It used to be said that there were only two things certain in life — death and taxes. Under Tony Blair, of course, the latter is a little less certain. But the way in which he tried to take over the national mourning for Diana suggests that he is working on the former. But let us guess that Tony’s hair is going to thin and go grey and that his waist is going to thicken and go saggy… and that he is going to become subject to mortality despite all his image-makers can do for him. What is going to happen then?
When Blair’s bubble bursts, where will you be? The signs are already there. It is not that Blair’s Labour Government is disappointing its enemies (it never wanted to please us in the first place), but that it is disappointing its friends. Some media comments: “(Blair) preaches ‘giving’. He will be judged by whether he has given in to Thatcherism”; “The growing realisation is that we may soon not be able to look to the Labour Party to represent what we believe”; “Australian politics are known to influence New Labour — so the message is clear. It should prepare to move to the left.”
Who said the above? Not socialists, not “old Labour”, not even the blessed Roy of Hattersley. It was the editor and business editor of the Observer, who encouraged Blair in the “new” direction to abandon Clause Four and public ownership.
In business circles the same disappointment is forthcoming. European monetary union is demanded by Blair’s business “partners”. So much headway has been made by Blair in enlisting trade union support for his “project” that the trades unions themselves have joined (at TUC level) in the call for Maastricht’s rigid anti-welfare state criteria to be adopted.
As for the “people”, those sweet ordinary somethings who Blair was so keen to “include” in a Whitehall open-door approach… look at the patronising pat on the head which Blair gave Blunkett after his education speech to the Party Conference, and the secret shake of the hand which Blair gave to Adams, paternally elevating him to “human being” status. Thus Blair’s language before the election to people who are black, disabled, lesbian or gay. He pronounced that these “differences aren’t important”, and to all those suffering disadvantage generally, he envisaged a society which would be fair to ordinary people. Equality is for all “ordinary” people. Discrimination is “unimportant”. Four legs good, two legs better.
But Blair seems upset when his erstwhile friends become surprised by his new directions. Don’t they understand, he petulantly asks, that the Tories are still in government? Don’t they understand that the “Treasury” has set these spending limits? One local Labour Party leaflet, in a constituency with a fair number of middle class parents, advises its readers to “join the Labour Party” if they are concerned about tuition fees for higher education, as it is the “Treasury” which is to blame for all the difficulties.
The same goes for health. Poor Frank Dobson has no choice but to live within the government (that’s the Tory Government) spending limits. And the Mersey dockers should know better than to ask their union leadership (the mighty TGWU) or the Government (13% share-holders in their employer’s company) for support in their dispute. They (the Labour Government and the TUC) would be breaking the law. Their hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do about it. (Of course, if the Tories had won again, taxes would have gone up by now to pay for the economic deficit they had left for their successors.)
But a lot of us are not Blair’s friends. Dockers, deportees, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, discriminated against… people can’t wait for Blair’s bubble to burst. We have to help make it happen. This is because new Labour’s new Danger is still the same old danger: that the opposition to its sunshine smile and Camelot carry-on will come from the far right.
To redress the balance, to counter the threat, there is no one right answer. No-one has a monopoly of ideas. Instead there is a compelling argument for developing alliances of forces. Socialists, environmentalists, direct action campaigners, trade unionists, need to join together, working across the issues and across the regions, to say that there is an alternative to the free-market madness of Blair and Major, Hague and Thatcher.
This is what the Liverpool dockers have represented, in making links with many non-traditional forces. Their struggle is about challenging the globalisation and casualisation of work and workers everywhere, about connecting the environment with the economy, and about raising the standard of human dignity against the oppression of the new capitalists and their “partnership” politics. Their struggle is all our struggle. Their victory will be all our victory. Morris and Blair could do with remembering that this is where their organisations come from, before they become consigned to the place in history which they seem so eagerly to desire. And we need to put them there, not just sit back and wait for the bubble to burst.
The first national conference of the Socialists Alliances in England will be held in Walsall on 29 November. Further details from 58 Langdale Road, Manchester M14 5PN.