FRFI’s guide to the Labour leadership election / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

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FRFI 216 August/September 2010

FRFI’s guide to the Labour leadership election

Acknowledging the near-impossibility of detecting any substantial policy difference between four of the five contenders for the leadership of the Labour Party, FRFI is providing a brief guide to their records. The fifth candidate, Diane Abbott, secured her nomination only because David Miliband and others like Harriet Harman and Jack Straw saw that a choice between four white, male, forty-something, former cabinet ministers would be too obviously a fix. Abbott, may be a black woman, but she is a loyal oppositionist whose participation is calculated to lend a veneer of plausibility to the process. She does not stand a chance of winning, although, like all the others, she is sound Oxbridge material.

David Miliband

Corpus Christi, Oxford University

A former Foreign Secretary who persistently lied about Labour’s policy on torture and who opposed any attempt to allow evidence about its use to be revealed in court. He continues to defend the invasion of Iraq. His campaign is helped by receiving nearly £200,000 to date, with £80,000 coming from three Blairite peers, Lords Ali, Sainsbury and Putnam. Although he has stood for ‘flexible labour markets’, this has not stopped him from getting endorsement from shop workers’ union USDAW whose members have been at the sharp end of such flexibility.

Ed Miliband (his brother)

Corpus Christi, Oxford University

Former Minister for the Environment who has now discovered it expedient to question the invasion of Iraq, although he still supports the war in Afghanistan. He has also discovered that he should have been against ID cards and ‘excessive use of stop and search powers.’ Another of his discoveries is that Labour, as the ‘party of the minimum wage, somehow became the party of maximum flexibility to work’ – a dig at brother David. In arguing for ‘better protection’ for workers he has not called for the repeal of the anti-trade union laws. He has however got the support of the three largest affiliated trade unions, Unison, the GMB and Unite. He also has the support of Tony Benn.

Ed Balls

Keble College, Oxford University

Former Children, Families and Schools Secretary. In 1992 he wrote a pamphlet advocating the independence of the Bank of England, a policy that was implemented by Gordon Brown in 1997. Like Ed Miliband, he has also discovered it advisable to distance himself from the past Iraq war – but not, of course, the current war in Afghanistan. He and wife Yvette Cooper ‘flipped’ their second home three times in two years. A further discovery he has made for the purpose of the election is that he urged Gordon Brown to talk more about immigration, that the Labour government should not have rejected transitional controls on migration from eastern Europe in 2004 and that he is against free movement of labour across Europe because it allows ‘unaccompanied migrants to send child benefit and tax credits back to families at home.’ As another who has not opposed the anti-trade union laws, he still has union support from the Communication Workers Union.

Andy Burnham

Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University

Former Health Secretary, he earlier had responsibility for implementing ID cards. In an interview in October 2007 he said ‘I think it’s better when children are in a home where their parents are married’ and ‘it’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage’. He claimed for mortgage interests on two houses at once, and for reimbursement for a mortgage which included capital repayment. His discovery is that Labour was too ‘timid’ about tax increases. He has said that the Labour Party has been in ‘denial’ over immigration for too long.

Diane Abbott

Newnham College, Cambridge University

The only contender who was not at one time in the Cabinet, Abbott sent her son to a private school having denounced Tony Blair for sending his children to selective state schools; she has also supported city academy schools in her Hackney constituency. She has made being an MP into a lucrative career, especially in her regular appearances on BBC’s This Week alongside Michael Portillo. She was forced to apologise to Parliament in 2004 for failing to declare £17,300 she earned from the programme. To prove her loyalty during the hustings she has described the achievements of the last Labour government as ‘magnificent’.

The purpose of the election is to select a candidate who will be able to lead the Labour Party into recreating the electoral coalition that enabled it to win three successive general elections. Abbott has criticised the other candidates for their view that Labour lost the election for being too soft on immigration. Yet any new leader will need to ensure Labour meets the requirements of the ruling class if it is to win another general election, and that will involve support for neo-liberal policies and for further attacks on immigrant workers as state sector cuts bite and workers lose their jobs.

Labour always has been an imperialist and racist party, and Abbott’s participation in the election just covers this up. The opportunist left is endorsing the charade by arguing that her election would make a difference; Socialist Worker (19 June 2010), for instance, stated that it ‘supported John McDonnell for Labour leader, as the candidate with the best left record. But in a contest between an anti-war left candidate and four former New Labour ministers, we back Diane Abbott.’

Whatever the outcome of the election itself in September, the Labour Party will remain a party fit for imperialism: the issue is not which candidate we should support, but how we build a movement that breaks with Labour altogether.

Robert Clough