Some people say that the post war consensus ended in the 1980’s with the election of the Thatcher government. I’d agree with that. The Labour Party in the 1980’s under Neil Kinnock was a pale shadow of its former self. Kinnock as Labour leader sought to make the party electable by expelling from it the dissenters and the socialists. It first witch-hunted and then expelled members of the Militant Tendency from its ranks at the behest of Thatcher and the Tory-supporting press. Then it embarked on a period of internal ‘reforms’ to make it less social democratic and more business-friendly.
By 1997, the party had done a complete volte-face. Now it welcomed big business. Now it adopted corporate-speak as its new tongue. Now it cut its own heart out in order to please Murdoch and the rest of the Tory press. It became a new party. It joined the new neoliberal consensus. As Labour leader, Tony Blair told us how he was “beyond ideology”. Often when people say this sort of thing, they are making an effort to conceal their true right wing selves.
What Blair offered the country was a weak compromise between social democracy and neoliberalism. The two were and are mutually incompatible. First the Public Private Partnership (PPP) was introduced as Nu Labour’s concession to neoliberalism. Then came the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which was introduced to provide a means for investing in hospital improvements. It too was a concession to neoliberalism.
By the time Brown came to power, the Labour Party looked like it had run out of ideas. It looked like a party marking time. It could offer nothing of substance to its core supporters who were deserting the party in their droves. Whilst in power the party had failed to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union laws. It also failed to build new council homes and continued with the disastrous Right to Buy scheme. It did the spade work for any future Tory administration.
Brown lost the election and the party took months to elect a replacement leader. When it eventually elected Ed Miliband, some thought that the party would change direction and draw a line between itself and the New Labour years. Even Miliband told us this. But he was just saying that for the press. A couple of months as leader and he sounds just like his mentor, Neil Kinnock.
Miliband has failed to offer real support the student protests though he said “I was tempted”. So what stopped him? Three words: the Tory press. He was afraid of how the papers would portray him. Most of the mainstream media have been against the student protests, many of them concoct scare stories about “dangerous anarchist groups”. Some even went as far as to accuse a wheelchair-bound student, Jody McIntyre of using his wheelchair to attack the police. While the BBC and others reported on Prince Charles and Camilla’s car being attacked by protesters for days after the event; Aflie Meadows lay in hospital with bleeding on his brain, after being hit by a police truncheon. The journalists were unmoved and unconcerned. The opposition Labour Party said nothing about Alfie meadows or Jody McIntyre.
When Miliband gave his speech to conference in September, he said,
So they looked to their union to help them. They weren’t interested in going on strike, they loved the kids the worked with, they loved their schools. But they wanted someone to help them get basic standards of decency and fairness.
Responsible trade unions are part of a civilised society, every democratic country recognises that.
But all of us in this movement bear a heavy responsibility. We want to win an argument about the danger this coalition government poses to our economy and our society.
To do so we must understand the lessons of our own history too.
We need to win the public to our cause and what we must avoid at all costs is alienating them and adding to the book of historic union failures.
That is why I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.
The public won’t support them. I won’t support them. And you shouldn’t support them either.
But it is not just from trade unions that I want to see responsibility.
We’ll take the last paragraph first, what does Miliband mean by “responsibility”? Caving in to pressure from the tabloid press? But what did he mean when he talked about “irresponsible strikes”? I would like to know what an “irresponsible strike” is. This section of the speech was intended to placate the rabid journos of the Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail. What Miliband has done here is to play to the right wing press by agreeing that unions go on strike because they’re “irresponsible” and enjoy inconveniencing people. Unions go on strike because it is the last resort. In fact, it is harder to go on strike because of the laws that were left in place by Blair and Brown.
The Labour Party has been tepid in its support for the anti-cuts movement. It has offered no leadership at all. The NUS President, Aaron Porter also provided no leadership. His candlelit vigil on the Embankment became an even more laughable glowstick vigil (sic). He condemned some protesters as “a hardcore of activists” and played directly into the hands of the media. Porter then backtracked after, it appears, he had taken advice from Labour Party Hq. His leadership remains weak and there are calls for him to be removed from office.
History has shown us that when leadership is required, the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen. It’s more concerned in maintaining its profile in the Tory press. Too cowardly to rock the boat, the Labour Party will always abandon those in real need. It even supports some of the government’s welfare reforms. In fact, when it was in power, it advocated pretty much the same reforms.
If you’re looking for real opposition to the cuts, don’t bother with Labour. They’ll only cut your throat and leave you in the ditch to die.