1990s >> 1996 >> no-1107-november-1996

Hedgehogs for Blair

New Labour continues to be attacked by Old Labour. So what’s new? Not much. If you run a tight ship, as Blair does, then you must expect some of the crew to harbour thoughts of mutiny. Austin Mitchell, MP for Grimsby, recently got publicity by comparing Blair’s leadership with that of Kim II Sung. In an article “The hedgehog’s view” (New Statesman, 30 August) he dismissed his party’s The Road to the Manifesto in the following perceptive, if not very flattering, terms:


  “The new document isn‘t intended for you as party members. Your role is to endorse it, preferably with acclamation. This isn’t the Labour Party as we know it. Our leaders are playing a different game from us. It’s a power game in which different rules apply. They can’t tell us all this. So I’ll break it to you now, because a squashed hedgehog on the road to the manifesto sees what’s going on.”

So far, so good. A Labour Party member sees what’s going on. likens himself to a squashed hedgehog—and hints at taking action against the juggernaut that did the foul deed. No. wait a minute, that can’t be right. The juggernaut pictured in the article has a large message on its side “Vote Blair”. Does this mean that Mitchell and all the other Labour hedgehogs who are worried about being flattened by the roadhog Blair will refuse to vote for him? No. of course it doesn’t.


For a hedgehog, Mitchell is quite junglewise. in a puerile kind of way. He refers to members, trade unions, branches, councillors and the rest as bit-part players in Tony’s power game, and goes on:


“So the new deal, in an age of media campaigning, is that we pretend our work is important. Tony pretends to listen. Then he gets on with his real job of putting forward what he wants, in our name.”

You would think, from all this, that Mitchell would be wanting out from a party that is so obviously a democratic sham. Not a bit of it. A hedgehog has remarkably low expectations, especially after it’s been squashed. Mitchell writes of “a Faustian compact with Tony Blair, on a back me or sack me basis.” and concludes “It’s a pretty good bargain for a party that blew it a decade ago.”


Squashed hedgehogs are remarkably masochistic. They are not clever enough to know the difference between capitalism and socialism but they do know that “Most people’s votes are up for grabs, and they are choosing as consumers: what’s the best buy? What will this product do for me? New Labour is a product. The Road to the Manifesto . . .  is our glossy sales brochure.”


The last section of Mitchell’s article shows clearly his Fabian reformism. His waffle includes the historically disproved delusion that “Labour in office can move the levers of power to the people.” And “Influencing the holders of power is more useful work than futile dream-building in opposition.” Nowhere does Mitchell say what the Labour power holders are to be influenced to do— certainly nothing as radical as to change the basis of society from production for profit to production solely to meet needs.


Labour Party members and supporters can choose between Blair who will administer capitalism more or less as the previous five Labour governments have done or people like Mitchell who will (however reluctantly) support Blair who will ditto. But they are not forced to make that choice. If they think that it’s time to replace the system, not its administrators, they will realise they are in the wrong party, leave it and join us in the Socialist Party


Stan Parker