Clinging on to power

IN LATE January, Tony Blair managed to survive a stormy week that some had predicted would destroy him. He won a Parliamentary vote on top-up fees for students and was exonerated by the Hutton inquiry. Blair was delighted, breathed a sigh of relief and probably felt that his position was secure. This is not the case however. A majority of people immediately rejected Hutton's findings as a transparent whitewash. And when Bush announced an inquiry into "intelligence" failures Blair was forced into a humiliating climb down and announced his own inquiry.

Blair is damaged goods

Despite a majority of 161, Blair won the vote on top-up fees by only five votes. His two "victories" have not left Blair unscathed. His credibility and authority have received a battering and it is still possible that he could stand down before the next election. He is widely perceived as a liar.

By Ciaran Mulholland

He lied over WMD and over the 45 minute warning in particular. He lied over foundation hospitals and top-up fees.

There have been major parliamentary rebellions over the war in Iraq and foundation hospitals as well as over top up fees. Over 200 New Labour MP's have voted against the government at some stage. Blair has lost authority within his own party.

Time to go?

It is most likely that Blair will survive until the next election but it is far from certain. Persistent rumours of a deal whereby he would stand aside for Gordon Brown, citing ill-health as a reason, cannot be discounted.

Blair is in some ways in the same position as Thatcher was at the time of the Poll Tax. He is mostly identified with the New Labour project as she was with the most hated of the Tory Government's actions. She was removed and replaced with the much less strident John Major.

If New Labour begins to fear for the outcome of the next election, they may calculate that Brown is a better leader with whom to face the electorate. The basic approach of the Government will, of course, not change.

A number of years ago, the Socialist Party in England and Wales drew the conclusion that the Labour Party, by then re-christened New Labour, was no longer a party that represented working men and women, even in a distorted fashion. The next logical step was obvious, the building of a new mass party that would truly represent the interests of working men and women. Seeing the need for such a party is one thing however, creating it another.

"Respect" list

Recently a coalition of George Galloway, the SWP and various others has come together with the expressed intention of contesting the European and Greater London Assembly elections in June.

The Respect coalition is not standing on an expressly socialist platform but is clearly opposed to the occupation of Iraq, globalisation and privatisation.

In Britain, the Socialist Party of England and Wales has had more electoral success than any other force on the left. It has five council seats, including three in Coventry, where the Socialist Party gained 15% of the vote across 40% of the city wards at the last council elections, and has 17 members of trade union executives. Despite this it was not invited to take part in the discussions which established Respect.

The Socialist Party in England and Wales are for the moment not joining Respect but will support it in the European elections, and ask it to support the Socialist Party when it contests elections.

George Galloway MP has raised the prospect of Respect possibly playing a role in a process of "reclaiming" New Labour and has called on the trade unions to play a central role in this process, instead of calling on the unions to break from New Labour and to campaign for a new mass workers' party. Respect has also decided not to commit to a policy of its elected representatives only taking a workers' wage as is the case for example with the Socialist Party's TD in the South of Ireland Joe Higgins.

Democracy

Its lack of internal democracy is worryingly reminiscent of both Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and the SWP dominated Socialist Alliance. So far Respect has been a top-down organisation with a pre-determined programme and constitution decided without open democratic discussion solely by its founders.

Respect is attempting to be all things to all people - to be so broad in its politics that it doesn't argue for a socialist programme that provides a real alternative to capitalism.

The key to developing a new mass party is the moving into political struggle of new layers of workers and young people. The best recent example of how such a scenario might unfold is the FBU dispute. As the strikes commenced the absolute contradiction between taking on the New Labour government industrially on the one hand whilst funding New Labour on the other was blindingly obvious.

Working class alternative

The forces for a new mass party will come from those who become involved in anti-cuts, anti-privatisation, hospital and other campaigns, from trade unionists in struggle, and from the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements and from existing socialist groupings. In the run up to the next election the Socialist Party in England and Wales will be preparing to challenge New Labour in a number of constituencies. At the same time Socialist Party members will be campaigning within the unions for a breaking of the link with Labour and switching resources to the building of a new party of the working class to replace it.

Hutton whitewash

Hutton's verdict was so one-sided that most ordinary people simply do not accept it. An Evening Standard poll found that 56% of people disagreed with Hutton's conclusions and half stated that his report was a "whitewash".

Hutton laid more or less all the blame at the door of the BBC. Resignations followed rapidly-Chief Executive, Greg Dyke, Chairman, Gavyn Davies and Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who broke the original story all walked.

BBC staff responded to Dyke's departure by walking out in their hundreds from offices all over Britain and from the Derry and Belfast offices. 10,000 BBC staff contributed to a fund to place an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph defending the BBC from Hutton.

Freedom of press under attack

Walking out - effectively taking unofficial strike action - over the boss losing his job is an unusual step for any group of workers to take. There does appear to be some genuine fondness for Dyke but the key issue for those who demonstrated was that the freedom of the press was under open attack from the ruling class.

Who is Hutton?

Just who is Hutton is an important question in itself. Hutton's full title is Baron Hutton of Bresagh, County Down. He was born in North Belfast, educated at a Belfast "prep", Shrewsbury boys' boarding school and at Balliol College, Oxford.

