Sebastian Payne

Trade unionists are putting themselves on the path to obscurity

Trade unionists are putting themselves on the path to obscurity
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Jeremy Corbyn is the trade unions’ favourite candidate for Labour leader. From the more militant folks at Unite to the moderates at Unison, the comrades are buying into 'Jez we can’. But this is not only about electing their man, some trade unionists are on a greater mission to stamp out to Blairite ‘virus’ from the party. The author of that controversial remark, Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, defended it on the Today programme this morning (quotes via PoliticsHome):

‘I stand by what I said yesterday, and the virus that I’m referring to is the policies and the approach of the likes of Peter Mandelson, who seem to continually push these sweeping statements that what this contest is all about is about Labour winning an election, it’s all about being credible, it’s all about moving back to what he describes as the centre ground of British politics.’

‘And all I’m saying is that we need, within the Labour party, to have a fundamental debate on what the party stands for before we move back to those types of positions.

‘And I accept that the 1997 victory by Tony Blair, three successive elections, I accept there were some good things that Labour done. I’m not saying it was bad that Labour introduced the minimum wage, I’m not saying it was bad that Labour reduced child poverty. But the problem with the Blair side of the party, the Blairites which I think Peter Mandelson epitomises for me, is that they never accept any of the bad things that they’ve done.’

Tony Blair remarked in 1996 that 'my project will be complete when the Labour party learns to love Peter Mandelson'. Given Ward's strong dislike of Mandelson, it seems Blair's project still has a way to go. At present, it is on life support.

Ward also offered a fascinating insight into why the CWU is backing Corbyn. Forget the 2020 or any other election, he believes that values should not be compromised ‘just’ to win:

‘I want to see a party that stands up for workers again, that stands up for the disadvantaged in society and puts those principles first, without compromising those principles just in pursuit of an election victory.’

It’s this sort of thinking that the Blairites find offensive — for example, former Blair speech writer Phil Collins writes in the Times 'politically, these people are idiots.' Their compromises were made on pragmatic grounds after Labour spent years in the electoral wilderness.

If Corbyn wins (I describe three scenarios of what might happen here), he will eventually fail as leader, possibly after spending a year or two in office. Given the level of support the unions have offered Corbyn, their influence and standing within Labour is closely tied with him. If he goes down, they are likely to go down with him. The moderates in Labour may be the outcasts for now, but many of them believe their time will come once more.