Headbang with a working class Blairite (1995)

Submitted by dalcassian on 5 January, 2017 - 11:07 Author: Sean Matgamna

MANCHESTER UNITED and Tony Blair, these
are John's gods. When you rubbish Tony
Blair in John's presence, the decibels soon
rise and the neighbours get to know about
it
John would shoot himself before he'd
vote Tory, yet he hates trade unions almost
as much as he hates the Tories.

For a long time he used to work on the
roads, stripping and laying down tarmac,
but, 50 now, he has been crippled for the
better part of a decade with back trouble
and hardened arteries in his legs. Years
waiting for an operation, he could still joke
with me about it.

“Wasn't 1 going along a footpath to the
hospital and I saw this feeble old lady out of
the corner of my eye coming up behind me.
And then she sped past me!"

His wife is typical of a whole layer of the
working class now, holding down three low-
paying, part-time jobs.

Bearing his afflictions with stoicism and
bravery. John has spent years stiffly
propped up on a special chair, watching
sport and current affairs on tv— one of his
prize possessions is a Sky TV satellite dish.
He is very well informed. Passive in front of
the tv, he is saturated with the wisdom if not
of the ages then of the TV pundits. He
knows. He knows that Labour can't win
without Blair and Blair's policies.

John, a relative of mine by marriage, is
a good hearted man who is not always con-
sistent. He backed the miners, for example
— maybe on George Orwell's principle
when he sided with the anarchists in
Barcelona in 1937. though he had no time
for them politically: "When I see the workers
battling their natural enemy, the police,
I don't have to ask myself which side I'm
on".
John's hostility to unions comes from
both his background and work experience.
The son of a small farmer from the Irish
midlands — one of the surplus younger
sons who, like the daughters, get nothing
because the farm must be passed intact to
a son — he came to this country at
16 and worked for many years for non-
union gangbosses on "the lump".

John likes an argument. He argues blus-
teringly. in an old-fashioned and highly
dramatic Irish country style, voice rising
frequently in indignation and histrionic out-
rage. He'll loudly and aggressively mark off
a stance, maintain his front and then retreat
with a laugh and a grin that expresses
human being to human being concern, hut
still challenging, giving nothing important
away, waiting for your counter punc'.
He makes up for his immobility in vocal
vehemence.

I don't like a headbanging argument of that sort,
but 1 like John and, staying with them for a
few days in February. I wrangled with him,
evening after evening. Courtesy!

I gave him the February Workers' Liberty
and he hated it. That evening when I came
in he said, voice rising in the good old style
"Labour? You don't support La-b-our! It's the
Tories you support. Ye might as well, any-
way!"

You don’t criticise the party you support.
And you don't disagree with the leader.
John, like a lot of people in the labour move-
ment and Labour voters outside it, is strong
for loyalty. If you back a party, you back it;
you praise its leaders — as John's family
would praise Fianna Fail and its leaders in
his youth. As John would praise and defend
Manchester United. Politics and football have
a lot in common.
I couldn't, it seemed, budge him. I'd say:
"What about policies; what is the point of a
Labour Party if it Is indistinguishable from
the Tories?" He would reply "That's the only
way they'll win! They've got to, now! People
won't vote for them otherwise." He thought
it a good thing that the curbs on the unions
would, if Blair can keep them, continue.
"Sure, they were ru-in-ing the country!"

After three or four evenings of friendly
and sometimes not so friendly headbanging
like this I tried a sneak attack. I led him into
talking about what he wanted, what he
would like to see done — about the National
Health Service, unemployment and so on.
Naturally, he, who knows from bitter experience
what has happened to the health
service, wants the NHS fully restored. He
wants people to have jobs, young people —
his daughter is 17 — to have a proper education.
In fact he wants a lot of the
immediate things Workers' Liberty wants.

Now I said: "But John, how can you square
this with your support for Blair and the
other Labour Tories?' I was surprised by
the answer.

"Of course I can! Labour will restore the
health service!"

"No they won't — unless the left forces
them to."

"Of course they will! This is Labour —
the Lab-our Party. Blair knows what he is
doing. That's what Labour is for!"

Blairism is all just a game, a manoeuvre,
to down the Tories!

After that it was just a bit of 'hard pound-
ing' and a mopping up operation.

Finally forced to discuss issues, he said —
and this is important though I won't pursue
it here — that if labour in office proved to
be like 1 said the Blairites want it to be, then
he would have to start voting “independent".

John, of course, with his ardent desire to
down the Tories, his reflexes of blind loy-
lliy to the Labour Parry as it is, whatever it
is, his inattention to policy detail, and his
saturation-level diet of media propaganda, is
not, despite his special background, untypical
of many Labour voters and even of some
labour Parry members. Like him, vast num-
bers of such people have an inner vision of
Labour", and ignore the "details".

I was reminded of my arguments with
John when last week I saw an opinion poll
in the Times reporting that 51% of those
asked expect Labour to improve Welfare
State services and, despite Blair's frantic
signaling to the contrary, that 11% expect
Labour to reduce unemployment. They have,
and — despite what Blair says — will con-
tinue to have, high expectations of Labour.

Just as a very large percentage of Labour
voters in a recent Telegraph poll backed
Clause Four when the pollsters explained to
them what it was, many such people can be
got to back the left now, if we make them
think about the issues. They will oppose
and can be got to fight a pink Tory Blair
government.

It is out of such contradictions and the
struggles they will generate that the
political labour movement will renew itself.