There is nothing new about a Labour prime minister phoning the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and saying well done, as Tony Blair did after the May Day protests in London. His predecessors Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson had a lot more protest to cope with.
What is new is that you would have searched in vain among the protesters to find a single Labour MP. Which says, once again, Labour has become deeply respectable and internal dissent within the party is minimal. Which is not to say the protests were worth joining. Some people came to central London to condemn Ken Livingstone’s bid to rid Trafalgar Square of pigeons, not exactly a blow against world capitalism. Throwing rocks through the window of John Lewis, technically a workers’ cooperative, betrays profound economic ignorance. Accenture, KPMG, Ernst and Young, all prominent in the capital, were ignored.
Yet Labour MPs are proving not entirely passive in the face of ‘globalisation’.
When Blair went to salute the new US president he indicated Labour would support what was then being called National Missile Defence. It has since been renamed ‘global’ defence. But when press spokesman Alasdair Campbell last week repeated the Blairite position. Suddenly Labour MPs came out of the woodwork signing petitions and voicing dissent. To give George Bush a blank cheque for a huge, technically unproven and potentially destabilising weapons system was going too far.
So the question becomes whether in Blair’s second term relations with the Americans will prove a political hot potato. Maybe the protesters did achieve something. New Labour is still full of people for whom the sight of a demo stirs the blood.
Contemptible though the protesters were, their very action tweaked consciences across the left. If Labour MPs get back in June in large numbers, which looks likely, they will be more enthusiastic about their kind of protest – threatening to withhold votes.
– David Walker writes for The Guardian.
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