Socialist Alliance – old Labour for new

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Over the past couple of years most of the organisations on the British left have joined together in the Socialist Alliance (SA). The SA claims to be the start of a new movement, an alternative to Labour at the next general election. Its website states 'the Socialist Alliance represents a clear break in British politics...the future for the millions struggling for a better world, the overthrow of capitalism and a new sort of society...the most serious socialist challenge to the Labour Party for more than a generation'. This is a lofty claim. But should we believe it? Is the SA really a step forward for socialism in Britain? Does it represent something new? Or is it mutton dressed up as lamb, Old Labour in new garb? Jim Craven investigates.

Last time they told us to vote Labour

The leading members of the SA are the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Socialist Party (SP), Workers Power (WP), Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). All bar the last told us to vote for Labour at the 1997 general election. The largest of them, the SWP, has always tailed behind the official labour movement and consistently condemned the working class whenever they have fought back against imperialist attacks. The SWP welcomed British troops into Ireland in 1969, condemned the uprisings of black and white youth in 1981 and criticised miners' defence squads in 1984/85.

Despite the despicable racist and imperialist history of the Labour Party, the SWP and the rest of these groups have always maintained that Labour is some sort of working class party. Thus the CPGB, which portrays itself as on the left of SA, argues that 'It is true that Labour has not, as yet, gone through the final consummation of the Blair project and become an outright bourgeois party' (Weekly Worker 15 March). As an example of the difference between Labour now and Labour 30 years ago, it contrasts Wilson's inability to send troops to VietNam because of grassroots opposition to the war, with Blair's leading role in the wars against Iraq and Kosovo. But of course it 'forgets' Ireland like the rest of the left, and ignores the fact it was the Wilson government which sent troops into Ireland in 1969. Labour has always been an imperialist party!

Still tied to Labour's apron strings

So the left urged us to vote Labour in 1997, and peddled the illusion that it would be better than the Tories. Now that Labour has once again shown how reactionary it is, the left is having to mount a display of opposition. But its 'opposition' is always to 'New Labour' rather than to the Labour Party, and anyway is diluted to building an 'alternative'; thus the left is urged 'to build a left focus for the sense of disillusionment and betrayal with New Labour...with a view to involving all those who are looking to an alternative to New Labour's neo-liberal agenda' (Socialist Worker).

So instead of an unequivocal call for a decisive break with Labour, we get the most contorted formulations, such as this from the CPGB: 'Of course this (refusal to vote for Blair loyalists) in no way precludes tactical electoral support for any Labour candidate who concretely represents some kind of progressive working-class based opposition to, or break from, Blairism, thereby in some way constituting an expression of Labour's current submerged proletarian component.' As if! For 'submerged' read 'drowned', and that decades ago!

To show the limits of their 'opposition', SA candidates will not stand against 'left' Labour candidates or in Labour marginals. The SA even decided not to stand in Brent East because Ken Livingstone, whose seat it used to be, is backing the Blairite candidate. This is the same Livingstone whose election as London Mayor last May SA hailed as a 'break to the left from Labour'. In fact, the SWP make it clear 'we still prefer a Labour victory to a Tory one'. So whereas last time their election slogans were 'Vote socialist or Labour' and 'Kick the Tories Out', this year they will be 'Vote socialist - build a left alternative to Blair' and 'Don't let the Tories in'. Such is the insignificant political change in their position.

As with any electoral organisation, all that matters to the SA are votes, any votes, and it will twist, turn and spin its policies to get them. According to reports in the Weekly Worker, the SWP in the Bedfordshire SA opposed anti-monarchy and free abortion policies because they might scare-off potential royalist and pro-life voters. In Haringey, Louise Christian, the SA candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, claimed to oppose all immigration controls but didn't want to campaign around the slogan 'No immigration controls' even though she is standing against the appalling Immigration Minister Barbara Roche. Leading SWP member, Michael Bradley agreed, saying 'frustrated Labour Party members wouldn't vote for too radical an alternative'. The SA candidate for Tottenham, Weyman Bennett was another who did not want to put forward demands that might seem 'too radical' for union branches and regions.

At an SA manifesto conference in March (Weekly Worker 15 March), Hannah Sell, a leading member of the SP, was another who claimed to support the scrapping of immigration laws yet didn't want it included in the manifesto because the call for open borders was 'utopian' and 'even the most advanced sections of the working class' were against it. So it seems there are no votes to be won by opposing racism. Dave Packer of the International Socialist Group capped it all by saying, '(we) don't always have to tell the truth...(we) can reach out to forces to our right' and gave an example of how to do this by demanding 'more resources' for the police!

