Following the recent EU and local government elections Elizabeth Farrell of the New Worker talks to New Communist Party General Secretary Andy Brooks about the present situation and the way forward.

Elizabeth Farrell: First of all what do you think of Labour’s poor performance in last month’s local and European elections?

Andy Brooks: Well it didn’t come as any surprise to us. Many Labour supporters sat on their hands and others used the opportunity to register their protest against the Labour Government over the Iraq War. The major beneficiaries in the local elections were the Liberal Democrats who were cashing in on their vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq. And in the European elections one of the biggest winners was the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which positioned itself between the Tories and the fascist BNP to garner a substantial number of European parliamentary seats. The only exception was in London where the Labour vote largely held. That was clearly due to the leadership of Ken Livingstone who is an outspoken critic of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

EF: Some on the left were expecting a swing towards Respect…

AB: Yes and a lot of that was wishful thinking from George Galloway downwards. The Respect coalition was based on two fallacies. One is that there is a “Muslim constituency” in Britain that would rally to a pro-Islamic platform. The second is the belief that you can conjure up a left social-democratic alternative to Labour outside the Labour Party in a matter of months aimed at working people but without any significant support from organised labour. Time and time again we’ve seen working class leaders – and George Galloway was one of them – diverted down this road to nowhere.
The basis of bourgeois democracy is the manipulation of the largest number of votes by the smallest number of people. And British bourgeois democracy is essentially two-party system and in parliamentary and local elections voters are choosing governments or council administrations. The “choice” of course is very limited – either the openly big business party of the Conservatives that until recently was trusted by the entire ruling class to represent their interests or the reformist social-democratic Labour Party that until recently was supported and financed by the mass of organised labour.
Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance have come and gone. The revisionist communists died the death of a thousand cuts in the futile pursuit of the dream of the “British Road to Socialism” from the 1950s onwards and the rump that is left in the CPB are still walking down that road to oblivion. They argue in practice that the only way to defeat social democracy is to imitate it. Like Respect today, they demand social-democratic reforms while campaigning against the only mass force capable of implementing reforms – the Labour Party.
The problem that Respect and the others face is that there’s really no room in the British political spectrum for more than one social-democratic party. So they all end up denouncing the Labour Party as the major enemy of the working class and ignore the fact that it is the ruling class that oppresses us. Objectively they end up in the camp of the class enemy. But working people are often much wiser than those who hope to lead them and that’s why these parties remain isolated amongst the working class.
As for the “Muslim vote” it simply does not exist. There are religious lobbies from all the major faiths in this country but none of their clerical or self-appointed leaders represents the entire community of nominal believers. Most Muslim workers, in fact, have voted Labour in the past. And apart from a better than average vote in London – still less than that of the Greens who did get on to the London Assembly – Respect’s national vote was less than 2 per cent. Galloway’s campaign and the results of that campaign were entirely predictable.

EF: What about UKIP which won 12 seats in the EU parliament…

AB: But what does that swing represent? UKIP isn’t an alternative to the Tories though it has an alternative Tory platform – on one issue alone. UKIP says it stands for British independence but the “British” it represents are a section of the ruling class and the “independence” it says it’s defending is only against the European Union. UKIP says nothing about ridding the country of US imperialism’s military bases and it says nothing about Britain leaving Nato. That really would be defending “UK independence”.
UKIP represents that section of the ruling class most opposed to the Euro and the institutions of the European Union who want to force the Conservatives into a Eurosceptic straight-jacket. That’s all it is.

After these elections what do think the focus should be for communists…

AB: Well I think that when we look at what the elections are telling us we see that the majority of people are opposed to the war in Iraq and that they want to see British troops withdrawn. Labour’s poor performance in the local elections – the worst since 1910 – shows that as long as Blair is leader and as long as the Labour government continues along Blair’s path Labour will not enjoy the confidence of the mass of working people.
What the EU vote shows, if you add all the UKIP votes along with the vast majority of voters who didn’t bother to vote at all – which was the NCP’s position -- is that the overwhelming mass of the people hold the European parliament in contempt and are, indeed, opposed to the capitalist European Union. This indicates the two areas in which communists need to redouble their efforts.
The paramount issue is the demand for an immediate an unconditional withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq and the second is to campaign against the proposed new European constitution and the Euro, if and when these questions are put to the people.

