Britain: 'Two cheeks of the same arse'

May 25, 2007

On May 10, British PM Tony Blair finally made his long-awaited resignation statement. Blair will stand down as prime minister with effect from June 27. He will also stand down as leader of the Labour Party, and preparations for the election of the next Labour leader — who will simultaneously become PM — got underway immediately.

Initially there were three candidates: Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer since 1997 and widely viewed as the co-architect with Blair of the New Labour project; the centrist ex-minister Michael Meacher; and the left-wing backbencher John McDonnell. According to current Labour Party rules, in order to get on the ballot paper a potential leadership candidate must obtain 45 nominations from the 353-strong group of Westminster Labour MPs. Neither McDonnell nor Meacher could muster 45 nominations, and when Brown announced on May 17 that he had already obtained 313 nominations, he in effect became prime minister elect without having to participate in an election.

On the same day that Blair made his announcement, all references to "New" Labour suddenly disappeared from Labour Party websites. However the vast majority of progressive commentators expect Brown to continue imposing the neoliberal agenda of war, privatisation and cuts that he and Blair have been pursuing since May 1997.

Dr John Lister, information director at London Health Emergency, told the May 21 Morning Star: "Brown's coronation came just after the decision — clearly sanctioned by both Blair and Brown — to appoint a senior executive of the US health insurance giant United-Health to one of the top positions in the National Health Service (NHS) management, commissioning services from private and NHS providers. Brown has been a key figure in the implementation and expansion of the ruinously expensive private finance initiative — described even by Tory MP Edward Leigh as 'the unacceptable face of capitalism' — as the only means of financing most new hospital developments. Brown's latest and last budget outlined plans for even more PFI-funded projects in health and elsewhere, as NHS trusts ruefully count the escalating cost of schemes already operational."

In the May 22 Morning Star, leading left-wing historian Mark Curtis wrote that "the most extraordinary feature of Brown's public positioning in the last 10 years has been his total support and defence of big business. Virtually every speech for the last 10 years has been a reassurance to business that Labour is on its side and a defence of 'free trade' and ensuring climates around the world favourable for British foreign investments, along with ongoing commitments to low corporation taxes and cutting business regulation. Brown is the ultimate liberalisation theologist and every one of his policies has pushed in this direction."

Brown is likely to face industrial action during the (northern) summer over his ongoing plan to slash 104,000 jobs in the civil service. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has already held two national one-day strikes as well as other actions this year, in protest at the job cuts and at the rampant privatisation and outsourcing that Brown as chancellor has been inflicting on public servants.

References to "New" Labour may have disappeared, but the New Labour agenda of unrestrained neoliberalism will only gather pace under a Brown premiership. As Respect MP George Galloway has often commented: "Blair and Brown are two cheeks of the same arse."

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