By Tom McCulloch, Oxford Respect
Thirteen years have passed since Gordon Brown and Tony Blair sat down for dinner at the Granita restaurant in Islington and carved up the leadership of New Labour. Brown agreed to take control of economic policy, allowing Blair to take the crown. The rider was that when Blair stepped down Brown would step up.
Thirteen years. Unlucky not for Brown, whose craving for ultimate power is finally satiated, but the millions of working people who have come to loathe the warmongering Circus of Spin that is New Labour.
It was a disappointment to many that left-wing MP John McDonnell could not muster enough support to stand against Brown for the Blair succession. It further disappointed thousands of Labour activists, eager for an opportunity for serious debate on the direction of the party. There is anecdotal evidence that lapsed Labour members were even re-joining the party in the hope of voting McDonnell. That the disappointment has been so muted is testimony to what many have long suspected; New Labour cannot be reclaimed for progressive politics. The party is emasculated, power resting firmly with the leadership.
That Blair has been forced from power in disgrace, long before he wanted to, should rightly be celebrated. It is a victory for the Anti-War Movement, which has constantly hounded a Prime Minister guilty of taking the country into an illegal war. Senior diplomatic sources at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence have told reporters it would not upset them too much if Blair was tried as a war criminal.
However, Blair could not and did not take Britain to war in Iraq and Afghanistan on his own. The presidential tone of his premiership is perhaps sufficient for ministers to absolve themselves of guilt. It is not enough for the millions who find the government collectively responsible. Blair needed cabinet and MP support and got both.
As the leading New Labour ‘intellectual,’ Gordon Brown is a powerful and influential advocate of war and other aspects of the party’s neo-liberal programme; new Trident nuclear weapons, more nuclear power stations, a public sector pay freeze, private sector expansion into the NHS and education, and the legislative erosion of civil liberties and harassment of the Muslim community that has resulted from the ‘War on Terror.’
Talk of a Brownite-Blairite split is a red-herring, peddling the illusion of a healthy and dynamic battle of ideas at the heart of New Labour. Roy Hattersley in 2000 claimed Brown was a ‘secret socialist,’ the myth being that because Brown is a product of the Scottish, old Labour establishment he is more ‘left-wing’ than Blair. In fact, the reality of the Blair-Brown friction is rooted in the altogether more grubby realities of ego and ambition. An overview of the Chancellor’s record makes the ideological commonality crystal clear.
Despite the introduction of a low minimum wage and modest tax credits the income gap between rich and poor has not narrowed under New Labour. Indeed the gap between North and South is growing and in April it was announced that UK child poverty had risen by 100 000. Also, the growth in inflation means real income is falling as the cost of living increases. Meanwhile, Brown demands public sector pay rises of 2%, while happily watching executive pay skyrocket. In 2006 the wealth of the richest 1 000 people in Britain increased by 20%.
Yet billions are set aside to pay for disastrous wars, the nuclear ‘deterrent’, and new generation nuclear power stations, hugely subsidised at the expense of clean, sustainable alternatives. The cost to the NHS of Private Finance Initiative hospitals, containing on average 28% fewer beds and staff, is 45 billion. The scenario is repeated with PFI schools, despite them being ‘significantly worse’ than other schools, according to the Audit Commission.
Internationally, Brown poses as a friend of the poor. However, only the very poorest and most heavily indebted countries will qualify for the debt-relief deal he brokered at the G8 meeting in 2005. All participants also have to adopt ‘structural adjustment programs,’ i.e. privatization, de-regulation, and the opening of markets to international competition. The human cost of these programmes is well documented: poverty, unemployment, and political persecution, as people fight the erosion of their human rights. Refugees, seeking respite from these conditions, are met in Britain with draconian anti-asylum legislation, backed by Brown.
There should be no illusions about Gordon Brown. The unpopularity of Blair and the media obsession with the ‘Iron Chancellor’s’ ambition and ‘psychological flaws,’ have meant his personal responsibility as the architect and banker of so many of New Labour’s neo-liberal policies have been somewhat masked. Prime Minister Brown shall have no such cover. As a result, many more Labour party members and elected officials shall join the exodus to Respect, making it the natural home for those who believe in peace, solidarity, and public services.