Old Labour promises

If you question their socialist credentials these people will point to radical demands which are in their manifesto. But when it comes to actually making a stand on these demands such as opposing immigration controls, SA retreats behind the electoral tactic of seeking broad-based support for moderate policies. Electioneering is replacing class struggle: very Old Labour indeed.

Most telling of all is the lack of any international issues among SA's major policies, apart from 'save the planet' and 'cancel Third World debt'. Key issues for the international working class and the defeat of imperialism are in practice ignored - victory to the Palestinian people, British imperialism out of Ireland, imperialist troops out of the Gulf, end the bombing and blockade of Iraq, defend socialist Cuba. These have to be defended by socialists claiming to 'represent the future for the millions struggling for a better world, the overthrow of capitalism and a new sort of society'. As with the call for an end to all immigration controls it is not surprising that groups refusing to oppose imperialism have kicked such demands into touch.

The revolutionary alternative for the working class

Voting for one bunch or another of racist, imperialist crooks, Labour or Tory, is no answer for the working class. Simply posing as an 'alternative' to 'the betrayal of New Labour' is no answer either. There can be no working class movement in this country until the Labour Party and every rotten tradition it stands for is smashed. The Socialist Alliance is neither 'a clean break in British politics' nor a 'socialist challenge to Labour'. It is an electoral ginger group; a tactical alliance of the tired social-democratic forces of the British left trying to patch together Old Labour out of New Labour cast-offs.

The alternative is to turn to the poorest sections of the working class who are fighting the realities of a Labour government, racism and imperialism every day of their lives, those who have no interest in Labour old or new. The new movement cannot be built artificially on the basis of electoral pacts, it will arise from the real class struggles of these people. The SA will be an irrelevance to them.

Snouts in the trough

As SA candidates trim and tailor their policies to maximise their votes, we will discover amongst them self-seekers who really hunger to get their snouts in the trough. We won't support them, and we won't support the SA project because it encourages this behaviour. Our position will be as it always has been: we will support any candidate who represents a real working class struggle or an independent working class political force.

Bribery and corruption – all in a day's work for Labour

The feeble whitewash by the Hammond Inquiry into the Hinduja brothers' passport applications cannot mask the cesspit of sleaze that the Labour Party and their big-business mates slosh around in.

Robinson rears from the slime again

Geoffrey Robinson, the Labour Paymaster General forced to resign over a dodgy £323,000 loan for Peter Mandelson's house, now stands accused of lying over a £200,000 payment from arch-crook and Labour supporter Robert Maxwell. Robinson swore blind that he never received the money. A report with proof about the payment was allegedly hushed up by Stephen Byers in 1999. Blair and Brown have rushed to Robinson's defence; they have, after all, benefited from his largesse. Blair has holidayed at Robinson's luxury villa in Tuscany, while Brown and his advisers have stayed at Robinson's apartment in Cannes. Robinson's business interests, like those of Maxwell before him, are littered with shady dealings.

Hands up if you think Mandelson is innocent

Hammond found 'no evidence' of a link between Peter Mandelson's 'inquiries' about the Hinduja brothers' passport applications and their offer to sponsor the Dome, and was 'unable to come to any definite conclusion' about whether Mandelson tried to hush up his contact with Mike O'Brien at the Home Office over the applications. This has allowed Mandelson to get off in return for promising not to expect any apologies or an early return to government.

Keith Vaz up to his neck in it

Hammond also excused Europe minister Keith Vaz of any improper support for the Hindujas' passport applications, despite the fact the Hindujas were sponsoring another millennium project with which Vaz was involved.

Vaz has refused to co-operate with another inquiry by the Commons Standards Committee into allegations of corruption in his Leicester East constituency. Allegations included receiving bribes for help with planning permissions and land deals and taking payments meant as Labour Party donations. To a further allegation that he received contributions from a company for his parliamentary campaign without disclosing the source of the company's income, Vaz said that he knew nothing of the company's affairs. The company is run by Vaz's wife and his mother!

New allegations accuse Vaz of not disclosing the Hinduja Foundation as the source of payments received by Vaz's company for helping to organise a Hinduja sponsored reception at the House of Commons. Suspicions of widespread corruption in the Leicester East constituency were reinforced when local Labour officers claimed to have lost records of financial transactions between them and Vaz.

Corruption is part of the system

This is not just a case of a few bad apples; of weak characters falling prey to occasional temptation. Bribery and corruption are endemic to capitalism. Swapping favours and greasing palms is all part of a day's work. It becomes so natural that those involved don't even register it as corruption. For the present Vaz retains 'the full support' of Blair and Robin Cook. After the election they may dump him, but more sleaze will follow.

Jim Craven

FRFI 160 April / May 2001