There is more than a good chance that on 4 May London will elect as its Mayor a man who defied Tony Blair's formidable New Labour machine, broke with Blair's party in order to stand, and is seen by many members of the Labour Party and trade unions as their candidate against Blairism.
The candidates of the united left who are standing in constituencies across London under the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) banner for seats on the Greater London Assembly may also do well. For the first time in many years a serious degree of unity in action despite political differences has been achieved by the socialist left.
The hijacking of the mass working-class, trade-union-based Labour Party by the Blairites and its transformation into an openly anti-working class organisation has forced the left to begin to get its act together. Only thus can we meet the challenge and the opportunity created by the present vacuum in mass working class politics. We have a long way to go. Though there is more inter-left dialogue than for decades, that is not saying much. Serious exchanges of ideas are few and rudimentary still. But we have come a long way in the last year or two.
That is the good news. The not so good news is that the man who will probably be Mayor of London is Ken Livingstone. Does Livingstone deserve the backing of the left? Yes he does! Despite our not slight differences with him, he has the active backing of Workers' Liberty and Action for Solidarity supporters. Why?
Certainly not for his politics, either in general or in the campaign for Mayor. In his stressed political difference with New Labour, how to finance the renovation of the London Underground, his way may be better than Blair's and Prescott's, but there is nothing remotely "socialist" about it (see 'Livingstone's economics page 20). He is appearing before audiences of complacently grinning big capitalists, to swear eternal loyalty to the market and, with disarming self-mockery, to brand his old, vaguely socialistic, views as youthful utopianism. In political terms Livingstone's is a right wing campaign which serves the status quo by its bland, unquestioning, "non-political", personalist approach. No, not for his politics!
Livingstone is important because his insurrection against the Labour Party establishment may, if he is successful, create an alternative power base for broad labour movement opposition to the so-far almost all-powerful New Labour machine. That machine has blocked off nearly all of the old channels of party democracy and internal opposition, and - short of a loss of nerve and collapse of will at New Labour's centre - any possibility of democratic control from below. Even Livingstone, despite mass Labour membership backing and very wide media and London electorate support could not break through that machine and instead had to break with Blair's party.
In the longer term, Livingstone's revolt may help trigger a broader revolt against Blairism in the still New Labour-affiliated trade unions. These unions retain a lot of power in the party, should they choose to use it. Probably the best they could do at this stage, unless the Blairite machine were unexpectedly to collapse, would be to lead a big split from Blair's party, around which could then regroup the forces of a restored mass workers party. There is little sign of that yet. For now the union leaders still march in lock-step with Blair.
But the union leaders may, and many of the rank and file certainly will, benefit from the shock of Livingstone's defection (and from the experience of Dennis Canavan in Scotland, who stood against the Blairites and won a seat in the Scottish Parliament). Above all, a Livingstone victory will demystify Blairism for those in the Labour Party and the trade unions who are unhappy with it but have been hypnotised by its "success" and "power". Blair is only unbeatable as long as the labour movement, whose party Blair and his careerist groupies have hijacked, do not fight back. The "great" Mister Blair appears great only because the labour movement has for so long - since Thatcher's victories over the working class - been on its knees!
We must popularise the idea that, faced with New Labour, the working class movement needs once again to fight to win labour representation in Parliament and put the arguments for socialism. Here it is not Livingstone's Mayoral campaign that is important, but the activities of the LSA. In office, Livingstone can bring only disappointment and disillusion to those who now naively back him as a "left" candidate: to such people the LSA in the election offers serious working-class politics.
It is only by building the LSA that the ideas of labour representation and socialism can once against be made a force in working class life. Are you doing your bit?
Contact the LSA at: PO Box 20492, London SE11 5WL. Phone 020 8981 9243.
Visit the LSA web site: http://www.londonsocialistalliance.org.uk
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