Editorial: Starmer’s New Blairism consolidates

Within days of telling the Financial Times (August 5) how “very proud” he was of the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made it clear that his left-wing predecessor Jeremy Corbyn would remain suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) unless he engaged in an abject renunciation of his own past.

These moves came shortly after July’s marathon meeting of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC), which had taken further steps to consolidate the grip of the right-wing.

Corbyn was suspended in November 2020 for responding to the outrageously tendentious report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into antisemitism in the Labour Party under his leadership (see The Establishment HRC Does The Job, in Socialism Today No.244, December-January 2020/21).

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Unison & the Histadrut

Why would a UK trade union not support a struggle against low pay and excessive workload by trade unionists in another country? In a meeting of Unison’s national executive council on 14 July, hands were raised in support of a motion moved by Socialist Party member April Ashley to support a strike being prepared by hospital ancillary workers in Israel. The motion was quickly declared invalid by a leading Unison officer, however, on the grounds that the hospital workers are organised by the Histadrut trade union federation, which Unison does not support.

Unison’s rejection of formal bilateral relations with the Histadrut shouldn’t have prevented a solidarity message from being sent to the rank-and-file hospital workers. But apart from that, is the union right to be boycotting the Histadrut?

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The Afghanistan debacle

Edited extracts from articles first published, as events unfolded, on SocialistWorld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), chart the ignominious collapse of the puppet Kabul regime and outline the consequences for Afghanistan and globally.

On Sunday 15 August, the Taliban reached the capital of Kabul, forcing the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani from power. Thousands of residents tried desperately to board planes to flee the hard-line Islamic force. After Ghani fled the country, Taliban fighters took control of the empty presidential palace and abandoned police posts in Kabul. The Taliban released thousands of inmates from the notorious Bagram airbase prison, a hated symbol of western occupation.

After decades of western imperialist military occupation backing up puppet regimes, the capital fell without a battle. Such was the lack of support of the Ghani regime among the population, as a whole, and the deep unpopularity of decades of Western troops on the ground.

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Twenty years since 9/11

In edited extracts from an article first published in the September 2011 edition of Socialism Today No.151, PETER TAAFFE assesses the consequences of the 9/11 attacks, a defining moment in a changing world situation.

The bloody terrorist outrages of 11 September 2001 in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington were one of the defining moments in recent history. The deaths of thousands of people allowed capitalist reaction – led by George W Bush and the now discredited British prime minister of the time, Tony Blair – the excuse to initiate a new era of terrible imperialist war and foster the poisonous fumes of ethnic division and racism, directed particularly against those of the Islamic faith. This resulted in a colossal number of deaths and destruction which inflicted further untold misery and suffering on millions of working people and the poor, particularly in the neo-colonial world.

The Socialist Party, at the time and since, unequivocally condemned al-Qa’ida, which was behind these attacks, describing its methods as those “of small groups employing mass terrorism”. At the same time, we gave not a shadow of support to Bush or Blair and the cacophony of the capitalist media calling for a worldwide ‘war against terrorism’. In reality, they used 9/11 to justify state terror against defenceless and innocent people throughout the world, symbolised by the torture chambers of Guantánamo Bay and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

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The long decline of British imperialism

CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a recent book by FT journalist Philip Stephens charting the post-war demise of British capitalism – and the despair of the class he represents at its prospects post-Brexit, in a crisis-ridden international capitalist world disorder.

Britain Alone: The path from Suez to Brexit

By Philip Stephens

Published by Faber & Faber, 2021, £25

Britain Alone is basically a history of British foreign policy since world war two. Philip Stephens’ narrative is, in his own words, “book-ended” by two major historical turning points – the 1956 Suez crisis and Brexit, from which he attempts to draw some parallels.

