Will Labour MP’s Learn Any Lessons From History?

Earlier today Labour MP Jon Ashworth (Leicester South) tweeted “Labour vs The Militant Tendency – great footage of J Spellar v Taaffe”; here Mr Ashworth was referring to an important debate broadcast on television in 1982 (see below) — The Militant Tendency being the forerunner to the Socialist Party of which I am a member.

The lively political face-off took place between Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn (representing The Militant) and rightwing Labour MP Austin Mitchell and his fellow traveller, prospective parliamentary candidate John Spellar. The televised debate is well worth watching, and tells us much about the Labour Party today. It thus explains precisely why Taaffe and Mulhearn are now promoting the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) as a working-class alternative to Labour, while Mitchell and Spellar remain notable players within the Labour Party.

First it is worth noting that in 1982, Austin Mitchell was the Treasurer of a rightwing grouping within the Labour Party known as the Solidarity Campaign, or Solidarity, which featured Roy Hattersley as their Chairman. Amazingly, Mitchell is still the Labour MP for Grimsby (a position he has held since 1977), and as his biography points out on his web site: “Austin started out on the right of the Labour Party, but in recent years it has moved so far right behind him that he is now the extreme left.

Once a Eurosceptic, seemingly always a Eurosceptic, and more recently Mitchell has served as the co-chair of the all-party forum known as the Congress for Democracy (formed in 1999), which used to campaign “for an independent pound and against British entry to the single currency and for a UK referendum on the proposed EU constitution.” One intriguing member of the steering committee of this group was current UKIP national executive member Christopher Gill, who for some time now has helped run the ultra-rightwing Freedom Association. For a little background…

The Freedom Association, originally known as the National Association for Freedom, is a right-wing pressure group which was set up in the 1970s by a group of businessmen, aristocrats, military figures, journalists and politicians on the far right. In its early years it played a prominent role in disrupting campaigns for workers rights and racial equality led by trades unions and anti-apartheid campaigners.

Despite all this Mitchell is now a member of the late Tony Benn’s Socialist Campaign Group, and Mitchell was just one of the five Labour MP’s who voted against the Government’s cuts last month (these five well intentioned voters did not however include any Leicester MP’s). Yet like other Labour MP’s opposed to New Labourite policies, he personally must bear responsibility for Blairism consuming the Labour Party, having help lead the witch-hunt against socialists in the Labour Party.

The story of John Spellar is somewhat different from Mitchell, and he remains rightwing through and through, while currently acting as the Labour MP for Warley. Spellar now proudly can boast of strengthened rightwing credentials through his acting as an advisor to the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society.

With Jon Ashworth not even able to match the defiance of Austin Mitchell, his ability to represent the super-rich in the halls of power is not in doubt for a moment. What the British public need now is a new working-class party to vote for in elections, a party that is adamantly committed to making the super-rich pay for the financial crisis, not their electorate. And TUSC is that alternative: an electoral coalition that aims to “show that there is a clear left-wing alternative to policies of public sector cuts, privatisation, militarism and environmental degradation.


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