New Labour: Let It Bleed?

July 31, 2008 at 7:52 pm (Andrew Coates, labour party, left, politics, socialism)

In 1970 the Front Page of Red Mole, associated with the International Marxist Group (IMG), read: “Let It Bleed”. It showed Barbara Castle being decapitated. Robin Blackburn argued in the paper that both Labour and Tory campaigns in the forthcoming elections should be disrupted. Despite Pat Jordan’s efforts on the part of the official IMG to advocate support for the Labour Party, this headline has remained in left folklore as the epitome of ultra-leftist idiocy; see:


This episode came to mind when hearing and reading about Labour’s present difficulties. Since the 27th of June Henley by-election, where its candidate dropped to fifth place, and the disaster in Glasgow East, which saw the SNP grab a Labour heartland seat, we have heard, if we are interested, endless commentaries about Labour’s looming melt-down.  Part of me says: who bloody cares?


The furore around David Miliband’s will-he-or-won’t-he challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party is the story of the moment. Miliband claims to address the “future”. He observes that, “Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few. When debating public service reform, tax policies or constitutional changes, we apply those values to the latest challenges.” (Guardian. 30.7.08)  Apparently “we need the imagination to distribute more power and control to citizens over the education, healthcare and social services they receive.” In plain language, Miliband wants to continue ‘modernisation’. The rest is mere words.


As David Osler says, “Labour’s difficulty is not so much that the nuances of its policies are misunderstood, but rather that the main thrust is understood all too well and is deeply unpopular with the electorate”. There are two main factors. Firstly Labour has lost loyalty from its core electorate, trade union activists, the liberal middle class, and the working or not-working poor, by its failure to revive manufacturing, privatisation, and cosseting of the wealthy. For the low paid, tax credits annoyed those caught up in their labyrinth complicity. The 10 pence tax rate fiasco pissed off many more. New Labour’s obligations on welfare claimants, and moral reform, have produced a resentful pool of the excluded. There is a growth in absolute poverty amongst those ‘exited’ from benefits. Even ‘creative’ types are under threat from the globalisation of their trade. Secondly,  New Labour’s targeted constituency, the ‘aspirational’ working class’, ‘hard’ self-reliant men and women,  have been alienated by tightened credit, mortgage restrictions, and, as is customary, the tax ‘burden’ (which the Conservatives have always played on).


Everyone is alarmed by the spectacular rise in food and fuel prices. Few admire public sector ‘reform’ when outsourced firms deliver absurdly poor results. Plundering the Public Sector , (David Craig with Richard Brooks, 2006) supplies ample detail about how and why incompetent money-grubbing companies have grown rich on the public purse. Nothing on this score is recognised by anyone in New Labour.


This emerging ‘market state’ (ensuring equality of opportunity, but not the welfare of all of its citizens), has backing in the very wealthy (whose allegiance is dependent on their tax and other privileges) and those directly benefiting from contracted-out public services. The system’s reliance on the flourishing of finance capital is analysed brilliantly by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson in The Gods That Failed (2008). The Olympian super-wealthy running the show may now drag us all down as the financial sector tumbles. Debt, the motor of present prosperity, is now snarling the machine up. Elliott and Atkinson’s alternative is to restrain finance, and a new reforming social democracy. Unfortunately, they rue, the left does not think in their way. It has lost its bond to the working class and such bread-and-butter means. Some are absorbed into a layer of New Functionaries, whose job is to correct people’s attitudes, shape them into good, diversity accepting, citizens and defend the ‘identities’ of a myriad collection of groups. The ‘opportunity’ society, in short, is not an equal one.


With this in mind (before even broaching foreign policy) it is indeed tempting to say of Brown and New Labour: Bleed Away.


Tempting. When the National Policy Forum voted recently to back Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell’s plans for workfare – making the unemployed do ‘community service’ like convicted criminals – I felt I could not vote for such a party. Does this mean abandoning any fight?  Those promoting John McDonnell as a potential leadership candidate  must surely realise they have no chance, against a slick Miliband or even a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary like Purnell. But they promote the decent democratic socialist politics the majority of the left holds to. Unlike, say George Galloway’s self-promotion and abject worship of popular fronts with businessmen at home and reactionary “anti imperialism” overseas. Or the absurd pretensions of the grinning skull that is the SWP and its Left List. MacDonnell’s would-be backers have the merit of engaging in real politics. It is to be hoped that calls for ‘unity’ at the forthcoming Manchester Convention of the Left will not include these two cults. Many of us have barely escaped from the shadows of their Upas trees, and have no desire to be poisoned again.


