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  Issue No 47 Official Organ of LaborNet 24 March 2000  




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A Move to the Left?

John Passant look's at 'Red Ken' Livingstone's tilt at Mayor of London and what it means for the Radical Left.


"Red Ken" Livingstone

"The Third Way is dead." This could be the headline of any left-wing paper in the United Kingdom today.

While it is not one hundred per cent true, it is clear that there are changes going on in British society which represent a real opportunity for the radical left.

The catalyst for a swing to the left in the country has been Ken Livingstone's decision to stand as an independent for the Mayor of London.

After 31 years in the British Labour Party, the former Mayor of London and Labour Party Minister has had enough. He was forced into his decision by Tony Blair's stitch up of the election for the Labour party candidate for mayor.

Livingstone won three quarters of union votes and 60 per cent of constituency member votes. Yet he was unsuccessful because the voting system favoured MPs. The Labour candidate will be Frank Dobson, a former Health minister whose only claim to the job is that he is a supporter of British PM Tony Blair.

Of course, the modernisers in the Labour Party immediately attacked Livingstone as a Labour rat and traitor. Livingstone's reply was that he had not deserted the party; rather Labour had deserted him and the hundreds of thousands of activists who are the backbone of the Party and the Labour movement.

How so? The British Labour party is dominated by Tony Blair and his supporters. They have wrapped themselves in a pseudo-analysis called the Third Way. It is disguised Thatcherism.

A look at Labour in power shows the truth of this statement. British voters swept the tired and discredited Tories out of office in 1997. They expected change.

Instead they got more of the same - cuts to health and education, the privatisation of major assets, attacks on pensioners, racism, a failure to address the minimum wage adequately. And all the time Blair and his mates have hobnobbed with company directors, proclaiming the Party to be the party of business. Attacking pensioners and drinking with Rupert Murdoch sends a strong message to ordinary Labour voters.

New Labour's politics mean that it attacks its base and has produced an underlying anger. Livingstone's candidature gives a focus for that anger.

New Labour shifted to the right on the basis that left-wing policies are pass� and could not win them an election. Livingstone is proving them wrong.

In the early 1980s he was the mayor of London. He stood up to Thatcher and her pro-market policies. He was incredibly popular. For example, his Fair Fares policy cut tube and bus prices by 25 per cent and saw usage increase by seven and eleven per cent respectively.

He was so popular, and his policies such an alternative to Thatcherism, that Thatcher solved the problem by abolishing the Council. At that time, two in three Londoners were Labour voters.

Livingstone is no longer Red Ken. Yet his policies, particularly his opposition to the privatisation of the tube, still have majority support. The first opinion poll after Livingstone decided to run as an independent showed he had 63 % support. The official Labour candidate received 13 per cent and the Tories 11 per cent.

Now, this strong support fro Livingstone may not hold up under a sustained Labour party campaign. Yet Livingstone and his supporters are confident he can win the mayoralty in May.

The Blairites will depend on the Labour party activists in London to campaign for them. It looks as if that is not going to happen. Branch after branch has declared for Livingstone. And many Labour party members are actively campaigning for Livingstone.

It is not only Livingstone who is popular. Paul Foot heads the London Socialist Alliance for the Greater London Authority. Foot is the UK journalist of the decade and a member of the extreme left Socialist Workers Party. Labour officials have privately admitted that this quasi-trotskyist has a good chance of being elected.

This is an historic time in the UK. The Labour Party there, like here, is made up of three strands - trade union leaders wanting stability, middle class intellectuals and others frustrated by the failure of the other parties to accept their ideas of moderate change, and socialists fighting for a better world.

The trade union leaders and middle class have dominated the Labour Party at the expense of the socialists and activists. Ken Livingstone's decision to run for London mayor as an independent and the possibility he might win show both the bankruptcy of New Labour and the popularity that left-wing arguments can have.

Socialist ideas are back on the agenda in the UK.

John Passant John Passant is a Canberra based writer.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 47 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Telstra Troubleshooter
Andrew Hillard first blew the whistle on Mal Colston�s expenses rorts; now he�s taking on Telstra over its tactics to drive down wages and conditions.
*  Unions: A Christmas (Recruitment) Story
Staff at the Illawarra Mutual Building Society organised their own Christmas present - and, with the help of a little e-mail, delivered 80 new members to the ASU's Clerical and Administrative Branch.
*  International: A Move to the Left?
John Passant look�s at �Red Ken� Livingstone�s tilt at Mayor of London and what it means for the Radical Left.
*  Legal: Going Broke: What Workers Should Do
A no nonsense guide to protecting your entitlements when the boss goes bust.
*  Politics: "I Can't Believe It's Not Peter Reith":
The NSW Labor Government is waging a dirty campaign against the NSW Teachers Federation in order to gain the upper hand in the long running award dispute.
*  History: One Big Nation
In the 1920�s rural Australia was arguing for its share of the national wealth through The Bush Workers Propaganda Group.
*  Satire: Toddler Death Fallout: BMW Releases New Oven
The Victorian Government has turned up the heat on the gambling and car industries following a spate of children being locked inside cars.
*  Review: The Stranger from Hobart
In his controversial new book, Peter Botsman lifts the lid on the unsung hero of federation, Andrew Inglis Clark

»  Insurance Deal Guarantees Entitlements
»  Casual Work Inquiry Moves Closer
»  Questions Over National Push for 36 Hours Week
»  WA Govt Pulls Plug on Unionists
»  A Fair Day�s Surf
»  Hotel Workers Jam AIRC
»  PM's Security Guards Walk off the Job
»  SOCOG Dances: Budget Not There
»  Women Win Right To Wear Trousers
»  Another Rustbucket On Our Coast
»  Catholic School Teachers Endorse Strike Action
»  We Can't Share the Spirit If We Can�t Afford the Rent
»  Unionist Honoured Posthumously
»  Radio Free East Timor

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