But that would demand a change of leadership in the Labour Party…

AB: And that too is one of the conclusions being drawn from the analysis of the June vote, if nothing else, in some Labour quarters. The Tory vote held and in some areas improved under their new Howard leadership. And no one can be in any doubt that a Conservative government would be far worse than even the Blair government we’ve got today. Howard sees himself as the inheritor of the mantle of Thatcher. He was a Cabinet minister in her government and he believes in continuing Thatcher’s anti-working class policies with more vigour than what we’ve got from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. If the Conservatives were to ever be returned to office we would see an even more ferocious attack on the unions and the working class.
But the choice for working people cannot be reduced to which one is the worse – Blair or Howard? The choice of people clearly has to be for a Labour Party that reflects the demands of working people and not the differences between certain elements within the ruling class on how to best exploit those they oppress.
The campaign that the NCP puts forward is for a return of a Labour government and for the support of independent Labour candidates who have mass support from the labour movement. The demand for a change of the leadership and direction of the Labour Party has to be accelerated.
At last there have been some challenges to the Blair leadership within the trade union movement. They have not always been the most well-thought moves and they sometimes reflect the sectarian agenda of the left social-democratic and Trotskyite alternatives we talked about earlier.

Like the calls for disaffiliation from Labour?

Yes. The moves amongst the fire-fighters and railway workers are prime examples. There’s understandable anger amongst the rank-and-file at the Blair government’s treachery in dealing with their pay claims. But disaffiliation means much more than simply cutting off the money supply to Labour. It essentially writes off the entire Labour Party. And it implies that Labour cannot be changed and that the unions that created the party in the first place and still provide it with most of its funds can never influence it. And all the advocates of disaffiliation have to offer, as an alternative, is either support of left fringe social-democratic parties like Respect or nothing at all.
Well, the Labour Party was established in the first place to provide an alternative to both these strategies – if we can call them that – which existed in the late 19th century. Non-affiliation, essentially allowing a union’s leadership to pick and choose whom to back at election time was what we had before Labour was established. In practice it meant that the unions of those days endorsed the Liberals.
Support of fringe parties is based on the belief that it is somehow easier to build another social-democratic party than to defeat the right-wing and democratise the one we’ve already got. These moves play into the hands of the right-wing and those who ride on the backs of the left within the union movement who argue with some justification that if it were successful the only people who will ultimately benefit are the Tories themselves.
Nevertheless these anti-Blair motions do represent the beginnings of a campaign within the class to defeat Blair and the clique around him. It is crucial for Labour’s survival as a governing party that Blair, who is clearly an albatross around Labour’s neck, is dumped.

But it would have to be more than a cosmetic change at the top…

AB: Yes, certainly and that’s one of the reasons why Gordon Brown’s challenge has been so ineffectual. Though we are told of great rows between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in the papers all this seems to boil down to is Brown’s belief that he has been cheated out of his inheritance by Blair -- who apparently promised him a shoo-in after one or two terms in return for his support for Blair after John Smith died. But they are both united in continuing the Tory policy of oppression and they are united in supporting the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the ruling class who see their interests best preserved in alliance with US imperialism. Blair’s personal standing in the opinion polls remains at minus 20. Brown isn’t likely to fare any better given that he’s not likely to change course. Brown’s camp is essentially Blair’s and none of their followers can see so any immediate advantage in swapping one dead horse for another.
Their problem is that the Iraq issue simply won’t go away. Blair and his cronies keep on telling the people to put the war behind us. Their merchants of spin come up with cheap stunts -- like the one a some months ago called the “Big Conversation” or some such nonsense – to try and revive the hopes that led to the massive swing to Labour in 1997 and 2001. It doesn’t work partly because all that Blair & Co have got to offer is the same old Tory rubbish of privatisation dressed up as “choice” and partly because Labour has lost so much of its credibility over the Iraq war.
Working people, and the people as a whole, saw through Lord Hutton’s whitewash and the lies over the “dodgy dossier”. They want answers to clear up the mystery behind the strange death of Dr Kelly. And above all they want out of Iraq.