As would be expected from a Financial Times journalist, the book is written entirely from the viewpoint of the ruling class, and the capitalist system is a given. On Brexit, Stephens makes no attempt to hide his own views, which reflect those of the majority of the capitalist class in Britain – that leaving the European Union (EU) represents a damaging blow to their economic interests. Although he makes passing references to anti-war protests at the time of Suez, Vietnam, and the 2003 Iraq war, as well as various strikes over the post-war period, the organised working class is assigned no real agency – it is, at best, a bit player with a walk-on part. Nevertheless, the book is a useful backdrop to current debates about ‘Global Britain’: what British capitalism’s international role will be post-Brexit in an unstable world of economic crises and competing economic blocs, in which the US-China super-power rivalry has become increasingly dominant.

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Beyond the Protestant label

NIALL MULHOLLAND reviews a new book that seeks to record what Protestants in Northern Ireland are thinking in these unsettled times.

Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground

By Susan McKay

The Blackstaff Press, 2021, £16.99

Author and journalist, Susan McKay, conducts nearly one hundred interviews in Northern Protestants: On Shifting Ground. McKay discusses with various shades of unionist and loyalist politicians, community workers, religious figures, former paramilitaries, victims and survivors of paramilitary violence, young people, business people and even Protestant Irish language enthusiasts.

McKay, who comes from a Protestant background and describes herself as ‘Northern Irish’, conducted the interviews from the end of 2019 until the spring of 2021. She describes this as “a momentous period that included a health crisis, dramatic elections, a pandemic (which inevitably precipitated an even deeper health crisis), the Brexit transition, growing calls from nationalists for a border poll, as well as the introduction of laws permitting same-sex marriage and abortion”. 

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Preparing for struggle in post-Covid Britain

Far from an era of sustained economic upswing, social peace and a Tory ascendency opening up for post-Covid Britain, the prospects ahead are for heightened class conflict and turbulent political times, argues HANNAH SELL.

The last fifteen months have been unprecedented in the history of capitalism. In Britain a total failure to deal effectively with Covid in its early stages left the government struggling to cope with a developing health catastrophe, via belated and inadequate lockdowns, leading to the deepest economic recession in 300 years. As in other major economies, only levels of state aid unprecedented outside of wartime prevented worse disaster.

The population has been through a deeply traumatic experience. Almost 130,000 have died of Covid, with many more suffering long term health problems. Over six million were claiming Universal Credit in May 2021. Eleven and a half million have been furloughed at some point, usually resulting in a 20% pay cut. Despite a formal ban on evictions, 130,000 families have lost their homes so far.

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Tories stoke sectarian instability in Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots resigned as leader of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on June 17, just three weeks after he won the position.

Poots was forced to quit after an internal revolt in the DUP over concessions he made to keep the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly in place. He agreed to appoint a new DUP First Minister, Paul Givan, alongside Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and appeared to concede to Sinn Féin’s call for the quick introduction of Irish language legislation that was agreed upon previously.

This is the latest twist in the turbulence fuelled by Brexit, which has caused a crisis in Unionism by creating a customs border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.

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For a fighting programme and a new left in Unite

The Socialist Party is supporting Sharon Graham for Unite general secretary. The ballot opens on 5 July. Many of the most combative workers are increasingly being drawn towards her campaign as they look to resist the growing offensive of the bosses.

It is no accident that the lead reps in the successful strikes on Manchester buses and Thurrock bins against their employers’ attacks, such as ‘fire and rehire’, are supporting Sharon, as are the rank-and-file construction electricians, recently victorious in their battle against the bosses’ deskilling agenda.

We argued throughout the long pre-election period and during the nomination stage for there to be one fighting left candidate. We have not accepted that the United Left (UL) candidate Steve Turner is capable of playing this role.

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Global Warning: car tax not the route to clean air

In Birmingham a new tax has been forced on the city that will hit the poorest hardest, takes no account of income or ability to pay, and which is causing growing anger amongst the community.

On 1 June the Labour-led city council introduced the Birmingham Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which requires drivers of older and more polluting vehicles to pay an £8 charge to use the roads in central Birmingham.

The CAZ is supposedly an attempt to drive down the levels of air pollution in the city, in particular the ‘fine air particles’ which can cause numerous very serious diseases such as strokes and cancer. Birmingham suffers from very high levels of these pollutants, at the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.

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