Two events this week must surly have confirmed to many socialists that the British Labour Party is no longer fit for purpose as a vehicle for progressive change within the United Kingdom. Indeed these events prove beyond any doubt that it has become the foremost parliamentary advocate for reactionary and regressive change.
First we had a report drafted for the United Nations by the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and northern Ireland, in which they claimed within the UK there is widespread infringements of the UN convention on the rights of the child, (UNCRC) the result of which is that hope and opportunity has been denied to many of Britain’s children. *
According to the report the most serious defects include,
A punitive juvenile justice system;
Public attitudes that demonize teenagers.
Lack of protection against physical punishment in the home.
One of the highest levels of child poverty in Europe.
This after over ten years of a Labour government in power, indeed as anyone who works in the field of child care will tell you and the Commissioners confirmed in their report, far from improving, some things since Labour came to power have actually got worse. They cite developments in juvenile justice and public attitudes towards children as examples of this.
UK breaches of the UN child convention included the use of painful thumb holds to control young offenders, plans to use dental x-rays to check the age of child asylum seekers, and institutional discrimination by the NHS against children with learning difficulties.
A commissioner complained of a punitive approach in the UK to misbehavior by children and young people. “Compared with other European countries, England has a very low age of criminal responsibility and high numbers of children are locked up … Around 3.1 million children in England are living in poverty (29%) and more than 1 million children are living in poor housing.”
This devastating report to the UN was followed by yesterdays vote to increase detention without charge for terrorist offenses to 42 days, a length of time so draconian that even countries known for their tough laws like Turkey regard it as ridiculously harsh and counter productive. By this act alone the Labour Party is now the most right wing party within parliament bar Ian Paisleys Democratic Unionist party.
The Tory party, yes the Tory party led the opposition in parliament to this draconian piece of legislation, which is an indication just how far to the right the Labour Party has travelled, the more so when one considers that the opposition to this act gained the support of only thirty-six Labour MP’s out of 351.
The British Labour party is no longer an amalgamation of the liberal-socialist centre left, yes it may still have a small and ever decreasing number of socialists within it. But since 1997 they have had little or no influence on government policies. The government has privatized large chunks of education and health care, something even Thatcher failed to do, it has become the foremost political advocate of neo liberal economics within the UK and EU and in support of it has joined the most reactionary US President in history in his criminal enterprises.
The gap between the rich and the economically poor is wider now than at any time during the post WW2 period; and as the Children’s commissioners report confirms, the Labour government has been involved in a head long rush to treat working class children as criminals in the insane belief this is the only way to control and manipulate them to become the low wage fodder of international Capital.
I would appeal to comrades who remain in the NLP to consider emulating their left-wing comrades in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and ditch the stinking edifice which is all that remains of a once great party and become the core around which a new Left Party can be built in the UK. I would ask them how much longer can you continue to go on the knocker and ask working class people to vote labour when you know that it is a party which actively works against their best interest. I understand your reluctance to leave an existing organization for the hard graft of creating a new party, but your comrades in Europe have successfully made this transition in Italy, Germany, Holland and other EU nations.
In a recent exchange of emails in which I asked him where he sees the Labour Party left going from here, the Left Labour veteran Tony Benn wrote, “I am obviously thinking about this myself at the moment and believe that Tony Blair and new Labour may have inflicted such grave damage on the Party that we shall have to look for a new way forward.”
Tony went on to add he was still thinking this matter through, which coming from a man who has been a party member for 66 years is very revealing in itself. Whilst at this stage Tony Benn did not mention breaking from the LP to form a new Left Party, he did say there will be an opportunity to discuss where the left goes from here at the Convention of the Left, which is to be held in Manchester at the same time as this years New Labour Party jamboree. **