Editorial: Terrorised by the Tories

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Suddenly, there is panic on the left: with a general election likely in spring next year, Labour is trailing in the opinion polls, for the first time since shortly after the 1992 election. And the margin is not small: a poll just before the Labour Party conference gave the Tories an 8% lead. Hague's brutal, racist and populist policies seem to be an attractive option for the middle class and their allies in the upper sections of the working class, whose votes determine the outcome of general elections in this country.

These opinion poll results were a political thunderbolt for the left. Writing in The Guardian (21 September), John O'Farrell stated that `a Tory government is once again a genuine prospect that we have an urgent duty to prevent. So now is the time for everyone on the left to focus on returning a Labour government next year. To all the people who supported Ken Livingstone, all the people who backed Labour in opposition but would rather snipe from the sidelines than be tainted by support; all the people who vote Liberal, Green or Socialist Labour; the time for such luxuries is over now.' The chips are down for O'Farrell: forget the brutalities of the current Labour government, the same brutalities committed by a Tory government are too awful to contemplate.

O'Farrell is not the only one to be alarmed by the resurgence of the Tories. Socialist Worker also had an attack of the vapours in its editorial of 23 September: `But many who feel betrayed by Blair will also be horrified to see the Tories revive in the polls. The right must not be allowed to gain from New Labour's crisis.' It then moved into `pigs must fly' mode: `Union leaders should employ the militant tactics we saw across Britain last week to address the urgent issues facing ordinary people...Campaign blah blah...Back strike action and picketing blah blah...Lead demonstrations blah blah...fight blah blah...set up blockades and picket lines to save Dagenham blah blah...' In a tone of rising panic, it concludes `we have 60 days to force our agenda on New Labour. If we fail to do so, the beneficiary could be William Hague.' Well, it's a pretty tall order: to get the trade union leaders to do all these things within 60 days would require a remarkable if not revolutionary transformation of the state of the class struggle.

Yet there is purpose in this political nonsense. Socialist Worker is also preparing its position for the general election. In 1997, along with most of the left, it urged support for Labour despite the reactionary character of its policies. Given Labour's filthy record of the last three years, the SWP faces a dilemma. On the one hand, it has to retain its radical, apparently anti-Labour credentials. On the other, it is linked as if by an umbilical cord to the Labour left. It hails what it calls Tony Benn's `active socialist commitment to eliminating all forms of inequality', and parades Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and other left MPs at all sorts of meetings and demonstrations without ever demanding anything of them. This means that the SWP will not stand candidates on its own account against Labour: it cannot mount such a direct challenge. It needs to find a way of `opposing Labour' which neither jeopardises the chance of Labour being re-elected nor upsets Tony and Jeremy.
 
This explains the recent attraction of the SWP to the Socialist Alliance, until recently the property of a number of smaller left wing groups. The Socialist Alliance provides a convenient cover for the SWP. Under the guise of `non-sectarianism', the SWP and its left allies have found a vehicle for distancing themselves from Labour rather than confronting it. They describe themselves as a `socialist alternative' to New Labour or Blair, never an opposition. This enables them to retain their connections with the Labour left (Old Labour) whilst appearing to oppose the Labour government. They will select the constituencies in which they will stand candidates at the general election with great care. A recent leaflet from Islington Socialist Alliance says it is `thinking about whether we should stand a candidate locally in the General Election - obviously not in Islington North against Jeremy Corbyn, but against Chris Smith in Islington South.' Socialist Worker recently underlined the left's main concern: `Slamming the door in Hague's face means fighting for those (radical) policies now and at the election.' `Keep the Tories out' will be the slogan of the left to underline the fact that they do not want Labour to lose however many candidates stand on a Socialist Alliance platform.
 
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism's position at the forthcoming general election will be as it was in 1997: there is no choice between Labour and Tory. Nor does the Socialist Alliance offer any choice because it effectively constitutes the left face of the Labour Party. Socialists need to build an opposition to Labour, not some mealy-mouthed `alternative'. Labour has built a police state that has increasingly criminalised political protest. Thousands of police protected the Labour Party conference against any protest. Labour has supported the arms industry and opened up government to enable representatives of multinationals to determine financial and industrial policy. Labour has showed itself as ready as the Tories to defend British imperialist interests by force of arms. Its brutal treatment of asylum-seekers continues a racist tradition from its foundation 100 years ago. Any new working class movement will have to fight Labour if it is to make any progress. It will also have to fight those who apologise for Labour, including those who stand on a Socialist Alliance platform.

FRFI 157 October / November 2000

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