Thursday, February 22, 2007

Labour's Meacher a spoiler candidate, but John4Leader marches on

McDONNELL invited Meacher to join campaign
HARMONDSWORTH demonstration

I caught two sightings of Labour leadership contender John McDonnell in a few days last week. On the Saturday he was down at Harmondsworth detention centre (above) pressing the flesh with Iranian refugees and other demonstrators, and then on the Wednesday evening the MP spoke at a well-attended meeting in Willesden Green, organised by Brent Trades Union Council. The news had just come through that the executive of train drivers' union ASLEF had decided to officially back John McDonnell's campaign, and yesterday I heard that the Broad Left in my own union, the Transport and General Workers, TGWU, is backing John McDonnell, as are Broad Left factions in the public service union Unison and the Communication Workers Union.

In a letter urging union members to attend a rally in London on March 6, Martin Mayer of the TGWU Broad Left says:

"The accelerated privatisation drive in our hospitals and schools, the disaster of following the Bush agenda on war on terror, the unprincipled and divisive policies on immigration, the Muslim community and the free movement of exploited migrant labour are leading to growing demands from the Trade Union and Labour Movement for a halt to New Labour policies and a real debate over the future of our Labour Party. That's why an election for Leader is so important when Tony Blair retires.

"If Gordon Brown is acclaimed Leader by coronation rather than by democratic election, not only will trade unionists, Labour Party members and the working class of this country be denied a vital chance to discuss the political principles on which they hope to be represented, but also that new Leader will be denied the legitimacy and support necessary to fight a successful election against the Conservatives in just two years time.

"For all these reasons the TGWU Broad Left believes it is vital that we speak out in support of the only candidate who offers an alternative, based on our joint trade union agenda to reclaim the Labour Party. By supporting John McDonnell MP we can add the name of the influential TGWU Broad Left to the growing ranks of trade union and labour movement organisations that have already endorsed his campaign. This will add to the pressure on many of our Labour MPs cocooned in the unreal atmosphere in Westminster who currently believe that there is no alternative to Gordon Brown, New Labour and - and in the case of those in marginal seats, almost inevitable defeat in the next general election. We will now be redoubling our efforts to persuade MPs to nominate John McDonnell MP and achieve the 44 nominations required for there to be a contest - and then a real and deep debate for the soul of the Labour Party. Another BETTER world is possible for working people".

Just when it looked like the Left was getting its act together behind the John4Leader campaign, news came this morning that another Labour MP is throwing his hat in the ring, supposedly as a left-wing leadership candidate.

"Veteran MP and former minister Michael Meacher has launched a challenge to Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, promising a left-wing agenda.
He called for Trident nuclear weapons to be scrapped, huge investment in renewable energy, curbs on City bonuses and nationalisation of the railways.
He claims to have enough MPs' support to get onto the ballot and insists he has a chance of winning".

Meacher's candidacy had been rumoured, indeed predicted, for some time.
"We have been expecting Michael's announcement for over nine months. It doesn't change things," John McDonnell said.

Meacher is one of Labour's longest-serving MPs, having had ministerial jobs in the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s, as well as becoming Blair's Environment Minister in 1997 until he was sacked in 2003. At his press conference, flanked by Ian Gibson and Kelvin Hopkins, two prominent backbenchers from the Labour left, he launched what he said was a "centre-left" bid for the leadership. Defending himself from criticism over his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he acknowledged "The biggest political mistake of my life was over the Iraq war. I believed the prime minister when he said there was a growing and imminent threat." He said some of Mr Blair's comments in the run up to war "stretched the truth".

Speculation about Meacher's plans had been helped by the noticed refusal of left-wing Labour MP Alan Simpson to endorse John McDonnell's campaign, though both were prominent in the Campaign Group of Labour MPs. It was claimed Simpson was encouraging Meacher to stand. See for instance: By the end of the year Simpson's backing for Meacher was open.
It had been suggested Simpson wanted Meacher to stand so he himself could stand for deputy leader. But Meacher's announcement came a day after Simpson announced that he would stand down from parliament at the next election, at the early age of 57.

Leadership candidates need 44 signatures from Labour MPs to get on the ballot paper. John McDonnel, who launched his campaign last July has said he has pledges from 22 so far, and his supporters are hoping that ordinary Labour supporters and trades unionists can persuade more Labour MPs to get behind him. Meacher's campaign claims backing from "about 30" Labour MPs, although he was not prepared to name them at this stage. Asked whether his stand would split the left-wing vote, he insisted that he stood more chance, because John McDonnel would not get enough nominations.

Meacher's willingness to vote for war is just one reason left-wing socialists and trades unionists are unlikely to accept him as a figurehead. Some years ago he condemned second-home buyers who were preventing young people in rural areas from getting a start on the housing ladder, but he himself owned a £500,000 Cotswold house as well as a home in his Oldham constituency and a house in Wimbledon, and while he was Environment Minister he and his wife built up a property portfolio of flats to let in south-west London. His wife is a director of three property companies.

Meacher's turn to Green issues and more recently 9/11 conspiracy theories may make him interesting, but aren't likely to win real confidence from Labour MPs. Stephen Pound MP said the new hopeful was a "faintly ridiculous figure". "It's a pity because, frankly, he's going to get humiliated," he said.
"I suspect he knows that; if he put his ego to one side a bit he would realise that.",,2018634,00.html
Some other MPs said they had signed Meacher's papers to give him a chance of standing, but did not intend voting for him.

Perhaps the kindest criticism came from the campaign that Meacher is seen as spoiling. Some bloggers had already expressed frustration that the John4Leader campaign would not feed them dirt on the expected rival.

John McDonnell told reporters yesterday that Labour members would judge the candidates on their records, and while he had voted against tuition fees, the Iraq war, privatisation and benefit cuts, Mr Brown and Mr Meacher had consistently voted for them. "I have asked Michael to come on board with our campaign, but he's chosen to go his own way. Now let's have the debate on policies and the election and let the members decide."

Perhaps the Meacher candidature has had one good result. Despite the enthusiasm which John McDonnel's campaign has aroused in the labour movement it has been pointedly ignored by much of the mainstream media. Even tonight the BBC Six O Clock news managed to report that Gordon Brown now faced a challenger, in Meacher, but not to mention the left-wing campaign behind John McDonnel. Who needs censorship when you've got the Beeb? But at least the appearence of more cracks among the Labour parliamentary ranks is allowing a bit of the light of truth to shine through, and the campaign is getting a bit of a mention.
The case for a Socialist Labour government
Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road

7pm, Tuesday 6th March

Speakers include John McDonnell MP & Martin Mayer, General Executive Committee of the TGWU (pc)



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