Issue 276 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
There is a strange sense of déjà vu with the current government. A prime minister increasingly isolated and at odds with the rest of his party and public opinion; ministers scurrying off to spend more time with their family; protests about the media portrayal of government policies; and outspoken sacked ministers jockeying for position in anticipation of a leadership challenge. There is much about Tony Blair today that reminds you of the last days of both the Thatcher and Major governments.
In part this can be explained by New Labour's failure to deliver on the promises it made when it was first elected in 1997. Public services such as health, education and transport continue to deteriorate. The school funding crisis and the prospect of even higher tuition fees anger many who voted for a government that promised education would be its number one priority. But the reasons for the unpopularity and isolation of Blair go much deeper than that.
Today we are witnessing a radical and significant shift in the consciousness of many millions of people. Anger over domestic policies is combined with increasing anger over the war with Iraq. All the arguments that were put forward by the anti-war movement before the war have proved to be true. There are no weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat to either Britain or the US; the so called 'war of liberation' is nothing of the sort and has led to the occupation of Iraq; countless innocents have been killed and Iraqi society is devastated. Now all those who took to the streets against the war have been vindicated and the warmongers are on the defensive - none more so than the New Labour prime minister himself. The simple fact is that few people trust the government either to tell the truth or to deliver on the promises it made.
Yet while Blair resembles the beleaguered leader of his predecessors, in many ways things are much more dangerous for the bosses. The chief beneficiary of the demise of the Tories was New Labour. Blair was the golden boy of European social democracy who had a project and an ideological agenda that many others were willing to follow and identify with. Today that project is in tatters and there are increasingly fewer 'Blairites' putting the case for New Labour.
The result is that many people are looking for an alternative to what's on offer at Westminster. The debate taking place within the trade union movement about the link between New Labour and the unions is a reflection of this. It is to be welcomed because it shows there is a real mood to get rid of the policies that Blair represents. But it is a debate that socialists must put themselves at the centre of because there is an argument among some on the left that if only we get rid of Blair and return to 'Old Labour' values then things will be so much better.
But one of the most important lessons to be learnt from the last few months is that there is a power for change in society that goes well beyond the confines of Westminster. It has been seen on the streets and in local communities as people took it upon themselves to organise and agitate against the impact of war, imperialism and global capitalism. The task over the coming weeks is to win increasing numbers of people to the prospect that those who work and produce the goods and services in society have the ability to make the decisions as to where they go and how that society is organised. The crumbling of the Blair government provides opportunities for that better world, but its realisation depends on how we organise to utilise our collective strength.