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Why did Blairites abstain on the fiscal charter?

david cameron and tony blairIt wasn’t their finest hour. As Labour MPs filed through the no lobby Wednesday evening to vote against George Osborne’s budget surplus wheeze, 20 of our number sat on their hands. These included Liz Kendall, late of the Labour leadership contest, a couple of former front benchers, and backbench loyalists-no-longer like Mike Gapes. In all, their showing was fewer than expected as most noted 4.5%ers fell in behind the leadership. The question, not answered by our Jacobin Blairist tendency, is what on Earth were they trying to achieve? Why were they moved to vote, or not vote, as they did?

When it looked obvious that Jeremy was going to win, a number of MPs – you know who you are – made tart remarks about his rebellious record and whinged to the media that they would show the new leadership as much loyalty Jeremy had shown Blair and Brown. Good grief, I know the chamber is often likened to a playground, but the honourable members are sometimes expected to act like grown-ups. Whatever one thinks of Jeremy and his politics, every knows he is a principled man and has always voted in accordance with his views. He didn’t vote against the whip set by His Royal Blairness out of pique or bloody-mindedness, but because Blair sometimes demanded his party push through policies that were wrong, damaged our people, and by extension, our party and movement. Granted, this week’s abstainers have very different politics, but what principled stand were they making? That Labour should share Osborne’s ideological commitment to a public sector starved of funds? That further austerity is the right and proper response to spiralling debt? Or were they protesting the, how shall we say, haphazard handling of the party’s position on the issue? If it’s the former, then they’re giving grist to the newbies by the bucket load. And if it’s the latter, they just look petty-minded.

A word of advice for our 20 friends. Okay, we get it. You think what’s happened to the Labour Party is a catastrophe. Unfortunately for you and your politics, an absolute majority of members think differently – and those numbers are swelling by the day. Nevertheless, one would assume you’d quite like to make a comeback. You may have written 2020 off but all your instincts are telling you that the pendulum is bound to swing back into political territory you’re more comfortable with eventually. How then to prepare yourself for this eventuality? Do you a) rub the membership up the wrong way by continually rebelling against their views and marginalising your politics further, or b) draw on the election-winning creds you claim are uniquely yours and start thinking strategically about your predicament. Ask yourselves, is it better to openly set out your stall and accept party discipline when contentious matters come to the vote with a view to persuading members of the merits of your views, or is the purity of positioning – a weird reverse of revolutionary identity politics – all that matters and damn the consequences?

It’s no skin off my nose. Their politics aren’t my politics. But they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

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  1. Jeffery Davies says:

    Untill they cross the floor to their bigger brother they cant see that many left the labour party under blair and brown now a true labour man incharge more peoples coming back to the party jeff3

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Dear Oldham and Saddleworth CLP,

      Thank you for your e-mail about the, “protest,” about the cuts to working tax credits, which I believe now requires a response.

      First of all the issue; tax credits, is one that has been chosen by you lot without any consultation with people such as myself but apparently we’re all supposed to jump on board and lend you our full and unconditional support.

      So democratic socialism, not so much.

      This is particularly difficult for someone such as myself, (and for many other people like me, who although we voted for Jeremy Corbyn are not really huge fans of Debbie Abraham at all, (and particularly not of her, “good friend and colleague Andy Burnham,”) in fact she, (and her career in the NHS under Blair and co; who for example introduced the evil WCA for the disabled,) was one of the many reasons that I didn’t vote for Labour or for her at the last election.

      Nonetheless she remains my elected MP, something which I acknowledge and respect and certainly the post if perhaps not quite so much the woman herself .

      I’m sure that you can understand my predicament.

      I’m extremely dubious about the merits of having a few, generally well heeled protesters, (like Ms Abrahams and her ilk,) and a few, “activists,” stomping about and carrying on with themselves like this, (even as a publicity stunt,) and I’m a veteran of previous political protest when there’s been any real point to it and I’d be far more impressed if she and her support network were out organizing real help, practical support and advocacy, (rather than than in words of that fat schoolboy; Tom Watson, “campaigning on my behalf,”) for the all increasingly voiceless people currently being affected adversely by the Tory onslaught, than this tired and contrived exercise in self promotion.

      I may yet turn up; if only to meet some of local Labour supporters, but to me this stinks more of desperation than conviction, (and yes I do know Ms Abrahams voted against the cuts, for what that like this, is really worth; which is to say really not very much at all,) and of, an attempt to bring people like me, (who voted for JC,) on-board without seriously engaging with us or our views

      Personally and speaking as one of the 160,000 people who only came back to Labour grudgingly and reluctantly (and many of whom are already starting to quietly drift away again,) only on the strength of an allegedly left leaning candidate and who loathe and despise Blair and co and all abuses he introduced and sanctioned and who also remains utterly disgusted by the behavior of all our MPs (and not just those on the labour front bench, like Cooper, Balls, Harman, even Burnham, Steven Byers, (“you can rent an MP the way you rent a London taxi,” and so,) I find this whole exercise somewhat unconvincing both in conception and in execution.

