Opposing austerity, challenging racism and fighting for socialism means destroying the Labour Party

The central question we face is how can we build a movement to turn back the tide of reaction epitomised by the victory of a populist and nationalist Brexit campaign, the election of Trump as US President, and the possibility that the racist populist Marine le Pen wins the French presidential election in May? Such a movement has to challenge imperialism, and make both the possibility and the necessity of socialism central to its political message. It must break with, and oppose, the forces of opportunism whose purpose is to isolate and destroy any independent movement of the working class. In Britain that means a relentless struggle against the Labour Party and its apologists on the left. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader led some to argue that the Party could now become a progressive force and lead the fight against austerity. The evidence shows the opposite: Corbyn is absolutely determined to maintain the unity of the Labour Party and make any concession necessary to that end. Robert Clough reports.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) remains a bastion of reaction which Corbyn has refused to confront. Time and again he has conceded to it as it sides openly with British imperialist interests – over immigration, or the supposed Russian threat, and even the supply of weapons to the barbaric Saudi regime. These concessions have done nothing to promote Labour’s standing in the polls: all they have shown is that Corbyn is completely ineffectual.

Some Labour MPs are already predicting electoral disaster in a 2020 general election no matter who leads the party and are looking to cash in on their position now. Cumbria MP Jamie Reed, a vociferous supporter of nuclear energy, resigned at the beginning of 2017 to become a director of Sellafield Ltd. Tristram Hunt, a prominent Corbyn opponent, resigned at almost the same time to take up a position as director of the Victoria & Albert museum, triggering a by-election in his Stoke-on-Trent constituency which UKIP leader Paul Nuttall may well win.

Two MPs have bailed out, but over 80% of the PLP remains implacably opposed to Corbyn. On 27 October, 102 Labour MPs abstained on a Labour motion to suspend support for Saudi Arabia for the duration of its assault on Yemen. The motion was so toothless that it did not call for an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that British-made cluster bombs have been used against Yemeni civilians, 10,000 of whom have been killed in the Saudi war. Along with supporting Trident renewal, the majority of Labour MPs support the government’s sabre- rattling against Russia. Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffiths has explicitly endorsed the dispatch of British troops and fighter planes to Estonia and Poland, speaking of the need ‘to send a very clear message to Russia’. The only time that Corbyn has used a three-line whip over the PLP is to support the government bill to initiate Brexit: a stance that does nothing to defend or promote the interests of the working class.

Meanwhile Labour councils are implementing savage cuts in services as central government grants are cut further and they rely more and more on revenue from council tax and business rates:

• Sunderland Council is closing down its remaining domestic violence refuges. Labour councillors have decided to sacrifice the safety of women in their determination to continue running the council.

• In the North West, Sefton council will shed 350 staff, slashing adult social care. Mayor Joe Anderson in neighbouring Liverpool, where 3,000 jobs have been cut over the past six years, proposed a local referendum to enable the council to increase council tax by 11% to pay for adult social services. His suggestion was swiftly dropped. Manchester’s social care budget will be cut by £27m. Rochdale council will implement £39m cuts over the next two years, while its Labour councillors have voted themselves a 34% increase in their allowances.

• Birmingham council has slashed £650m from its budget since 2010. A further £113m will be cut in 2017- 2018. In 2008, the council employed 24,000 staff. Today there are just 12,500 employees and by 2020 there may only be 8,000. By then Birmingham will have imposed cuts totalling £800m.

• In London, Newham council is threatening to sack up to 1,300 workers, and enforce new contracts with reduced maternity, overtime and night pay as it tries to cut £70m from its current £136m annual budget by 2020/21. Lewisham council is facing a growing funding shortfall of £20.8m by 2019-2020, having already imposed cuts of £150m since 2010. These are two of the many Labour councils which work hand-in-hand with private developers to kick working class people out of their council homes to implement enormously lucrative ‘regeneration’ deals (see page 4 of this issue).

Councils will be able to raise council tax by 4.99% this year to help fund social care, but increasing this regressive tax will raise at most £900m when the funding gap is at least £1.9bn and may be as much as £2.8bn. The Mears Group, which provides domiciliary care, has withdrawn from two contracts in Liverpool and Wirral because the two councils offer hourly rates of £13.10 and £12.92 respectively for such care, well below the minimum £16.70 recommended by the UK Homecare Association. Other private companies will follow: a Care Quality Commission report notes that, over 2016, ‘the profit margin for domiciliary care providers has continued to fall’. Between 2010 and 2017 council spending has been cut by 22% or £49.5bn per year. Within that, housing expenditure has been slashed by 45% or £3bn, and adult social spending has been cut by 10% or £23.2bn (The Economist, 28 January 2017).

The left of the Labour Party organised in Momentum has shown that its purpose is to halt any challenge to the Labour Party. When some Labour leaders denounced the Lambeth branch for participating in a demonstration against Lambeth Labour council cuts, its members immediately apologised and abandoned the campaign. The rule change at the 2016 Labour Party conference which banned councillors from supporting or abstaining on illegal – ie, no cuts – council budgets or voting against a ‘legal budget proposed by the administration’ means that the Labour left will stop any challenge to Labour councils implementing ever more savage cuts. Now the Momentum leadership requires every Momentum member to be a member of the Labour Party – and therefore bound by the same rule. It is a completely reactionary force.

Corbyn has not changed Labour: he never could. There has been no upsurge in the fight against austerity. There has been no shift to the left. There has been no renewal. Far from it: Labour councils are spear-heading the attack on the working class. Labour remains what it was when it was established in 1900: a racist, imperialist, anti-working class party. Now it could not be clearer: fighting austerity, fighting racism, fighting for socialism means fighting the Labour Party and its apologists.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017