New Labour include companies that benefit directly from privatisation, such as the privatised rail companies, all the leading supermarkets, purveyors of GM foods and arms manufacturers. At the same time, New Labour has ridden roughshod over the rights of party members to make policy or select their candidates for public office. As New Labour tightened its grip on the Labour Party, ignoring members' rights, it decided that boundaries do not matter. Its only interest was power. As a result, the rot that started inside the Labour Party, and which I have witnessed close up as an elected member of the party's National Executive Committee, has now extended into government. We are faced with a very serious threat to democracy, to public standards and to the future of working class rights and living standards.
The only antidote to this rotten political culture is public scrutiny, public debate, and a public and electoral alternative to New Labour. The increasing convergence of New Labour and the Tories has left too many people unrepresented. The choice on offer from the major parties is too narrow and too meaningless for the working class. I have the greatest of respect for the socialist MPs in the Labour Party--Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and others--and I will be voting for Diane Abbott in my constituency of Hackney North. But, surrounded in parliament by New Labour, they may well not be able to do the job that their electorate wants them to do.
That is why I am supporting the Socialist Alliance (and local left alliances) against New Labour in the general election. I've been impressed by the unity in the Socialist Alliance, the diversity of views, and the respect for each other's differences. I've been encouraged by the strides it has made to overcome the left's traditional worst habits--sectarianism and dogma. And its election results confirm that there is a real crisis of representation out there. Labour voters and those who have never voted before are looking to vote for an alliance that stands for a socialist and democratic society, where all of us can live free and equal lives. I believe that the Socialist Alliance can offer that alternative.
Through the Looking Glass by Liz Davies--the story of her experience on the NEC--is available from www.bookmarks.uk.com
New Labour defends privatisation in the teeth of public opinion