Switching sides in the struggle

October 12, 2011

The lackluster profile of Labour Party politicians is a feature of the fact that Labour has changed sides in the class struggle, writes journalist Eamonn McCann.

THE COUNTRY is going to hell in a handcart (something like that), Jeremy Paxman said to former Labour Party leader John Prescott on the BBC show Newsnight. And yet you won't be present to hear your party leader's conference speech for the first time in 30 years. You've just given up on them, haven't you?

Certainly not, spluttered Baron Prescott of Kingston-on-Hull, explaining that he'd have loved to stay on in Liverpool for the conference, but had to leave for China tout de suite where his presence was required at a world climate change conference.

Typical, I thought to myself. Given the choice between saving the world and saving the Labour Party, Prescott takes the easy option.

Prescott won't have had to worry that he was missing anything important, as he explained to delegates who had converged on Shanghai in swarms of jets about how he had personally striven to combat CO2 emissions by only ever driving one of his two Jaguars at a time.

I think I am right in saying that no one in the entire world, including members of the Party leader's immediate family, can remember a single word Ed Milliband haltingly read from the autocue. It isn't that John Prescott has given up on Labour, but that Labour has given up on offering an alternative to Toryism.

John Prescott
John Prescott

"Tories are vermin," used to be the rallying call to rouse a Labour conference. But on Merseyside last week, it was more "Tories R Us." One leftish commentator summed up the week, saying that Labour has lost all sense of representing any specific class in society. But it might be truer to say that it switched sides in the class struggle.

ANY SUGGESTION that class is an outmoded concept was set to rights on Sunday in newspaper accounts of the antics of current Tory leaders in relatively recent times.

The Observer offered a little more detail than we've had hitherto of the spiffing adventures of Chancellor George Osborne in his days as a dicky-bowed Bullingdon Boy. One source was quoted: "I remember [financier Nat Rothschild] comatose on the lawn, being tended to by a butler who was applying cold towels to his forehead." The same source recalled another Bullingdon Boy "trying to snort lines of coke from the top of an open-top bus...I said to him, 'You're stupid, it's blowing away' and his response was: 'I can afford it.'"

None of this was in dim and distant Downton Abbey time, but in the 1990s.

There has been no mention of the Bullingdon Boys half-inching flat screens from Dixons on the High Street, but we can be sure that, if ever they did, it was just for devilment, not because they didn't have the dosh. That's the Tories, then.

And, increasingly, Labour, too. Osborne's chum Rothschild is also a buddy of former Labour Business Secretary Lord Mandleson, the fellow who famously remarked that Labour today is intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, especially Lord Mandleson.

(It will be recalled that Mandy, Nat and George were involved in a bit of a kerfuffle on Russian mogul Oleg Deripaska's luxury yacht in Corfu a couple of years ago.)

Mandleson has just bought himself a new pad in central London for $12.5 million. The mortgage repayments shouldn't be a problem, given that he's just been hired by Lazard investment bank as an "adviser" at a stipend of more than $1.5 million a year. He was recommended to Lazard by Rothschild, who acquired this sort of clout by working his way up to billionaire status by being born.

Is Rothschild a Tory or a Labour supporter, then? "You'd have to ask Nat that," Mandleson was recently quoted.

No, I tell a lie, that was Osborne. And, anyway, would Nat know?

October 5 marks one of the most significant anniversaries of "Tories are vermin." The slogan--taken from a 1940s House of Commons speech by Labour Health Minister Aneurin Bevan--was carried on placards to define the politics of the organizers of the October 5, 1968 civil rights march in Derry. There are also the first in a series of public-sector strikes aimed at saving the jobs and services which Labour used to boast of as its crowning achievement.

But we cannot look to Labour now to defend that legacy. Only resistance from below holds out any hope of turning back the Tory assault.

Looking at the sad betrayals and sheer uselessness of the party, which once made a show of representing the working class, the slogan has to be: "Don't mourn, organize strike action."

First published at the Belfast Telegraph.

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