Notes from the front – of the week 13/5/2015

Labour would not have won by moving right – that is just a myth

Following Labour’s defeat the Blairites and others have launched an offensive to shift the party rightwards and install a hard right-wing leadership. Backed by the Tory media, their barrage of attacks on Ed Miliband is creating the media myth of a leftward lurch that lost Labour the election.

It is a ridiculous claim. Ed Miliband adopted most, but not all, of the Labour right’s framework. Under his leadership Labour in Parliament went along with significant Coalition attacks on living standards and public provision. It supported public sector real wage cuts, the Workfare Bill, a cap on welfare and it adopted the Coalition’s planned budget cuts for 2015-16. It supported ending universal winter fuel payments and restricting migrants rights. Miliband mounted the political attack on Unite, which was used as the pretext for slashing the trade unions’ affiliation link with the Labour Party – this being a long term ambition of the right-wing, which even Blair was unable to achieve.

Labour entered the 2015 General Election, not on the left, but with its most right wing economic policy since World War II. Instead of planning to maintain or even expand public services as was done under Blair and Brown, Miliband and Balls were planning huge austerity cuts – similar to the budget plans set out by the Coalition. Labour’s cuts were just going to be marginally smaller than the Tories’. Framing its economic policy around ‘fiscal rectitude’ instead of investment, Labour became so disoriented that it attacked the Tory pledge to make good an £8bn shortfall in the NHS as ‘unfunded promise’.

Within this overall austerity economic framework, Ed Miliband put forward some small progressive policies. This is what big business and the Blairites are attacking: the proposed intervention in the rental property market, house building, the tobacco industry and in City boardrooms; an energy price freeze, restoring the top rate tax rate back from 45p to 50p. Business wants more handouts and privatisations, which the Blairites would offer. They want to align the Labour Party with the Tories, as has been done in Scotland. There is no real intention to address people’s ‘aspirations’ – that is just a rhetorical stick used to beat Ed Miliband. And a ‘centre ground’ approach was tried in the election. It was the Lib Dems and they were crushed with just eight seats.

Miliband’s timid reforms were put before the voters on 7 May and Labour managed to reverse the process of decline it experienced under the last Labour government – but insufficiently. Labour’s vote share had fallen progressively at each election when Blair and Brown were in office. Under Ed Miliband it rose by 1.5 per cent.

Labour would not have performed better if it had ditched its progressive commitments. As Labour List noted in January, a commitment to increasing public spending would have attracted more support. An anti-austerity message is popular, as the SNP successfully demonstrated.

The Blairites want to re-take control of Labour and their potential leadership candidates include Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna. Andy Burnham, who represents a more social democratic current, albeit right-wing, already has a high profile which is giving him a head start. No left candidates have as yet  declared an interest, but may do so in the coming days. Today’s (13 May) Labour Party NEC decided on a longish timetable for its Leadership election with voting taking place between 16 August and 22 September. This will give more time for the media to build up support for one of Blair’s protégés.

Oppose the Saudi/US offensive against Yemem

The Saudi-led war upon the Yemen continues to create havoc for the country. Yemen is the poorest Arab country, and imports 90 per cent of its food staples. The US organised blockade has, according to the UN, resulted in 12 million people now becoming ‘food insecure’, with 400 per cent increases in food prices in some parts of the country.

There is a division of labour. The Saudis cause devastation by bombing civilians and fighters alike while the US mounts the naval blockade of the Houthis insurgents.

In addition, key infrastructures are breaking down to fuel shortages – these include water supplies, health services and telecommunications. Despite these problems, the Saudi government has declared the whole of Sa’da province a legitimate target, asking civilians to leave. The UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw said of the air strikes on Sa’da city : ‘The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law’.

On May 13th, President Obama hosted a meeting at Camp David with the governments from the Gulf Co-operation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. According to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, this meeting will lead to ‘… new commitments that will create between the US and GCC a new security undertaking, a new set of security initiatives that will take us beyond anything that we have had before’.

The US support for the Saudi war is to ensure a government in Yemen that co-operates with the Saudi’s control of the Gulf. Reassuring their Saudi allies is an important part of US policy, given its proposed settlement of the nuclear question with the Iranian government. Providing logistical and political support for the war is a practical demonstration of this US concern for Saudi interests.

The initial bombing campaign has been entirely insufficient to win the war. The threat of a direct land invasion risks an unwinnable war against guerrilla units in Northern Yemen. The dangers of Saudi isolation were highlighted when the governments of Pakistan and Turkey refused to participate in the intervention. The Saudis have turned to supporting internal tribal forces against the Houthis. This, alongside the alliance with Southern separatist forces under President Hadi will almost certainly limit further Houthi advances.

At the time of writing, a five day ceasefire is due to commence, with a potential for further extensions. Yet despite this move, all that appears to be on offer is a Saudi dictated peace. It is vital to support initiatives against the war from Yemenis in Britain, and by the anti-war movement.