Saturday, December 01, 2007

Labour's tragedy amid farce

FOR the second time this year Knacker and his officers are looking into Labour Party finances, and I can't help feeling a sense of tragedy in this farce.

The current investigation centres on a North East businessman who can claim to have had a genuine Labour background, rather than being someone who suddenly turned up at the back-door offering dosh. The son of a former mayor of Newcastle, David Abrahams started canvassing for Labour while still a schoolboy, and was a prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond, North Yorkshire. When Tony Blair announced at a public meeting in his Sedgefield constituency that he was going to stand down, David Abrahams was there in the front-row.

Yet landlord and property developer Abrahams seems to have had a history of ill-judged dodgy moves and subterfuges which are scarcely explained by his "shyness" or self-description a "very private person". There are even doubts about his stated year of birth, as well as the use he made of another name, 'David Martin, when dealing with tenants or concealing some of his company directorships. Some Labour Party members might have been uncomfortable about his ownership of private old people's homes, although considering New Labour's dedication to privatising this should not be a problem.

In 1990 when he was adopted for Richmond, Abrahams reportedly claimed a woman as his wife, complete with 11-year old son, to give himself a 'family man' image, till this was exposed and he was deselected..

It is hard to believe Labour leaders did not sniff a rodent when Abrahams' money reached them via his go-betweens, in breach of laws on party funding which Labour introduced. These are not just trained lawyers and the like., not just people who are supposed to run ministries, and tell poor countries how to sort their finances out. They are the leaders who kept telling us we must "live in the real world".

When I heard that Abrahams was a leading member of the Labour Friends of Israel, I started thinking back to the Wilson years, when the Labour leader was surrounded by a coterie of businessmen - one of whom, Lord Kagan, went to jail, while another, Eric Miller, committed suicide. Others have recalled the late Robert Maxwell, though he was not just a wealthy Labourite who resorted to dodgy business dealings, but probably a Mossad agent at least some of his time. Then there were the links with the now defunct International Credit Bank of Geneva, run by Tibor Rosenbaum.

But the people who decided to back Wilson did so through a special fund set up, as one of them said, "So the Labour Party would not get its hands on the money". This time the money did go to the Labour Party for the most part, though it is striking for those of us who have been around for some years that these days large sums were paid to people like Harriet Harman for costs of campaigning for deputy leadership . Not even for fighting general elections against the well-funded Tories then, but for internal contests.

In Wilson's day the security services, resenting possible outside influences on British policy (and probably also prejudiced against Jewish businessmen) fed information to Private Eye and other outlets.

For now attention focuses on more mundane, local matters like Abrahams' multimillion-pound business park development at Bowburn in County Durham. This was blocked by the Highways Agency at first, because it was too near the congested A1. In October last year the agency lifted the ban on the development - and a separate one near Newton Aycliffe.
Abrahams has said:that "Any suggestion that I have made donations in exchange for favours is false and malicious. I will not hesitate to issue proceedings to protect my reputation."

Having carried on with privatisation policies, taking it to places even Thatcher could not reach, Labour has had to take the blame for dirty hospitals, causing deaths, as well as the NHS finance crisis. It has faced the embarrassing row over missing confidential personal records sent by a private courier - TNT -after another private company advising on data protection said it would be too costly to separate out the sensitive parts. The Murdoch-owned Sun and Times journalists happily joined the chase, since no one was blaming the disappearance on the Murdoch-owned courier company.

One of the main strategic goals of the Blair and Brown leadership and their New Labour yuppie following was to make love to big business and the media barons, and break Labour's traditional ties to the trade unions who gave birth to the party. Blair declared that unions were just another "interest group" that would have to take their place in the queue for influence. Hence the welcome to big business at party conferences, and and to money from businessmen - however dodgy (and David Abrahams, so far as we know, is far from being the most unsavoury of the characters whom Labour has been dealing with).

Sad to say, despite finding there is no gratitude in the capitalist class, the Labour leadership shows no sign that it has learned anything. Brown is talking about "reforming" party funding and includes funds from trade unions -which represent thousands of ordinary people and do have to account for their spending. Sadder still, our union leaders persist in taking insult after injury and insisting we must still keep giving our funds to Labour, without strings, in the hope of "saving" the party.

But saddest of all, and this is the real tragedy, the Left which could have taken advantage of this historic decline in the mass reformist party, as well as the widespread revulsion at failing public services, privatisation and war, has managed to blow its chances of forming a credible socialist alternative. While much of the Left is losing itself in confusion, opportunist manouevres, intrigue, and splits, the tragedy could be that the beneficiaries from New Labour beginning to look like a third-rate Tory party will be the old Tories, and worse, the far Right.

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At 12:32 PM, Blogger Charlie Marks said...

It is a farce, all right. On Sky News (another Murdoch owned enterprise) I saw the odious Kelvin Mackenzie spouting forth on the issue of dodgy business donations. The solution to the problem? End union funding of Labour.

It's odd that the union money is mentioned as though it has any effect on Labour's policies. The TU Freedom bill was talked out of parliament by Labour; striking postal workers were threatened with privatisation; striking prison officers were taken to court... Yep, that's some influence they buy.


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