by David Broder
“Five more years”, the Brown loyalists chanted yesterday as the outgoing Prime Minister launched the Labour Party’s election manifesto. But what would Labour do if re-elected? A future fair for all is supposed to have the answers.
Asked whether the 78-page manifesto was ‘Blairite’, Peter Mandelson told the BBC that the document was in fact ‘Blair-plus’. So what in this document justifies the view common to much of the left that voting for this programme is a “class vote” against the Tories?
Well, in reality the manifesto promises more of the same, even though the document is littered with expressions of ‘rebuilding’, ‘renewal’, ‘no more business as usual’. This vocabulary lends the document an amusingly preposterous tone, not least Gordon Brown’s assertion as he introduced the manifesto “Yes, we are in the future business.” Similarly the unusual slogan “the next stage of national renewal” is littered throughout the document.
The Labour manifesto is stridently nationalist in tone, and indeed opens with the words, “This General Election is fought as our troops are bravely fighting to defend the safety of the British people and the security of the world in Afghanistan. They bring great pride and credit to our country: we honour and will always support them.”
Moreover a quite appalling fifth chapter entitled “Crime and immigration” proclaims that “coming to Britain is a privilege not a right” and promises a harsh clampdown on immigration. As well as cutting translation services and English classes, making English tests harder and increasing pressure on migrants to learn English, the manifesto promises expansion of the Migrant Impact Fund, whereby migrants themselves have to pay contributions to help local areas deal with the damage immigration supposedly causes.
The manifesto asserts the need to “ensure that all employees who have contact with the public possess an appropriate level of English language competence” and that “we get the migrants our economy needs, but no more”, supposedly in the interest of taxpayers. The wording of every line of each of these proposals suggests that migrants are either criminals or potential criminals: not part of “we”, not part of the “public”, not “taxpayers”. But they are.
Unite deputy general secretary Jack Dromey, who once upon a time strongly associated himself with the migrant workers’ cause (see issue 12) commented at the manifesto launch “there is one party in Britain that hears the voice of working people”. It is nice that his union’s leaders can get a “hearing” given that it ploughed £3.6 million of members’ money into Labour coffers last year (securing Jack himself a safe seat in Erdington) but it is certainly not the case that working people exercise a voice – never mind real control – over the party.
While some broadcasters made much of the fact that the manifesto does not refer to further privatising the post – perceived as a crumb to the Communication Workers’ Union – since its launch Labour aides have briefed that this is not a guarantee that they will not do so, and indeed on last night’s Newsnight, manifesto author Ed Miliband refused to clarify the matter.
This highlights the rather bizarre character of the manifesto – it will barely be read by anyone, but since anything interesting or new published in it could be subject to a media storm, it is deliberately meaningless and does not outline Labour’s plan for government. While Labour made much hay last week claiming that the Tories would rather raise VAT than National Insurance, Miliband refused to confirm that Labour would not in fact be raising both. The manifesto also says nothing about cuts except that they will be able to save billions in ‘efficiency savings’. Vague talk of tight means hides the reality that Labour is going to cut £38 billion from public services.
The last issue of Solidarity carried a front page headline “Tories plan cuts war” and “Unions should force Labour to scrap cuts plans”. The words ‘Tories’ and ‘Labour’ could easily have been reversed.
The cuts, no matter what party puts them into effect, can only be defeated by mass mobilisation including strikes and a political struggle against the cuts agenda. It is the central leaders of government, not members of affiliated unions, who decide Labour Party policy: they will only decide against cuts if they are unable to enforce them as a result of external pressure.
As one letter in Socialist Review described, various Trotskyist groups’ call for a Labour vote and continued union funding for Labour flies in the face of reality: “Holding your nose” while voting Labour is not an option. It is the same approach that Labour politicians have used during their misuse of power and that Gordon Brown will use if he wins the election. “I do not want to make cuts, I support working people; but do not worry, I will ‘hold my nose’ while I wield the axe.” It is the same hypocritical argument.” It is, moreover, a repudiation of arguments common on the left in the last few years that Labour had ceased to be any sort of vehicle for working class representation, to the extent that it ever had.
But there is nothing the Labour Party could have done over the last 13 years which would have denied them the support of the bulk of the unions, and even the radical left, on polling day 2010. They support Labour because they are not the Tories, and use Lenin quotes from ninety years ago to give this support for Gordon Brown a ‘Marxist’ gloss. Cuts, privatisation and war were the hallmark of the Blairite project, and ‘Blair-plus’ looks to be more of the same. The worst outrages of a Labour fourth term are not outlined in A future fair for all: but even the party’s best face is unpalatable.