In the late 1960's he was junior counsel to the Northern Ireland Attorney General under the old Stormont regime. He went all the way to the top and in 1988 became the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Along the way he presided over non-jury Diplock courts, played a significant role in the judicial cover up of the killing of 14 unarmed demonstrators on Bloody Sunday and defended the British Government against allegations of torture of prisoners in Europe in 1978.

One of his proudest moments must be the part he played in allowing General Pinochet to return to Chile from Britain rather than face trial.

The myriad of connections every senior judge has to the ruling class are not subject to this scrutiny. Hutton is typical. He has always lived and worked in a rarified atmosphere and will inevitably take the word of his peers.

Even the BBC political editor commented on Hutton's background, and argued that it made him more likely to side with certain social groups: "again and again, he comes down on the side of politicians and officials."

No WMD - and everyone knows it

The carefully put together arguments of Bush and Blair are falling apart. The neo-conservative and CIA official hand picked by Bush to head up the 400 strong Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, recently resigned. His unit has found absolutely nothing and Kay has said he does not expect it will now.

"I don't think they existed. What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War (1991) and I don't think there was large-scale production in the 90s."

Now Colin Powell, Condolezza Rice and even Bush himself have had no choice but to raise the question as to whether WMD ever existed.

Now only Blair and his firmest supporters such as Jack Straw, Peter Hain and John Reid continue to argue that WMD exist. They have painted themselves into a corner on this one and have no way out. Their justification for war rests almost entirely on their spurious claims.

Davis Kay is not the only insider from the Bush regime who has spilled the beans. Paul O'Neill, Bush's former treasury secretary and cabinet member, has revealed that Bush and the "neo-cons" around him were discussing bringing down Hussein within days of taking office in January 2001. 9/11 provided a convenient excuse.

More whitewashes?

The new inquiries have been forced on Bush and Blair. The ruling classes always close ranks to protect each other and are adept at covering their tracks and hiding their true motives and aims. This is especially the case at times of war. If they do establish inquiries they do so not with the intention of revealing the truth but rather to protect their position. A semblance of an inquiry sometimes helps to do this. To this end inquiries are held in secret in so far as is possible and those who are known to be sympathetic are picked to do the inquiring.

This does not mean that all is well as far as Bush and Blair are concerned however. Bush has already begun to throw muck at his intelligence services in an effort to divert attention from himself. The CIA will not necessarily take this lying down and will counterattack. A similar process is underway in Britain.

At a time like this things can go badly wrong for the ruling class. As events unfold, secrets emerge into the light and the body bags continue to come home neither Bush nor Blair can be sure of re-election. Bush is now well behind in the polls to Democratic frontrunner Kerry and Blair will have to watch his back in the Labour Party.

The new inquiries are further attempts at establishment whitewashes. To partly counteract this all the evidence should be in the public domain. Then the anti-war movement, the labour movement and ordinary people can draw their own conclusions over "the case for war."

Tuition fees

Students will leave university with a debt which will be payable as a 9% graduate tax once they earn over 15,000 a year. Many graduates will end up paying a greater percentage of tax than a millionaire!

Blair won the vote on tuition fees by the skin of his teeth, but this Bill is the first step down the road to the 'commercialisation' of education

By Chris Loughlin

There is a billion pounds worth of shortfall in the funding for our universities, and this -so the argument goes- is the reason we must pay for our education. The reason for this shortfall is under funding, cutbacks and a lack of will to find the money on the part of 'Tory' Blair and the previous Tory governments.

It's been estimated that Blair has given back 11 billion every year to big business through his cuts to corporation tax and we all know how easy it was for Gordon Brown to find 6 billion for the war on Iraq!

As it stands the average debt of a student in the UK is 10,025, this when students already pay an up front fee during the academic year. This is a 43% increase in the last four years (i.e. since the up front fee was first introduced). This trend will continue as students will leave university with an average of 20-30,000 worth of debt once tuition fees are introduced in 2006. Students will leave university with a debt which will be payable as a 9% graduate tax once they earn over 15,000 a year. Many graduates will end up paying a greater percentage of tax than a millionaire!

The bigger implication of this policy is the effect it will have in making university attractive only to the rich who can afford the fees. 85% believe that the proposals will lead to fewer people going to university and 79% of students say they would have "rethought to some extent" going to university if their fees had been 3,000. Children of workers and lower middle class parents will have to pay while the rich and big business get away with being able to pay for their education.

Top universities and businesses have been the real driving force behind this policy as they believe they can resolve the shortfall in funding through students paying for their own education. This will allow degrees to be obtained at their real "market" value. They oppose the concession forced on Blair to cap fees at 3,000 until 2009. They will be preparing for massive hikes in fees, effectively creating a two tier university system, when the capping comes to an end.

The Socialist Party and Socialist Youth are committed to the re-introduction of a living grant for all students from the age of 16. Students need to build a mass campaign against tuition fees and to link up with the rest of the broad labour movement to oppose Blairism and fight for a socialist society where education is put before the profits and wants of big business and the rich.



More articles on Hutton are available in our sitemap

This article is from the Feb. 2004 edition of Socialist Voice. Back issues are available here.