On 14 July up to 100,000 people attended the annual Durham Miners’ Gala. These included a noticeably uncomfortable Ed Miliband, the first Labour Party leader to address the event since 1989.
As Miliband sat on the platform he was obliged to listen and applaud speakers including striking Spanish miners describing their militant battle with the Rajoy government, the labour lawyer John Hendy arguing for the repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union general secretary Mark Serwotka, who rebuked the Labour leader for his opposition to the pensions dispute.
That Miliband felt he had to attend is a sign that the event has been rejuvenated in recent years, owing in large part to the patient work of the organisers and the support it has received from trade unions other than the National Union of Miners (NUM).
However, we should not take this as a sign that the Labour leadership is more willing to fight for working-class interests. Three days later Miliband sought to “balance” his attendance at the miners’ gala with an appearance at a reception in the City of London.
His speech was an attempt to win support from business leaders at FTSE 100 companies. The shadow business secretary Chuka Ummuna went further, calling for more Labour MPs who have “set up and run businesses or worked for businesses.”
The bosses already have two major parties to serve their interests without the Labour Party acting as a poor third.
Despite bourgeois press hysteria about “Red Ed” and rumblings from Blairites such as Liam Byrne, the labour movement still has a long way to go to make the Labour Party a vehicle for working-class politics.
On 15 May Ed Miliband appointed Jon Cruddas to replace Liam Byrne as head of Labour’s policy review.
No socialist in the Labour Party or the trade unions will be sad to see Byrne, a notorious Blairite, go; and some will draw shreds of hope from what Cruddas has said in the past about the need for Labour to reconnect with its working-class base.
At least three problems remain, though. One: the policy review, whoever heads it, is in effect a move to sidetrack policy-making by Labour’s annual conference of delegates from trade unions and local Labour Parties.
Instead of delegates directly debating policy, they are likely at some point to be handed a long text concocted by the “review” and told they can only vote for or against, but not amend it.
Second: the policy review process remains nearly as opaque to Labour and union activists under Cruddas as it was under Byrne.
And the third problem is Cruddas’s politics. After spending almost all his adult life in Labour Party backroom jobs, he was a chief fixer for Tony Blair from 1997 to 2001.
After 2001, he shifted, voted against the Blair government on top-up fees, asylum seekers, trust schools, Trident, and other issues, and won some union support for his candidacy for Labour Deputy Leader in 2007.
Then in 2010 he backed the hardline-Blairite David Miliband for Labour leader. He now says (Guardian 16 June): “I made a mistake on that; but also that “he will be knocking on the doors of David Miliband and [another diehard-Blairite] James Purnell” to contribute to the policy review.
Cruddas and Purnell have associated with a trend called Blue Labour. Its best-known advocate is Maurice Glasman, who declared (Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2011) for “stopping immigration virtually completely for a period”.
Purnell, however, has declared that “we [New Labour] already had about as ‘tough” a policy on immigration as we could have”. He says Labour should be bolder about “reform”, meaning (for him) “if you want people to have choice in democracy, then why not in health or education too?”
Another Blue Labour ideologue, Jonathan Rutherford, claims: “Labour’s future is conservative... Labour needs to develop a politics of belonging and a reform of capitalism that draws on the traditions of the common good and a common life. It must... again become an organising force in the life of our country, from the cities to the market towns and the villages”.
All very far from even discussing policies which would enable the labour movement to get to grips with the great crisis of capitalism unfolding around us.