O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
Many Americans will be unaware of some recent developments that cast an interesting light on developments across the
On another tangent, here in
While exhorting Mayor Bloomberg to follow
And now my Tribune column, 31 March 2006
And now my Tribune column, 31 March 2006
Ermine For IOU's
The "Ermine for IOU's" scandal may look as it if were a flashback to Lloyd George's days, but that is not doing modernizing dynamic Tony Blair justice. I suspect that the inspiration is not the old Welsh womanizer, but his transatlantic reincarnation, Blair's old chum Bill Clinton.
In the good old days when John Smith was alive, Comrades Blair and Brown were passing through
A reply of another sorts came a few weeks later when a
It was Bill Clinton who castigated American unions as "Special Interest Groups," while raking in the cash from Wall Street donors. It was Bill Clinton who sold nights in the White House in return for big campaign cheques. It was the Clintons who essentially decided that the purpose of the Democratic Party was to re-elect Bill Clinton, so that he could promulgate the voodoo economics which George Bush senior regarded as too reactionary and inhuman for his more moderate conservative taste.
Of course George Bush Junior's toxic reign has now imbued Clinton's terms with a rosy retrospective glow, but in his two terms Clinton effectively managed to complete the destruction of what was left of the Democratic Party's democracy and reduce the organization to a PO box for corporate donations, confident that the party's supporters would not vote Republican no matter what the Democrats did.
In return for big cheques, American donors have traditionally expected Ambassadorships and similar prestige jobs. In American usage, Ambassadors keep their title on retirement, so it has all the social appurtenances of a life peerage. But they all expect results, as when a few hundred thousand dollars from a Cuban American magnate got Clinton to sign on for tightening the embargo, a few million from Hollywood got his government to fight the Germans on behalf of the Scientologists, and half a million from a banana magnate bought a trade war with the European Union.
The basis for the donor-driven politics of
But now, what you see in Britain is what we had already got here in the States: dwindling party rolls as members decide that a party leadership that seems to pay no attention to what they want is not really worthwhile spending money or time on; alienated unions being sent to the tradesman's entrance of Number Ten while the more piratical captains of industry get the red carpet treatment at the front.
The resemblances go even deeper. Blair originally won his leadership campaign, the closest thing to a primary the Labour Party had ever had, with an expensive campaign paid for by a wealthy individual with little or no previous connection to the Party. And now, along with a peerage, Michael Levy is the financial engineer behind his client Tony Blair's bid for financial independence from the unions, not to mention a key determinant in
There is a strong case for entrepreneurs and business people sending money to the Labour Party. Labour is better for the economy than Thatcherism, and there is a long tradition of millionaires supporting the party, even if the first name that springs to mind, Robert Maxwell, evokes caution more than applause.
Several of the recent donors say they were told to keep their loans quiet, which suggests that Clintonian reasons were paramount. Like Clinton, Blair was wrestling with the problem of how to finance an election when so many of his autocratically decided policies ran counter to the principles of the traditional members and supporters of the party. He had already attenuated the Labour Conference from a decision making body to an American style convention, a circus to endorse and showcase the winner of the expensive primary election for Party leadership. Party branches were overtly encouraged to go into hibernation.
But the members were voting with their feet ad dropping out. Unions were finding better uses for their political funds than supporting a leadership that regarded them with a baleful Thatcherite glare and which actually boasted of having the most regressive labour laws in
However, there is a price for this. If the first stage, the party organization, is jettisoned during the launch of the Blair fan club into political orbit, what does it leave for his successor? One answer would be state funding, which would perpetuate the current leadership's independence from the party's electoral base, at least until the Tories get their act together.
Big cheques, whether from government or millionaires, are not conducive to grass roots democracy, nor to grassroots activism of the kind needed to rebuild Labour's base. It would be interesting to hear what aspirant party leaders have to say about rebuilding the party. If members are to be involved in the choice of the next leader, and in the next election, it would be useful if promising candidates started persuading disgusted former members to return, not least by promising to listen to them.