For the moment like many I shall wait and see what happens. Two things are certain though: the Tories are on the up, and New Labour is paralysed.


  1. modernityblog said,

    Not sure but I suspect Miliband is planning for the post-election period, even he knows whoever wheels the knife against Brown will not succeed him, another will.

    Miliband is still very young and would probably prefer to be thrust into the job rather than seen as contributing to Labour’s defeat by stabbing Gordon Brown in the back.

    He’ll be odds-on favourite as the Labour opposition leader.

    And stranger things have happened he could turn Left (remember Portillo!), I doubt it but how else will Labour recapture government? they have already tried to out Tory the Tories and that’s pissed off traditional supporters, even Miliband and Co must see that?

    What would a Cameron Govt do?

    how much is left to privatise? not much? I suppose they might try zero taxes for business and banning trade unions? but New Labour has done most of their work already

    Andrew, it would be good to hear an impartial report from the Convention of the Left, I hope that you’ll take a tape recorder (or cheap MP3 player which will do the same job) and can make some verbal notes?

    I imagine it would be the usual suspects plus a few more and the SWP picking around for opportunities?

    I am not terribly optimistic because unless the trade unions are rebuilt, the Left in Britain hasn’t got a hope

  2. Wally Wibblywellies said,

    Ah, decent democratic socialist politics. Does that include Sean Matgamna’s support for nuking Iran? See this weeks Weekly Worker for more information.

  3. johng said,

    Yes I was bowled over by Sean Matgamna’s Kenny Everet moment as well. Does he wear a set of big hands (perhaps when addressing some misbegotten ‘solidarity’ rally with Iranian students)? One doesn’t need the weekly worker. Read the original. Side splitting (especially the ‘debate’).

  4. entdinglichung said,

  5. Andrew Coates said,

    I shall not be at the Manchester event (the Tendance Coatesite Internationale will merely send its comradely greetings). It would be, though, as you say, interesting to get a report: balanced (near impossible I’d have thought) or not.

    As for the event itself: Sheila Rowbotham said in her memories that every so often (every decade?)?) the left feels a need to have some kind of ‘unity’ Conference. They are always doomed to fail (the Template is apparently the May Day Manifesto one – even I am too young to have been there). I reminded Sheila of this (in my capacity as Groupie of famous leftists) at the May Conway Hall event, after that is, her speech and plea for left togetherness, which boosted the Manchester bean-feast,-bun-fight. Apart from the remarks I made about the SWP and Galloway’s crew – which are probably mild compared to what that lot think of each other – the rest of the left is not exactly thriving. The Green Left is a bunch of nice inoffensive people no doubt good around the Parish but not much use in rebuilding a serious left; the Social Forums (the remains of the anti-globalisation movement) are populated by harmless cranks. The latetr’s constituency is presently represented by the odd-balls protesting against that Power Station that have been in all the papers. You don’t have to be a workerist (or out-of-workerist) to cringe at the sight of that lot.

    And I did read the original article by Matgamna. Quite extraordinary.

  6. johng said,

    glad you see it as extraordinary to. Britain’s premier schactman re-enactment society finally takes the plunge.

  7. Dr Paul said,

    Having read Boy Miliband’s article, it takes a great deal of imagination to turn this damp squib, as so many commentators have done, into a challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party. It’s no more than an endorsement of the New Labour project with a couple of minor caveats — and a regret that there weren’t more NHS reforms, which in New Labour-speak means more privatisation and marketisation.

  8. modernityblog said,

    I think there are those on the British Left that actually might welcome a Tory victory

    not that they’d admit it openly

    but they’ll be able to organise all of that wonderful juvenile street theatre and plenty of demo’s around London, waving placards

    a bit like religious meetings, lots of slogan, shouting, etc, makes people feel good, but doesn’t achieve anything

  9. Jim Denham said,

    John: So you think Sean McG has “finally taken the plunge”: What exactly do you mean by that? A plunge similar to Schachtman’s support for the Bay of Pigs invasion? What, exactly are the comaprisons? Is Iran some sort of workers’ state? Should we be “defensist” towards Iran? Are the ayatollahs deformed workers’ leaders? Assuming the answers to all these questions is “no” then what the hell is this “final …plunge”? (note, btw, that Sean does not *advocate* such an attack).

