by Chris Bambery, editor, Socialist Worker (Britain)
Millions of people in Britain will have been pleased to see the back of Tony Blair as prime minister. Many will have greeted Gordon Brown’s start as premier as an opportunity to put an end to the failed New Labour policies of war and privatisation.
Those who have despaired of the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may hope that Brown will have confidence to stand up to George Bush and bring the troops home.
Many will be hopeful that the new cabinet will act on the funding crisis in the NHS, which has led to the sacking of staff and the closure of hospitals and wards across the country, while private companies get rich by leeching off the health service.
Hundreds of thousands of people who are living in overcrowded, substandard and overpriced accommodation will expect policies to deal with the housing crisis.
Yet in accepting the leadership, Brown made clear his devotion to Blair’s policies – in particular to the “strong relationship” with the US, and to Britain continuing to play a central role in the global “war on terror”.
The closest he came to acknowledging the failure of the war was when he said that Iraq had “been a divisive issue for our party and our country” and that his government would “learn lessons that need to be learned”.
But he then concluded that the war had been “necessary”.
Further evidence of Brown’s commitment to militarism came last week as he stood in the pulpit of a Kirkcaldy church to announce his support for replacing Trident nuclear submarines as a defence against “terrorism”.
But it is not just on the issue of the war that Brown is proving that he is unable and unwiling to break from Blairism.
Anyone who thought that the influence of the super-rich on the government might end is also going to be disappointed.
Brown has signalled that he has no intention of closing a tax loophole that allows some of the richest people in Britain to avoid paying tax.
This ensures that key rich list Labour donors – including steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, and multi-millionaires Lord Paul and Sir Gulam Noon – had something to celebrate.
In a sign that previous hints of policy change on the privatisation of housing and health would not amount to anything, the new prime minister also made clear his disapproval of some of the more left wing statements made by the contenders for the deputy leadership.
He promised that there will be no return to the “failed approaches of the left”.
The Blair government spent much of the extra funding it allocated for the NHS on a variety of privatisations and maintaining the increasingly costly internal market in health.
The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is tying health authorities into expensive long term arrangements that benefit corporations rather than patients.
No wonder an anxious John Cridland, deputy director of the bosses’ CBI organisation, told Brown that “to spurn the PFI now would be a huge step backwards for this country”, and urged him to “continue to resist populist calls for the PFI’s abolition and instead champion it”.
Commentators regard driving Labour into the centre ground of politics as Blair’s great achievement. His hallmark was junking policies that aimed at a fairer distribution of wealth or limiting the power of the large corporations.
The revelation that Brown has approached the Liberal Democrats about joining his new government, by offering former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown a job as secretary of state for Northern Ireland, is an extension of Blair’s political philosophy.
This doctrine seeks to replace the divisions of “left” and “right” with consensus politics, in which neoliberal economics is king and the only thing that separates the main parties is their style and spin.
As if to show the world just how New Labour Brown is, he has declared that the political influence of the unions in the Labour Party is a major obstacle to creating the new political alignment he seeks.
The unions that nominated Brown for leadership – including Amicus, CWU, GMB, T&G and Unison – now find that he will not be returning the favour.
Instead he plans to limit their influence at the party’s conference, which will see “divisive” votes replaced by “consensus” decision making.
The gap between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is already looking awfully thin.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: "BLAIR, BROWN- TWO CHEEKS OF THE SAME ARSE"
"No one since Monica Lewinsky has had as close a relationship to an American President as Tony Blair has."