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THE papers over the weekend were obsessing over the 20th anniversary of Blair’s election to the Labour Party leadership.
Although Blair’s been vigorous in defending his record, his legacy will be forever tainted by his neocon foreign policies, his deception over the Iraq invasion and the vast amounts of money he has made since leaving office, including £13 million from Kazakhstan and substantial payments from other governments with human rights records that are at best dubious and at worst appalling.
In domestic politics, Blair’s record had two conflicting trends.
The first was, in fact, positive — the introduction of the national minimum wage, development of children’s centres, improvement of housing standards and the establishment of credible and achievable health targets.
The darker side was his rejection of the history and traditions of the labour movement and the favour he showed for the private sector over the public sector. So we saw the encroachment of big business practice and “morals” into public service provision.
Blair punished local government and the health service by refusing access to government funds for many projects, instead insisting on the private finance initiative.
This disastrous funding scheme is a millstone around almost every hospital in the country, many secondary schools and much of our transport infrastructure.
Blair’s duplicity over Iraq and his attacks on civil liberties contributed to Labour’s loss of office in 2010, but the financial crisis sealed the party’s electoral fate.
The 2008 financial crash was correctly described by Gordon Brown as a global crisis, but he failed to see that it was his penchant for banking deregulation and the bank bailout that caused and then exacerbated the crash.
Deregulation, begun under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, largely continued under new Labour to the extent that we have a workforce dominated by short-term contracts, zero-hours contracts and an erosion of workplace rights.
Yesterday morning, for example, RMT members working for the ISS contract cleaning company doing the difficult job of cleaning trains have been told that in future to clock on and off work they must hand over their biometric details. It smacks of a Big Brother Home Office seeking out hard-working people who may not have yet obtained their full immigration status in Britain.
New Labour’s chief lieutenant Peter Mandelson in a recent Progress interview claimed: “Those who don’t give their political loyalty automatically to left or right — whose votes therefore are up for grabs — are a greater segment of the electorate now than they were when new Labour was being created in the 1990s.”
This dubious analysis is the foundation on which he warns Labour about what he terms “any move to the left.
“That is why I get frustrated sometimes when people argue now that the country has moved to the left, therefore if we are more unambiguously left-wing and raise our ideological vigour, we are more likely to win the next election.”
Mandelson then goes on to claim that Labour’s 1992 defeat was because the leadership was too radical.
But in case he hadn’t noticed, poverty, falling wages and growing inequality are affecting people across the board. The energies of the anti-cuts movements needs to be recognised as a force for good, not an embarrassment.
Labour’s policy forum meets at the end of the month in Milton Keynes and will begin putting together the basis of the manifesto for the 2015 election.
Popular pressure encouraged Ed Miliband to commit to the abolition of the bedroom tax. Popular pressure brought about at least an acceptance of the need for regulation of the private rented sector.
And interestingly 50 constituency parties have submitted resolutions concerning Trident and Britain’s nuclear weapons as part of the foreign policy debate.
Despite what Mandelson might think, the tide is turning.
Massive industrial action is to be held tomorrow by local authority workers and teachers who have had enough of wage freezes, job losses and the introduction of a later retirement age.
This shows the degree of anger over the government’s austerity policies among those who have suffered the brunt of the cuts and the increased demands on services caused by those cuts.
If ever there was a time for a radical alternative, it has to be now.
NUT leader Christine Blower has said that teachers’ decision to strike was a last resort. “For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and a heavy workload of 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”
Unison, which will have the largest number of people on strike tomorrow, points out that local government workers’ real pay level has fallen by 20 per cent in the past four years.
People are angry at seeing the welfare state constantly under attack and the systematic denigration of those who quite legally and justifiably access benefits.
To add insult to injury, at the same time the government lets major companies including Boots, Starbucks and Vodafone enjoy huge tax breaks.
With a year to go to the general election, we need to ensure that Labour offers a real alternative, with an increased minimum wage, education being returned to local authority control and a housing programme that gives real hope to those who are homeless or in overcrowded accommodation.
None of this is complicated.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
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