EF: But are there any Labour challengers who fit the bill on the horizon…

AB: Some are saying “Anyone But Blair” in the same way as the anti-war movement in America argues to back the Democratic challenger to Bush. And while there’s no real direct left social-democratic focus in parliament as such the Socialist Campaign Group’s influence and its links with organised labour is growing. There is a growing number of MPs opposed to the Iraq war – those that backed Robin Cook when he took the principled stand against the invasion – which could provide the basis for an alternative leadership challenge.
Some are opposed to the Iraq war for different reasons to us. Some, and this view is reflected amongst the Liberal Democrats and a minority of Tories, are horrified at Britain’s isolation in Europe and the world because of Blair’s total identification with George W Bush. The pro-EU section of the ruling class who support European integration and the Euro feel betrayed by Blair, who posed as a Europhile but has in practice stalled on the Euro and destroyed Britain’s relations with France and Germany over the war. The ruling class is openly divided over Iraq and the direction of British imperialism and so it’s not surprising to see this division within Labour’s right-wing, which is much bigger than Blair’s personal camp within it.

EF: Where do you think Blair will be by the next general election? Do you think he will still be leader?

I sincerely hope he won’t be leading the Labour Party in two years time and I sincerely hope he won’t be leader in a few months time. If he doesn’t go it will be a disaster for Labour at the polls. The current course is a recipe for Labour defeat and the major beneficiary of a Labour slump will be the Liberal Democrats -- who are not the friends of the labour moovement.
The basis for Blair’s defeat over the Iraq issue alone exists and must be supported through the continuous mobilisation of the anti-war movement across the country. The anti-war movement unites all classes and strata around the central issue of war and peace. The Iraq war, like all wars, benefits only a tiny minority of the ruling class – those that directly profit from war and those whose neo-colonial interests are served by Anglo-American military might throughout the world.
A Blair defeat on this issue would be a tremendous advance even if it meant strengthening the hands of the pro-EU lobby at the same time.
Of course what we want to see is a democratic Labour Party and a democratic leadership that reflects the demands of working people. The defeat of Blair is only the first stage in the process of defeating the right wing class collaborators within the labour movement. We want a Labour government that rolls back the decades of Tory legislation that has oppressed working people. We want the return to free collective bargaining and the restoration of union rights. We want the restoration of the “welfare state” and the public sector so criminally sold off by Thatcher, Major and Blair. We want a health service that this immensely rich country, which we are constantly told has the fourth greatest economy in the world, could easily afford. We want decent, affordable housing for everyone and we want decent pensions so that workers can enjoy their retirement without fear of poverty.
All of this can easily be paid for by restoring income tax to the levels set when Labour was last in office in 1979. The rich have enjoyed the longest tax-break since the Second World War. They’ve got plenty and they can easily afford to disgorge some of their loot now.

EF: And the future?

AB: Well that depends on the growth of the communist movement in Britain and throughout the world. When the counter-revolutions took place in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe the hired hands of imperialist academia told us that “history was dead” but it was socialism they were burying with their words. That, like many of their other prophecies in the past, has proved to be premature.
Only socialism can solve the problems of the world today. In Asia and in the Caribbean working people are building a new future for themselves along the socialist path. The American imperialist dream of world domination is dying in the streets of Iraq just as the illusions of the “Third Way” and all the other rubbish Blair & Co spouted when they first came to power has died in the minds of the British people.
The entire wealth of the world comes from workers pushing metal in factories and peasants tilling the land. Yet outside the remaining socialist countries they only receive a miserable fraction of the wealth they produce through their labour. At the same time the ruling elite live the lives of Roman emperors through the capitalist system that guarantees them ease, health and everything money can buy – all off the backs of the workers. Socialism will end this rotten system once and for all. The sooner the better.

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