Friday, August 25, 2006

Leaving Labour for the Liberal Democrats

Labour has lost around 200,000 members since Blair took over, so another few dozen will hardly be missed. Frankly, my dears, I doubt the Blairites give a damn:

‘Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is facing defections from her local Labour Party over the Middle East crisis.

‘The Liberal Democrats say they expect 30 to 40 Labour members in Mrs Beckett's Derby South constituency to defect to them on Friday afternoon.

‘The defectors, who include some local Labour Party officials, are angry that the government refused to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.’

One of those departing explains the move like this:

‘Mohammed Rawail Peeno, who was chairman of the Arboretum branch of Derby's Labour Party, said he and the other defectors were protesting against the mishandling of the Lebanon crisis.

‘"When Margaret Beckett refused to back a ceasefire and instead sided with George Bush it was the breaking point for us," he said. ‘"New Labour have abandoned the beliefs that led me and thousands of others to join Labour in the first place."'

It’s not really clear from this quote exactly what those beliefs were. That rather depends on when the guy signed up, I suppose. But the implication is that the Lib-Dems now represent some sort of progressive alternative to Labour and the Tories. Personally I think that case is difficult to sustain.

I joined the Labour Party in 1981, on the political basis of agreeing with the political platform put forward by the Bennite left. The intellectual conversion to Marxism came a year or two later.

By the time I left in 1995, it was clear to me that Labour was finished even as a vehicle for the mildest variants of social democracy, let alone any brand of politics that presents a challenge to capitalism.

Every time New Labour boasts that it is the party of business, it is boasting about being the party of Rupert Murdoch, the party of profit and the market, the party of private greed above social provision.

Blair’s so-called ‘reforms’ are not reforms at all. They are retreats and concessions. Our prime minister is ‘courageous’ and ‘unbending’ when it comes to taking on the poor, the weak and the working class. For the rich, the strong and the powerful, he is happy to be meek, when not utterly sycophantic.

And, to quote my old mucker Paul Anderson from 2004:

‘Where the Lib-Dems differ from the government, their position is still either more explicitly egalitarian and redistributionist (top-up fees, council tax), more libertarian (asylum policy), more coherently democratic (electoral reform, the House of Lord, the European Union constitution) or more pacifist (the Iraq war).’

Yet are they a party democratic socialists can even offer a protest vote for, let alone join? Whatever the soft left propensities of most of the party’s activist base, who are probably well to the left of Blairism, I think not.

At the leadership level, the intellectually dominant trend is the Orange Book group, who are flirting with policies that go far beyond Alan Milburn’s wettest dreams.

Stripped of the jargon, they privately favour such ideas as scrapping income tax in favour of a flat tax system that would massively benefit the rich, and the privatisation and break up of the NHS in favour of a ‘social insurance model’.

Mohammed Rawail Peeno and his fellow defectors may have something of a shock coming to them.

UPDATE: Subsequent reports make it plain that the majority of those leaving are Muslims. It's noticeable they are not heading to Respect.

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