Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bluish Brown and brown envelopes

So, how much money have various Labour politicians taken from slightly dodgy sources? On one level, I suppose, the answer is "who cares?" After all, we know that all political parties (including, apparently, "Respect") do it all the time. Peter Watt, the Labour Party General Secretary who has been forced to resign over the dodgy donations, was really doing no more than his job. As an appointed bureaucrat, his job was to make the heavily indebted Party solvent and not ask too many questions about where the money was coming from.

This, however, begs the question. Peter Watt was doing his job, yes, but was it a job worth doing? The people who appointed him certainly were not entitled to make him the scapegoat for a general acceptance of borderline illegality among the Party leadership; and wanting to accumulate donations is natural for a Party bureaucrat. The fact is, though, that the public at large is not happy. They don't understand the precise legal issues, but they don't like the Labour Party taking money from people who are slightly dodgy and, more importantly, very rich. And this is actually a good thing.

You see, people expect some corruption from the Tories. It took a much greater amount of "sleaze" and two prison sentences for perjury for the Tory Party to become associated with an unacceptable level of corruption. It takes much less in the case of Labour because somewhere in their minds, working-class people still think Labour is their party. This, however, is a point of view that is receiving more and more shocks.

The Party leadership would do well to remember that the purpose of a political party is to win elections, not to balance the books. It's all very well getting money to spend on expensive campaigns but if the way the money is got will put people off voting for you, it's at best a wasted effort and more probably, very risky indeed. People don't vote Labour because they get a glossy mini-pamphlet through their door with a photoshopped picture of Gordon Brown getting down with some kids on the cover. They vote Labour despite...well, you get the picture. The most effective means of getting people to vote for you is, always has been and always will be personal contact door to door with Party activists. That and having policies that actually help and empower people of course, and not selling off their homes, schools and hospitals!

This being the case, what is the worst thing Brown could possibly do now? Well, he could insist on sticking to the same old neo-liberal policies that have halved the number of Party members since 1997, and at the same time indicate symathy for Hayden Phillips' idea of restricting union donations - the one kind of donation that hasn't been involved in some kind of scandal! And this, er - this is what he is doing. Already Brown has got the unions to vote to stop themselves putting contempoorary resolutions to Labour Party Conference, under the cover of spurious election fever. This is highly likely to result in yet more union disaffiliations for Labour and deceasing union participation in anything to do with Labour or elections.

The old situation in which Labour had a virtual monopoly of the vote in many working-class areas has already been greatly undermined. Does Brown want to strike it the final blow, and condemn Britain to a future of coalition government? If so he's going the right way about it. We thought it was Blair who thought the formation of the Labour Party had been a mistake (!!!) and was over-keen on the Liberals - though the way the Liberals are going at the moment, they're more likely to form a coalition with the Tories than with Labour. And we all know what happens with "no overall control". We've probably seen it in our local councils. The invariable result is a f###ing mess.

The unions and the left are going to have to make a crucial decision, and make it now. There are two ways to reassert the voice of the working class in politics. One is to form a new workers' party, but if the union leaderships won't even assert their members' rights in the Labour Party, they certainly won't do that. The only alternative, then, is to fight wholeheartedly and unsparingly, starting now, to reverse both the undemocratic constitutional "reforms" of the Bournemouth conference and the current direction of the Labour Party. Otherwise those dedictaed Brown-noser union leaders like Derek Simpson who constantly insist on the primacy of supporting the Labour government, even if it's "not ideal", may soon find themselves not only without an "ideal" Labour government, but without any Labour government at all!

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