      One very important lesson that the men and women of my own generation have learned the hard way, (from Labour,) about protesting is that a war or any other policy can be completely illegal and can be without any political or popular mandate, can be based only on a pack of complete and utter lies and well over a million people can protest against it and it still won’t make blind bit of bloody difference.

      So why should this achieve anything, particularly when sponsored by a veteran of the iniquitous NHS privatization programs?

      Nonetheless this is still the closest I’ve come to having anything like a dialogue with you lot since I voted for JC, so thank you for time and interest,



  2. David Ellis says:

    Let’s not forget that until the SNP declared that they would be voting against it McDonnell and co were going to vote for it let alone abstain.

  3. Robert says:

    Look labour made an error by agreeing to back it, you can moan that you did not read it or the Tories changed it the simple fact until you know what your agreeing with say sod all.

    Now we all know that the right wing Progress group are out to try and get rid of Corbyn, and the left, they still think, believe, Hope and pray, Blair will return.

    It is sad that a group of right with Tory sympathizers are out to damage a labour party, but we all knew this was going to happen so not a real shock is it.

    Now with Momentum coming on line you are getting warning about stepping on to Progress Toes , Progress will not allow it, well actually Progress cannot do anything.

    They have been working within labour for years hand picking people as MP and selecting right wing candidates to stand in left wing seats. now of course they are worried that Momentum will do the same to them. We all remember Falkirk.

  4. SimonB says:

    Given the complete lack of energy, vision, anything at all the Blairites showed during the leadership elections it’s hard to see what they really want. The good old days of triangulation were hardly a triumph, just look at Scotland.

    The sad impression is that they’re seeing their carefully plotted career profiles suddenly looking shaky. This is symptomatic of the system of patronage that has been allowed to develop in the PLP over decades. It’s one of the problems we face if we want the party to be dynamic, outward-looking and successful. CLPs must be able to develop local talent without the risk of some SPAD parachuting in. It’s the only way the party will be able to become as diverse as the people it represents as well as bringing in candidates with life experience outside politics.

  5. David Pavett says:

    I agree with all the points made about the abstainers. I would like however to caution against the triumphalism according to which

    You think what’s happened to the Labour Party is a catastrophe. Unfortunately for you and your politics, an absolute majority of members think differently – and those numbers are swelling by the day.

    The problem is that it is not yet clear how political expression will be given to the influx of largely Corbyn-supporting new members. My experience, and I have compared notes with others, that the change to politics at the base of the Party is still minimal. Of the hundreds of new members in my CLP only a handful have shown up at branch meetings (or other events). And those who do show up encounter the same old boring proceedings, the same jockeying for positions and the same lack of political debate and political activity.

    I think that we should be very worried that the great opportunity brought about by the Corbyn victory could slip through our fingers. I see a right-wing that is still entrenched, more coherent and better organised than the left which is still weak, fragmented and fractious. It is not yet time to crow. We have a lot to do to show beyond doubt that Corbyn and McDonnell and their allies express the views of the majority of members in the form of policy choices coming from the base of the Party. Without that the institutional momentum (notwithstanding Momentum) of the Party will carry the right forward and will crush the resurgent, but still organisationally weak, left.

    1. David Ellis says:

      New Labour and all the little right wing parties within the party are essentially dead. They have nothing to offer. There is no path to power open to them. Their brand it toxic. If they were to regain control of the party the party would immediately collapse certainly as a viable electoral formation in British politics. It will quickly be the size of the Lib Dems or the SWP. No, the danger is not the current right wing but the righward degeneration of the current leadership under the influence of pragmatism, media and political pressure and of course their own entrapment within the capitalist system. What the left needs to be concentrating on is the development of socialist progaganda and more importantly a programme for the transition to socialism behind which the working classes can mobilise. The Corbynistas remain trapped in the neo-liberal narrative: `if you are not cutting tax credits what will you be cutting’. We must either free them from than narrative or transcend them. We certainly cannot follow its logic.

  6. NickP says:

    If you believe the fiscal charter was an Osborne stunt, a trap, a gimmick, then the obvious thing to do is ignore it, i.e. abstain. Any other response means you are playing Osborne’s game. So maybe they abstained because it was the only intelligent thing to do.

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