Black Day for Blairism: comments on the local and London elections

"Britain is already a different and better country..."
Tony Blair at the Periodical Publishers Association, 9th May.

"I'm totally opposed to New Labour. They are not any different to the Thatcherites. I would like to see a return to the old values."
George Fleetwood, 48, an engineer.

"I have a wife and two children to raise and I really thought in 1997 that we were heading for a bright new era. Tony Blair has failed to deliver. If anything, he is more of a Tory than many Tories."
Brian Cox, 31, unemployed dockyard labourer.

Labour's heartlands deserted the Blair government on Thursday 4th May. It was a black day for Blairism and New Labour. It was the worse result for the Labour Party since 1992, with the loss of 600 council seats and Labour's Frank Dobson being forced into third place in London's mayoral election. Labour stalwarts simply stayed at home. If repeated in a general election, Labour would have won 293 seats to the Tory's 282, resulting in a hung parliament.

The depth of disillusionment with the Blair government was reflected in a low turnout of 30% nationally, and 32% in London. As a result Labour lost control of Oldham, Walsall, Portsmouth, Southampton and Hartlepool, the seat of Labour Minister Peter Mandelson. In Birmingham, where the threat to Longbridge hangs over the city, Labour's 36-majority was cut to 15. The Liberals were able to consolidate there hold over the former Labour strongholds of Liverpool and Sheffield, which has arisen not only with despair with Blair but the past actions of right-wing Labour councils. A layer of Labour voters voted Liberal in protest at New Labour.

"I have always voted Labour, but this time I went Lib Dem to scare Labour and send a message to Blair and his cronies," said Albert Dunn, a retired engineer whose vote cost Labour control of Hartlepool, and was scandalised by the 75p increase in the state pension.

"I know many people who have lodged their protest this time round. They want more done to improve the standard of living for the old and to improve hospitals and local amenities."

Blair's defeat in these local elections is a continuation of the defeats in elections in Scotland, Wales, the European elections, and now the London mayor. It reflects growing disillusionment with the pro-capitalist policies of the Blair government and its attempt to ape the Tories as the party of big business. "I cannot believe this government has made as many colossal errors as the Tories did. We must look on this as a warning", said Phyllis Rapson, wife of Portsmouth Labour MP Syd Rappson, who lost her council seat.

The same concern has been expressed many times over the last 12 months. Right-wing Labour MPs, such as Peter Kilfoyle - regarded in the past as beyond the pale - resigned from the government in protest at the failure to deal with the interests of Labour's "core" support. "There is a lot of unease out there", he said. "Let's hope this is a short sharp shock which will renew the leadership's perception of what needs to be done." A similar point was made by Doug Henderson, another former defence minister and Labour MP for Newcastle North: "A lot of people need a lot of convincing before the general election."

Although the Tory Party gained some 600 seats, its loss of the Romsey bye-election, a traditional Tory stronghold, to the Liberals is an indication of the mess the Tories are still in. Hague has taken the party to the right with his speeches against asylum seekers and law and order. But this is out of desperation at the fear of a poor showing at the next general election.

However, Labour cannot take things for granted. In London, the Labour Party failed to take a majority in the London Assembly, running neck and neck with the Tories. Dobson was beaten humiliatingly into third place well behind the Tory candidate Norris with only 13% of the vote. The Tories out-polled Labour. This is no less than an electoral disaster for Labour in London. If these results are repeated at the next election, Labour will lose a number of important seats in the capital.

As Ken Livingstone said after Labour's defeat: "For the third time - in Scotland, Wales and now London - those with a narrow sectarian conception of Labour have inflicted sever damage on the party." The Blairites have brought the party to the edge of destruction by their policies and antics. They are in danger of throwing away the victory of 1997.

Labour Party morale

Not only are abstentions running very high, but morale in the Labour Party is at rock bottom. There is enormous cynicism of the membership towards the leadership. Many refused to canvass or campaign during the election. The party's assistant general secretary until last year, David Pitt-Watson, has warned about the rank and file's alienation from Millbank. "The culture of Millbank grates with that of the larger party", he said. "Because Millbank and the party in the country operate in these two different political cultures (sic), party members can think of Millbank as distant, arrogant and controlling when it has no intention to be so.

"And to the professionals (!), the party on the ground looks like a bunch of amateurs and it treats them accordingly."

He concludes that the way things are being run can lead to disaster. "As a result the electorate will not simply bother to vote. Our activists won't bother to get out of their chairs. We will win the battle, but we will not win the war." There we have it from the horse's mouth!

The fear of losing the next election have forced the Labour leaders to postpone an early date. They are looking for scapegoats. There is talk of abandoning further constitutional "reform", which threatens to abolish the General Committees and the wards of the party, after a threatened revolt. Even Sir Ken Jackson has said "enough is enough". This means the Blair Project - the attempt to turn the Labour Party into a capitalist party - has hit a brick wall.

However, the Blairities are determined to continue with their Tory policies. For them it is only a matter of presentation! They are to push through, despite massive opposition, the privatisation of air traffic control. They are still looking to privatise London Underground. They are completely blind to the processes taking place.

It is time the rank and file called a halt! The Labour government must be forced to abandon this disastrous course. The feelings in the General Committees of the party is one of growing anger with the Blairites. In London, there must be a recall conference to sort out the mess over the mayor. Livingstone, who was manoeuvred out of being the Labour candidate by Millbank must be readmitted into the party immediately.

Those who attempted to created a new socialist opposition outside of the Labour Party have also fallen flat on their faces. The London Socialist Alliance - an alliance of sectarian huddling up for warmth - managed to poll 1.6% of the vote. On the other hand, Scargill's Socialist Labour Party only scapped up a pathetic 0.82%. They are on a hiding to nothing, and will do worse in the general election, where they will not be able to cling to Livingstone's coat tails.

The campaign for real socialist policies must be put back on the agenda now. The pro-capitalist policies of Blair are threatening to shipwreck the party and prepare the way for the return of the Tories. Only on the basis of a nationalised planned economy, under workers control and management, can the reforms that Labour supporters want be carried through. A decent job, a decent wage, a decent education, a decent house, a real future for our children! However, on the basis of the "market" none of these can be secured. Only a bold socialist programme can satisfy the aspirations of working people. It is time to change course!