    Sean, in his excellent piece outlines 10 (I think) possible grounds on which would-be socialists might oppose Israel’s *right* to pre-emptively defend itself against a genocidal Iranian nuclear attack notethe word”right”: not the same as advocating it). Which of those grounds do you stand on? Or do you have your own position, in addition to th ones Sean outlines? Let us know, and we can have a debate. Preferably not under Andrew’s Labour Party piece, but when I write something supporting Sean (which I will very soon – promise!).

  10. modernityblog said,

    Jim, don’t do a piece on it, let JohnG write a guest post in 400 words or less (to stop his waffling):

    whether or the SWP support nukes in Iran?

    let the SWP spell out their views, clearly, that’s harder than taking pot shots at others

  11. johng said,

    Since I don’t believe Cuba was some sort of workers state I don’t really understand Jim’s point here. Taking the plunge is regarding military strikes by Israel against Iran as ‘understandable’ rather then something to be opposed. I oppose the right of all hegemons to take pre-emptive action. Don’t you?

  12. johng said,

    It should be explained that the Shactmanites went from opposing Trotsky’s critical defence of the Soviet Union on the basis of third campism to being more hawkish then the State Department (although some as we know ended up IN the state department, think Alan Johnson for an analogy). I think that about sums up the trajectory of the AWL as these arguments unfold. Except for them the new cold war is the war on terror, and Israel symbolises those that western democracy has ‘betrayed’ with its lily livered concessions to the barbarians at the gates. This mindset has been there for a long time but actually suggesting that a pre-emptive strike is entirely reasonable, is ‘taking the plunge’. The relevence to the post is that its really hard to imagine what people like this are doing pretending to be on the left at all. And I think you’ll find that your kenny everette impersonater might have crossed the rubicon in terms of how most people see you. That you can’t see this is perhaps the scariest thing of all. Next stop Kabul comrades.

  13. modernityblog said,

    [SWP distruptive as ever? just as Phil BC points out

    JohnG, if you want to discuss nukes write a small post on it, but that won’t happen eh?

    cos you haven’t got a clue which way to jump

    you won’t get the SWP openly discussing Iran’s nukes until someone high up in the SWP central committee has worked it out.

    then they’ll pass the “line” down to the political minions, who will faithfully parrot SWP’s 12 word explanation that’s given to them

    That’s the problem, you are dealing with dimwits, political dunces, SWPers who are too afraid to argue a particular case concerning Iran because tomorrow their Central Committee may change the line and whoosh they’ll look like even bigger idiot’s than they do now

    Tehran having nukes is an SWPer’s wet dream, weapons of mass destruction under the control of an “anti-imperialist” theocracy

    What more could a SWPer want?]

    back to the topic: Labour

  14. johng said,

    er excuse me modernity, as usual, its utterly unclear what your talking about. are you suggesting that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapons program. Have you any evidence for this at all?

  15. modernityblog said,

    [sigh] always disrupting threads eh? you’ve nothing to say to the issue?

    JohnG, please explain what are the various uses of sophisticated nuclear enrichment programs??

    why EXACTLY do you need them?

    call one of your political bosses with some knowledge of basic science, ops hold on, that’s not going to happen cos they don’t exist, do they?

    do ANY of you SWPers understand why the enrichment process is so so important??

    answer that point, if you can

  16. tim said,

    I’m a bit confused about JohnGs position on military force in the ME.
    Is he in favour of rocket attacks on civilians in Israel?
    I can’t remember what his latest position is.

  17. Darren said,

    “I think there are those on the British Left that actually might welcome a Tory victory . . . “

    Why don’t you name some names, Modernity?

    ” . . . not that they’d admit it openly”

    Oh wait up. You’ve covered your arse . . . again.

    “a bit like religious meetings, lots of slogan, shouting, etc, makes people feel good, but doesn’t achieve anything . . . “

    I’m with you there. Writing snarky comments on blogs is sooo much satisfying. 😉

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