Every country needs a labour party
We no longer have one
George Galloway - 20 April 2006
If Blair loses votes to the BNP next month, it will be because New Labour has abandoned working class communities and values
Labour's long retreat from class politics - marked by the marginalisation of trade unions, privatisation, the abandonment of council housing and the helter-skelter of billionaires queueing up to fill the party funding gap - has finally forced some worms to turn.
Margaret Hodge, New Labour minister and formerly Islington's red duchess, and Jon Cruddas, once Downing Street's union-link man, have broken ranks to highlight the rupture in Labour's heartland: the end of the 100-year affair with white working people, those with nothing to sell except their work.
Labour's 1945-97 coalition of the working class and progressive middle-class allies - buttressed from the mid-60s by millions of mainly Commonwealth migrants - is being crushed in a vice-like process. The abandonment of traditional Labour social policy has been coupled with a foreign policy that deeply alienates parts of that coalition. The resulting fracture is now haemorrhaging votes from each element.
The point is well made by Chris Jones, professor of social policy at Liverpool University, in his critique of the lauded but less than scholarly book The New East End. It is not, as the study claimed, welfare dependency that breeds poverty and inter-ethnic strife, but rather "the onslaught on state welfare workers over the past 25 years, the reductions in welfare provision, the hollowing-out of social and community facilities in so many working-class neighbourhoods".
When the mainly Asian women workers of Gate Gourmet were sacked last year at three minutes' notice by a Texan billionaire with a bullhorn in the firm's car park, the widespread revulsion disguised this underlying reality: he was within his rights, and the women had almost none. When Tony Blair boasts that we have the "most flexible" labour force in western Europe, he really means the most sackable (as Peugeot's workers have discovered), working the longest hours with greater job insecurity, some of the poorest conditions of service, and the lowest pensions - even they are under threat from a spurious pensions crisis.
In the East End of London, the names of labour-movement luminaries such as Arthur Deakin and George Lansbury grace council blocks - the reward for stoicism in the Blitz and postwar Labour loyalty. Those estates are now among the many which have been ruthlessly driven out of council tenure and into the semi-privatised netherworld. The spectacle of a council, a Labour council, scuttling around in limousines spending hundreds of thousands of public pounds on DVDs and glossy magazines in order to persuade its tenants never to darken the town hall door again might have even Neil Kinnock's hair turn red again.
When Mr Blair bragged to the assembled claque at a soiree in the headquarters of Goldman Sachs - whose partners are among the richest people in Britain - that everyone present was paying less in income tax under him than under Margaret Thatcher, he seemed neither to understand nor care how repellent that sounded during a third Labour term and with multiple urban deprivation beginning just a stone's throw from the City.
In meetings across the country over the past couple of years I have been arguing that every country needs a labour party - but that Britain no longer has one. A party that will serve working people, whose interests are different and separate - as Keir Hardie argued more than a century ago - from those of Goldman Sachs. A party that will care for those now too old to work; for those who are not yet old enough to work but deserve the right to free study; for the poor, the marginalised, the migrants.
We have been challenging, from the left, New Labour's refusal to represent those it was elected to serve. Hodge and Cruddas are highlighting the threat posed in parts of east London and the north of England by the brown-shirted bread-and-butter "patriots" of the British National party, their poisonous pitch spiced with anti-immigrant rancour.
White workers on low pensions or wages, served by inadequate schools and hospitals, living in substandard housing, have, we are told, fallen for the falsehood that the interests of the black poor and white poor can be separate too.
As the former car workers of Dagenham and the West Midlands, mill-hands in Lancashire and miners in Yorkshire watch their rulers cavort with the undeserving rich, it's little wonder if some are prey to the patter of Nick Griffin and his fascism-lite. The worst thing to do under such circumstances is to make concessions to the BNP's immigrant-bashing or to slander white working-class people as irredeemably racist, while continuing with the destructive neoliberal policies that are fragmenting and impoverishing working-class communities.
The fascists were driven out of the East End in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s by uncompromising opposition to their racist filth and through the unity of white, black and Asian working people around genuine labour-movement values of solidarity and equality. Yet they are not the values prized by New Labour. The party made its bed when it abandoned those things that had commanded the loyalty of generations for the fool's gold that is the temporary favour of rich men. In next month's local elections it will have to lie in it - its former heartland supporters the victims, not the villains of the piece.
George Galloway is the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow
- from The Guardian Unlimited