Vote Abbott, but organise the left on clear policies

Submitted by martin on 21 June, 2010 - 8:48

Socialists in the Labour Party and the affiliated trade unions should vote for Diane Abbott in the Labour leadership election, while saying that she cannot be trusted and that the leader-election system should be changed to allow a wider choice.

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Over the last 20-odd years Abbott has generally voted and spoken against the Iraq invasion and for trade union rights, for migrant rights, for expanded council housing, for scrapping British nuclear weapons, for fighting cuts, against privatisation, for free higher education, and for civil liberties.

The bigger the vote for Abbott, the greater the boost to the will and confidence of the trade unionists and Labour Party members who are for those things.

The other candidates have been Cabinet ministers and backroom boys for Blair and Brown. They now say they want to move on from New Labour, but with almost no specifics except the foul talk by Burnham and Balls on immigration.

Abbott is conducting her campaign by playing down her “leftism”, and being vague even when she does say leftish things.

Her background includes not only her votes in Parliament, but a poor record on the misdeeds of Labour councils in her own patch in Hackney, and a marked lack of the energy in supporting workers' struggles, and in promoting rank-and-file campaigns in the labour movement, that John McDonnell has shown.

She herself has said that her decision to send her son to a private school was "indefensible". By saying that, she tells us that under pressure she would take "indefensible" stances again.

She has refused to support the campaign, backed by many Labour MPs, against the privatisation of the East London line of the Underground.

Voting Abbott is nevertheless the way that trade-union and Labour Party members can and will, in the leadership ballot, express their hostility to the New Labour line and their identification with the trade unionists and Labour Party members who opposed Blair and Brown in government from the left.

Inside the labour movement, in union elections for example, often we can't get a candidate whom we can support whole-heartedly. We generally vote for left candidates, even inadequate ones, against the standard-issue right, where that is the choice.

We do it because we are concerned for the movement as a whole, and concerned for boosting the will and confidence of the broader left.

Doing it makes us better-placed to get a hearing for our criticisms and our ideas than would standing aside with a declaration that we see no difference between the former Cabinet ministers and someone who often voted against the New Labour government on big issues.

Abbott's campaign is not likely to be run in the way John McDonnell would have run a campaign, building a left-wing network in the labour movement.

But the hustings and the debates in union and Labour meetings can be used by socialists to do that, so long as we both show our solidarity with the broader left against the ex-Cabinet candidates, and advance our own ideas, giving bite and specifics to the general leftish talk about Labour Party democracy, union rights, migrant rights, fighting cuts, etc. which comes from Abbott.

A "plague on all houses" position would only function as a back-handed way of easing support to Ed Balls or Ed Miliband, whichever manages to get the "respectable left candidate" slot with trade union leaders. CWU, for example, is formally committed to back only candidates who support the main lines of CWU policy. That mandates it to recommend Abbott. If left-wingers just sit on their hands - "it's all rubbish, no choice" - they will not get any union to recommend spoiled ballots, but they may ease the way for top officials to get unions to back the ex-Cabinet candidate making the most plausible vague promises.

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