UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Beyond New Labour - But to Where?‏

The full text of Ed Miliband’s speech to yesterday’s Labour Party National Policy Forum is available on line at: http://www.labourmatters.com/the-labour-party/ed-miliband-weve-got-to-move-beyond-new-labour/

UNISON (and five other unions) backed Ed in the Labour leadership election and he reiterated his welcome view that the Labour Party has “got to move beyond New Labour” yet three key contradictions in his speech suggest that it remains far from certain whether the ultimate destination will be any more palatable to trade unionists than the Blair-Brown point of departure:


Ed is right to say “we know what the challenge is: to promote a proper living wage in this country. To have the high quality industrial jobs that we need. To reform our banking system in the way that we know other countries, Germany and others countries have in the past and created those high paying industrial jobs. And to take action also so there is responsibility on pay throughout our society.”

Yet he prefaced his economic comments with the statement that “New Labour was right to accept the role of the market in 1994, that dynamic markets do help create jobs”.

Where does this reaffirmation of the founding principle of New Labour sit with Ed’s opposition to Post Office privatisation? What about the spectacular market failures of railway privatisation and PFI or the economic mayhem caused by the sub-prime housing market or the anarchy of bank and property speculation? http://www.tni.org/article/privatisation-failures-uk

Democratically accountable public services

Ed’s prospectus for public services sounds worryingly similar to that touted by the Coalition Government: “what are the solutions for the future that I am interested in? I am interested in mutual solutions to some of the issues we face in our public services. To community ownership of our public services. To public services where people don’t feel, both users and those working in them, like cogs in the machine which to often they do”.

Rhetoric about mutual solutions and community ownership belies the basic fact that democratically accountable services provided by public sector bodies ARE precisely those things. Ed goes on to say that “we have to be the people who stand up for local democracy and local control over public services as well.” In which case it doesn’t make sense to support the break up and fragmentation of public services which will undermine local councils and the NHS.

Labour Party Reform

Ed commenced with a superb rebuttal of Blairite lobbying against the Union Labour link in recent weeks: “some people say look, we should cut off the four million people, the nurses, the home helps, the dinner ladies, the engineers, the hard working people who are part of our movement. Frankly at a time when politics is already disconnected, that is the last thing that we should do in my view”.

Yet went on to equivocate by saying “and there’s just one other thing. I think given where we are today the idea that each of us has multiple votes in the leadership and deputy leadership election probably should be a thing of the past.”

Quite how Ed (or Peter Hain) intends to square this circle remains to be seen? If membership of affiliated organisations confers voting rights in separate sections of the electoral college (of which all organisations other than unions are miniscule), how can they be selectively denied?

The real democratic deficit in the Labour Party electoral college is the excessive weighting of MP’s votes (the vote of one MP is worth nearly 608 party members and 12,915 affiliated members http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/08/vote-worth-labour-mps-members ) rather than giving voting rights to union levy payers who choose to fund the Labour Party from their union subscriptions (actually 2.7 million not the 4 million bizarrely claimed yesterday): http://www2.labour.org.uk/leadership-affiliates

The intervention of the 15 unions affiliated to Labour will be crucial in resolving the many questions left unanswered by Ed Miliband in launching the Party’s reviews of policy and internal democracy.