Labour’s so-called radical 3rd term hangs on a cold,
cynical, unscrupulous calculation by the Blairites and their
coterie – that enough votes will be cast for Labour
to ensure a majority of seats in the British Parliament at
the next General Election.
How else can the outcome of the 2004 Labour Party Conference
and its immediate aftermath be understood?
The trade unions were squared off at the National Policy
Forum in Warwick with a lengthy, but modest programme of
workplace reforms. Some members of the awkward squad wanted
to be more radical in Brighton. The response from No.10 was
blunt – “Rock the boat and you can forget Warwick”.
Efforts to mobilise delegates by the disparate and growing
number of ginger groups on the centre-left of the Party working
under the Umbrella project got I-R-A-Q on the agenda, just.
In the Priorities ballot CLP delegates were advised by Labour
Party staff to vote for the Trade Union priorities. Those
four subjects were guaranteed Agenda time under a Rule change
promoted by CLPD last year to give CLPs an opportunity to
add four subjects for debate to the Conference agenda. That
abuse of party democracy is just one of the subjects of official
complaints to the NEC in the aftermath of the 2004 Conference.
Defiance over Iraq was sufficient to get the issue debated.
That aside, there was no space anywhere that might matter
in Brighton for a considered discussion about Labour’s
To make the point without further ado, Tony Blair announced
his intention to serve a full 3rd term the day after Conference
ended. His audacity can only be applauded. At least it has
helped sharpen debate.
To realise his personal ambition, the Labour leader can
call a General Election any time in the next 18 months. No
checks and balances have been proposed to introduce a trigger
ballot mechanism for the re-election of Leader and Deputy
Leader while Labour is in government. So what are the likely
dates? If the proposed elections in Iraq take place in relative
peace and calm, and the legitimacy of the interim Iraqi government
is enhanced, then an early British general election in 2005
cannot be ruled out. Matthew d’Ancona writing in the
Sunday Telegraph on 24 October concludes that the assignment
of a battalion of the Black Watch regiment to the so-called
triangle of death is nothing more than a stunt to improve
Labour’s electoral chances after the vote in Iraq.
Political commentators, betting services and most people
in the street remain fixed on a May 2005 election. But if
stuff happens, the British electorate could be denied its
opportunity until as late as early summer 2006. In the meantime
the Labour Party continues to lose activists, even if membership
has stabilised at around 200,000. That process has been aggravated
by the Labour leader’s determination to stay in office
for a full 3rd term if the British electorate so decide.
This in itself has still failed to register with the vast
majority of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Even
those whose chances of retaining their seats are non-existent,
let alone marginal, seem ready to remain loyal.
The national Labour Party faces a financial squeeze from
both declining membership, and more selective backing from
trade union affiliates. Its ability to fight the next election
with armies of willing volunteers will be more constrained
than at any time since 1997. The current leadership has squandered
the goodwill of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Labour
supporters willing to work in election campaigns.
Democratic socialists organising under the Umbrella are
the only group within the Labour Party willing and able to
tackle this issue head on.
First, there are doubts about what will actually be in the
next Election manifesto. No sooner was Conference over than
the government was acting as though the votes on rail nationalisation
and council housing did not matter. Troops were being assigned
to the US sector in Iraq. And the country was offered the
prospect of Las Vegas-style casinos from Lands End to John
Second, even if the Election manifesto were to commit Labour
to policies that reflected the Party’s core values,
there would be no guarantee that the policies would either
be implemented, and/or replaced by other policies the day
after the next election. Is the risk of a repeat of the Foundation
Hospitals and top-up fees sagas likely to encourage members
to campaign? Members of the PLP might think that they have
this issue under control. Maybe the Iraq troop redeployment
issue has disabused them of that idea.
Thirdly, let’s suppose the current leader were to
decide to spend more time with his family. Would the Labour
Party be any better equipped as an organisation to ensure
that the next leader did not extend the scope for patronage,
personal preferment and the petty corruption of the political
process to new and yet, unspecified extremes?
These are the sorts of issues which are coming to the forefront
of the minds of anyone active in the Party starting to organise
for a General Election. That’s in addition to the subject
The only way to tackle these issues is to organise a campaign
starting now to make the 2005 Conference a defining moment
by restoring party democracy. A consensus needs to be built
among all sections of the party. Have vast improvements to
the economy, the welfare state, and Britain’s commitment
to developing countries been achieved under Labour? Yes.
Is there a lot more to do? Yes. Do we want the Tories back?
So why have so many people left the Party? Why are so many
of those remaining in membership unwilling to campaign, or
are threatening to vote for one of the opposition parties?
The albatross around the Party’s neck is widely seen
as the current leader. Save the Labour Party (STLP) takes
the view that it is a lack of commitment to democratic practice
within the Party that is the problem that has to be addressed.
STLP is holding its Annual General Meeting on 13 November
in London. The committee will be presenting its programme
for 2005. This will include a comprehensive set of proposals
to rebuild party democracy for a 3rd term. This is vital
if rank-and-file morale both of members and the Trade Union
movement is to be lifted enough to encourage more active
campaigning in the next general election campaign. The idea
that members are going to campaign to enable the present
Leader to preside over another full term in government with
unlimited powers of patronage is looking increasingly ridiculous.
The shortest odds at the bookies suggest most punters expect
him to be gone in 2006.
We have a choice.
We can run the risk of I-R-A-Q proving to be the shortest
suicide note in history and do nothing. (Those active in
the party in the early 1980s will recall an often quoted
remark by Gerald Kaufman MP who, with the benefit of hindsight,
described the 1983 election manifesto as ‘the longest
suicide note in history’.) Or we can organise now and
let the leader decide if he wishes to remain leader in the
event of a restoration of democratic socialism. As far as
the polls are concerned they tend to suggest that Labour
will enhance its electoral prospects with a new Leader, providing
the succession is managed well.
Peter Kenyon chair of Save the Labour Party writes in a