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Why I won't vote for the blood-stained Labour Party

Liz Davies

 

I’ve spent most of my life as an active member of the Labour Party, but I won’t be voting Labour on 5 May. Let me explain why.

The Labour Party was always far from ideal but no serious socialist could deny its real achievements and positive impact on working-class lives – most enduringly in the creation of the NHS.

But the Labour Party that built the NHS no longer exists. The Labour Party that offers itself for election in 2005 is hostile to working-class interests and is an enemy of democratic rights and social equality. It is the principal British instrument of neo-liberalism, which is why it commands the support of the bulk of the British ruling class (which is not to say that significant sections don’t still yearn for the Tories). Above all, Labour in 2005 is the party of war and of imperialism.

The responsibility for Labour’s crimes against humanity does not lie solely with Blair, Straw and the rest of the Cabinet (although every one of them is a war criminal). A majority of the PLP supported the war. Whilst it is true that, on the eve of invasion, a large minority of Labour MPs voted against military intervention, they did so under pressure from the unprecedented mass anti-war movement that took shape entirely outside the Labour Party. Since then, all but a tiny handful have fallen back into line. They have not spoken out against the occupation of Iraq, which is no more justifiable than the invasion itself. When a morally reprehensible act of imperialism is ongoing, voting against it on a single occasion in the past is no more than a token gesture. To reward those MPs with support at the ballot box would make a joke of the anti-war movement.

The Party as a whole also bears a heavy responsibility for the crimes of the last few years. It’s true that large numbers of Party members were appalled by the invasion of Iraq. But their opposition did not result in any significant rebellion at any of Party Conferences. Significantly, not one pro-war MP was seriously threatened with de-selection by his or her local membership. That strikes me as incontrovertible evidence of a fundamental shift in the nature of the Party.

Once, Labour offered working-class people meaningful choice at the ballot-box. Today, it is an instrument whose main function is to obstruct that choice.

The argument that the Labour Party is organically linked to the working-class is no longer sustainable. The composition of the Party has changed – its activists and members are not only overwhelmingly middle class, but also have a vested interest in the managerial politics adopted by the government. The Party’s links with the corporate world (in donations, sponsorship, staff links, personal contacts) are stronger and more decisive than its remaining links with the trade unions. The cumulative changes in the Party’s constitution have deprived unions of any effective voice in policy-making or the selection of candidates (and, from my experience on the National Executive Committee, I know that union members’ representation there is purely nominal).

To continue to claim in 2005 that Labour is the representative of the working-class is to place Labour in some abstract realm transcending history and its material base. Surely, Marxists know that all social institutions change depending on their relationships with shifting class forces.

In reality, most of those who vote Labour will do so because they view it as the lesser of two evils. But while ‘lesser evilism’ has its place in politics, it cannot provide a strategic orientation for socialists. Leaving aside the minuscule current degree of difference between Labour and the Tories, this lesser evil argument effectively endorses the key plank of Blairism: that any atrocious compromise is justifiable if it helps win elections. I rejected that argument when I was in the Labour Party , and I continue to reject it. Blair won’t construe a vote for Labour as a vote for a “lesser evil” but as an endorsement of his policies and specifically a mandate for war and occupation.

A vote for Labour in this election is a vote for war, for occupation, for continuing assaults on civil liberties both domestically and internationally. True, there are a tiny number of Labour MPs who consistently and actively oppose the occupation, both inside and outside Parliament, and they should be supported at the ballot-box. But a vote for Labour elsewhere will license the government to commit more atrocities, in the knowledge that it will never pay an electoral price and will never be held to account.

In Scotland, all those who believe that war and occupation are wrong should vote for the Scottish Socialist Party. In England and Wales, the picture is murkier.

The Liberal Democrats’ opposition to the war was short-lived and largely opportunist. There may be a few constituencies where a tactical vote for a Liberal candidate who personally has an impressive anti-war record would defeat a pro-war Labour MP, but, for the most part, that is not the case.

Respect is largely a creature of the SWP – an organisation which in my experience has utter contempt for democracy, diversity and for the integrity of the broader mass movement. Respect’s refusal to endorse the fundamental democratic principle of secularism must raise grave doubts for any serious socialist. And its claim to be the party of the anti-war movement is simply untrue, displays a sectarian cynicism and contempt for the breadth and diversity of our movement.

In many constituencies, the Greens constitute the only viable anti-war vote. I support the Greens’ two outstanding MEPs, but the Party as a whole has serious weaknesses. It engaged only intermittently with the active anti-war movement and its position around the occupation of Iraq remains ambiguous. Activists should press for clear answers on this crucial issue from every candidate in their constituencies, including the Greens.

The unsatisfactory choices facing socialists in England and Wales are the result of the political inadequacies of the left as a whole over the last few years. I don’t pretend that there are simple answers. But what socialists cannot do is to avoid the problem, pretend that New Labour is an acceptable choice or that any of the existing alternatives are adequate.

 

Liz Davies was a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee between 1998 – 2000.

 

April 2005

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First published by the Radical Activist Network

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