Paul Foot

Tony Blurs the past

(30 July 1994)

From Socialist Worker, 30 July 1994.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000), pp. 190–191.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Hark to Tony Blair, in a radio interview on 17 July:

The trade unions will have no special and privileged place in the next Labour government. They will have the same access to it as the other side of industry.

This is heralded in every single newspaper as an example of the ‘new fairness’ of the new Labour leadership. Out go ‘special privileges’ for the unions. In comes a new approach: everyone, whatever side they are on, will be treated equally. This sounds unanswerable.

Why should someone be discriminated against according to ‘which side’ of industry they are on? At last this ancient discrimination has been put to flight by the charming and equable Mr Blair.

Harold Wilson once likened government in Britain to a driver of a motor car whose job is to steer a difficult path along a road covered with hazards. Blair’s new formula presents government as a football referee, carefully enforcing the rules of a game where 22 players of roughly equal strength and ability fight for supremacy on the field. From now on the referee will play fair between ‘one side of industry’ and ‘the other’.

A rather different argument won the day 94 years ago when a handful of trade union delegates, socialists and former Liberals came together to form the Labour Party. Their problem was this: one side of industry owned all the means of production, one side of industry determined the level of wages and of prices, and one side of industry decided whether people were hired or fired. The level of investment in industry, what was made, how it was made and by whom, foreign policy, whether or not there should be wars with millions killed – all these matters were determined by a small wealthy minority.

This minority had been represented in parliament for more than 200 years by two parties, Liberals (or Whigs) and Tories. It was time, the delegates decided, to seek parliamentary representation for their side of industry – the people who did the work.

Blair and Co argue that a lot of water has flown under the bridge since those bad old days and that society has changed so much that the central principle behind the foundation of the Labour Party – parliamentary representation for trade unionists in particular and the working class in general – can now be chucked overboard.

But a small wealthy handful still own all the capital wealth and a grossly disproportionate slice of the income. Their economic decisions still shut out the enormous majority of people affected by them. All the statistics show the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor and of trade unionists whose organisations have been crippled and humiliated by a series of laws and open class offensives.

There are not 50 million people of roughly similar strength and ability running around the British field of life, demanding a fair referee. There are a tiny handful – no more than one and a half million – who are economic and political giants determined to exploit the majority.

The need for parliamentary representation of the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, trade unionists against employers, has never been more dramatically exposed by the statistics of society.

Those politicians who argue that the millionaires with their police forces, their judges and their armies, who vote Tory, should have ‘equal access’ to Labour ministers as the working people who vote Labour, are not just making an error of judgement.

They are preparing the ground for an assault on Labour voters more outrageous and contemptible than even Ramsay MacDonald ever imagined.

Last updated on 30 June 2014