With McDonnell’s failure to get on the ballot just reaching the ears of leftwing students the Brownite leadership of NUS had already released 5 “demands” on the new Prime Minister. Demands that fail to mention the small questions of fees, war, racism let alone free education…
· Health - NUS calls for prescriptions, dental care and eye test exemptions to be extended to cover all students.
· Travel - NUS calls for a commitment to ensure concessionary bus travel for all students.
· Debt - NUS calls for the current interest rate on student loans to remain linked to inflation.
· Skills - NUS calls for the extension of free entitlement to level 3 qualifications to all adults.
· Work - NUS calls for an equal minimum wage to protect our most vulnerable workers and give them a fair and equal position in the workplace.
With no left candidate on the ballot paper the debate on what a new Government should do will be silenced as the “legacy” of Blairism is passed on. What will be presented as a defeat for the whole left should be seen clearly for what it is – the death of any attempt to reclaim Labour. That McDonnell could only scrap 29 nominations (with another 13 left MPs stepping down at the next election) is a sad testament to the state of the labour left. NUS’ intervention in no small way demonstrates the capitalisation rightwing leaderships will make of it to push forwards a New Labour agenda that the left needs to be prepared to fight.
If we’re not to be marginalised during the “Brown Bounce” we need to fight for our own 5 demands and attempt to reorganise those who could have looked to a left challenge on the need for a struggle from bellow.
- War – Bring the Troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan; stop the Imperialist disaster that is Blair’s “war on terror.”
- Education – Reverse New Labour attacks on education. No fees, privatisation or city academies. Bring back Free Education.
- Work – Break the public sector pay freeze; invest in our teachers, nurses, civil servants and firefighters. For a living minimum wage.
- Racism – Stop the vilification of Black, Asian and Muslim communities stop the demonisation of asylum seekers.
- Welfare – stop the privatisation of the welfare state bring back benefits, accessible public health and local support.
What ever the demands the student left adopt the focus will have to be the stop the war protests attempting to force Brown to abandon Britain’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East by putting the question of war centre stage. But within these mobilisations a more subtle debate needs to be waged with those who look to the labour left on the class nature of the Labour party and the historic role of its leftwing. Labourism retains a working class base and has always been committed to managing the capitalist system but its commitment to neo-liberalism is straining at this contradiction. The acceptance of neo-liberalism of has almost completely marginalised a left inside the party committed to a slightly milder program (represented by Meacher) and almost destroyed the campaign group opening a real space to the left of labour. Respect must try and play the role john4leader could have played in debating a real alternative for labour representation as well as building a popular organisation outside the labour party. Building on the logic of the stop war mobilisations we can put forwards a series of demands that can unite those outside Labour and appeal to those that committed their hopes to McDonnell.