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A rejection of tribalism or just class treachery?

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Left Futures doesn’t do “Class Traitor of the Month” – sectarianism on the Left is bad enough without seeking out traitors on a regular basis – but John Hutton’s decision to chair a Con-Dem coalition inquiry into containing the cost of public sector pensions does require pause for thought, as did Frank Field’s decision to head their poverty review.

Quick to criticise was John Prescott, who added Kate Hoey’s decision to advise Mayor Boris (on sport and undoubtedly a lesser offence except that it was announced in the middle of the last mayoral campaign). However, he describes the offence as collaboration – “do these ConLibLab collaborators have a conscience”, he asks. Some, like Michael White in the Guardian, dismiss this as tribalism.

“Collaboration” with other political parties is something that most of us on the Left have done for most of our political lives: collaboration with the Communist Party in support for CND, the Morning Star, for campaigns against unemployment or in defence of trade union rights; collaboration with the SWP in campaigns against racism and fascism, or against the war in Iraq; collaboration with the Greens against climate change and for investment in green jobs; and, sometimes, even collaboration with Tories, against a third runway at Heathrow, against ID cards and 42 days detention, or over cuts in A&E services at local hospitals.

Collaboration is often justified if it advances the Left’s agenda.  Involvement in the Labour Party inevitably requires some level of loyalty to the party’s electoral objectives but a tribalism that prevents collaboration for principled objectives is one that should be rejected.

There are no similar positive objectives in the Coalitions review of public sector pensions, nor that of poverty. They are both designed to facilitate cuts in public spending and the rolling back of the state, regardless of the effect on jobs and consumer demand in the middle of a serious recession. So, in relation to pensions, this job is not, as Michael White would have it, “a tough one, but some well-qualified masochist with a bit of political nous has to do it” – that age old excuse for collaboration.

In the cases of both John Hutton and Frank Field, these are collaborations without political justification on projects to which we are utterly opposed. They are not doing it for the money – Frank Field enjoys the salary of an MP and John Hutton has a lucrative job with the US  firm, Hyperion Power Generation Inc, which is hoping to make billions from the sale of mini nuclear reactors.

These are indefensible acts of class treachery, to use a perfectly adequate old Labour term. In the case of Hutton, a Blairite who consistently tried to undermine Brown’s leadership and did nothing to support Labour’s re-election, it seems to indicate that his choice of successor to New Labour is a Tory-led coalition

3 Comments

  1. Paul Evans says:

    The thing is, going around calling people collaborators impresses no-one apart from people who are already tribally Labour.

    I’d also argue that a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the late 1990s and there are plenty of Labour Party members who have moved leftwards as the political centre of gravity has moved in our direction (and however this is masked by countervailing electoral cycles, I believe that this is what has happened).

    The left really mustn’t fall into the trap that it did in the early 1980s – of treating all failures of the last government as being self-evidently the fault of perfidious moderates. There are plenty of things that the last government did that were self-evidently wrong, self-evidently things that they may not have done had they been more committed and convinced of the value of collective action. In many cases, the left was failing to urge the government to do these things as well and was focussed on a more pressure-group led politics.

    I think that a lot of the party are ready for a degree of responsive leadership from the left, but we’re not going to achieve that by looking for scapegoats in the last government – and I think that the kind of attacks that have been made on Hutton in the last day or so are indicative of a wider mistake that we may be about to make all over again.

  2. Peter Rowlands says:

    For Hutton, yes, but I have some sympathy for Field, who fought against the 10% tax band abolition which helped to increase poverty and inequality, which was not reversed under New Labour. But he is being used, and is naive in thinking that there can be any positive outcome.

  3. Robert says:

    Hutton is about showing New labour he is a power house, plus the turkey knows he has to wait five years after being a minister for EDF, and sadly he has to pay the rent on his homes.

    Other then that who the hell cares for him, he will be flushed down the toilet with the Liberals once the Tories get an election win

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