A Labour-dominated Parliamentary committee of MPs has declared:
"Never in peacetime has a prime minister gathered around himself such an assemblage of apparatchiks unaccountable to parliament..."
Tony Blair, and other New Labour ministers like Stephen Byers, have constructed a little political machine autonomous from the traditional civil service. That machine is also autonomous - even more autonomous - from the labour movement.
Around Tony Blair and his ministers, a whole army of spin-doctors, advisers, political assistants, and so on has been recruited. It is big enough to make up the machinery of a large political party. And, effectively, it does. There is one "New Labour" party, with a party machine but no real rank and file, clustered round the government; another, an offshoot, run by a small sub-office at Millbank.
Stephen Byers is the same man who blurted out before the 1997 general election that New Labour in office should bring in state funding for political parties and then cut Labour's union link completely. The Blair government shelved that idea for a while. Now, with the unions becoming a smidgeon more assertive, it is reviving it.
What should the unions do? They have three choices. They can carry on paying money to New Labour, riding along quietly in a structure designed to stifle their voices, and hoping for the odd favour or concession. They can cut free from any fixed political affiliation and "shop around", giving support in each election to whichever politician - New Labour, Lib-Dem, SNP, Plaid, maverick Tory, or sometimes independent left - seems to offer the best deal. Or they can rally themselves to re-establish independent working-class political representation - to set up structures where workers can once again vote for candidates selected by, and subject to some accountability to, working-class organisations.
That third choice would require a movement of working-class self-assertion, coming up from the rank and file, which would create something quite different from the staid sort of bureaucratically-filtered working-class political representation we had with Old Labour. It would not necessarily, or even probably, create a new revolutionary party straight off. Workers will start their process of political self-assertion with the ideas they have now, usually far from revolutionary. But it would create a framework within which organised workers could debate policies to demand of their own chosen representatives, and not just what concessions they might realistically get from this or that Establishment politician.
Both the fight to force union leaders to use the remaining union positions in the Labour structure to fight for union policies, and efforts to raise the banner of independent working-class political representation in the electoral arena through formations like the Socialist Alliance, should be seen in this perspective.