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In the first of what will hopefully be a string of resignations, Jamie Reed, the Blairite MP for Copeland, Cumbria, has announced his decision to stand down from the Labour Party.
An outspoken critic of Jeremy Corbyn, Reed will leave frontline politics in January 2017 to pursue a lucrative career in the nuclear industry as head of development and community relations for Sellafield.
Farewell, Mr Reed. You will not be missed.
Reed’s toxic politics
Prior to his selection as a Labour parliamentary candidate, Reed spent five years working as a spin doctor for the British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL). During his employment, he defended the company’s radioactive discharges into the sea as well as other abuses.
Once elected to parliament, Reed continued to work as a lobbyist for the British nuclear industry. With the backing of Tony Blair and the Tories, Reed announced that there was a “compelling case for nuclear” and that “the evidence in support of a UK nuclear renaissance is growing week by week.” This was certainly music to the ears of his former paymasters.
A freedom of information request revealed that Barry Snelson, the Managing Director of Management Services at BNFL, sent Reed a private letter in which his election was said to “only be a benefit to you and us”.
Reed is perhaps most well known for being the first shadow minister to resign after Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015. He has since added fuel to the anti-socialist witch-hunt by accusing Corbyn, with no sense of irony, of introducing “unprecedented poison” into the party.
Reed was also one of the 184 Labour MPs who refused to oppose the Tories Welfare Bill; abstained on the Jobseeker’s Bill (Workfare Program); backed the bombing of Syria in December 2015; and recently refused to back an enquiry into Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
Hardly a glowing resumé for a representative of the labour movement.
First of many Blairites to step down?
According to an article in the Times (paywall), Reed may be the first of many Blairite MPs to abandon the Labour Party.
One unnamed Labour MP said:
Jamie won’t be the first, I bet. I think there will be others in the next six months.
Another Labour MP reported:
There are people out there seeing a lot of talent on the Labour benches being squandered. I know several people who’ve been made very good offers in health and education.
Amongst those named by The Times as likely to leave the Labour Party are Tristram Hunt, Liz Kendall, Chuka Umanna, and Peter Kyle.
If true, this could be a positive development. But it cannot be taken for granted that the Blairites will go without a push, especially with a by-election now looming in the marginal Labour seat of Copeland. A strategy for victory must therefore be high on Corbyn’s agenda.
In 1997, when New Labour coasted to victory off the back of widespread hatred of the Tories, Labour secured over 24,077 votes in Copeland compared with just 12,000 for the Tories.
But Labour’s total capitulation to the interests of big business under Blair meant that each election since then has seen Labour’s share of the vote decline. This culminated in the 2015 general election, where Labour narrowly avoided defeat with 16,750 votes. The Tories came a close second on 14,186.
Another development since Labour’s swing to the right has been the growth in support for “alternative” parties such as UKIP. In the 2015 election, UKIP received 6,148 votes – the highest vote share of any third party in the constituency since 1983. This is a 500% growth on the 2010 election.
So-called “moderate” Labour MPs would likely interpret this as a need to pander to anti-migrant sentiment. But votes for UKIP do not necessarily signal an irreversible rightward shift in Copeland’s electorate.
The number of UKIP voters (6,148) at the last general election was very close to the number of votes lost by Labour since 1997 (7,327). This is not a coincidence. Labour’s betrayal provided fertile conditions for right wing populists posing as anti-establishment figures to gain a toehold.
A principled socialist program has the potential to win many of these voters back to the left.
Voter turnout has also been a decisive factor in recent elections. Since the Blairites took over the Labour Party, turnout in Copeland (and Whitehaven – the old constituency which Copeland replaced) has consistently been at its lowest since the introduction of universal suffrage.
If Labour is to secure a victory in the upcoming by-election, they will need to reach out to the disillusioned non-voters as well as those who previously voted for UKIP. This means uniting the working class across ethnic and national lines by putting forward a program of massive social investment and job creation.
Corbyn’s Labour must make it clear that our enemies are not to be found queuing in the Job Centre or in the migrant camps. Our enemies are the 1% who control 99% of the wealth in society!
Although Reed has chosen to pursue his anti-worker interests outside of the Labour Party, the majority of the Blairites, for now a least, will continue to wage the class war on the inside of the Labour Party.
There has even been talks of Ed Balls dancing his way back into the Labour Party to contest the seat in Copeland. This must be avoided at all costs. If a Blairite candidate is allowed to stand in this by-election then Labour will lose, and Corbyn will be blamed for this loss.
If a socialist candidate is allowed stand, on the other hand, the Blairites will do what they can to sabotage the result. Even a narrow Labour victory will be used as evidence of Corbyn’s incompetence.
Standing a socialist Labour candidate in Copeland must therefore be accompanied with a wider break in the Labour Party, to remove the Blairite rump who continue to do everything in their powers to steer the party back towards the right. Mandatory reselection will be a vital tool in carrying out this task (two Labour branches have now passed motions in support of this policy).
The Blairites believe that it is their divine right to stand at the head of the labour movement. This is why individuals like Tom Watson characterise attempts to democratise the Labour Party as “inherently intolerant.”
But history has proven time and again that the Blairites, like the Tories, are the enemies of the working class. They must be removed if Labour is to become a party for the 99% once again.