Does this mean that we can relax, that the left has regained its senses? Not yet, by any means. Whilst anti-fascism went head-to-head with a crude anti-imperialism, a quieter betrayal of principle was taking place; the abandonment of the poor.
I have just started reading an interesting book of reportage on the white working class in the USA by Joe Bageant. In his introduction, he asks, "If the left is not about class equity, what is it about?" Not a question for John Denham. Fresh from his triumph in wrecking university adult education, he couldn't have put it more starkly. The Guardian reported,
A senior cabinet minister will warn tomorrow that "the egalitarian ideal" that has dominated left liberal thinking since the 1960s is redundant, saying Labour's traditional emphasis solely on the poor leaves the vast bulk of the population alienated and left out.So the ideal of equality has dominated the left since the 1960's, has it? Denham might have been more convincing if he had talked about the 1360's. Here is one version of John Ball's sermon from 1381.
When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman. From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.Equality is a long standing dream, central to any who would claim to be left-wing, not a self-indulgent sixties fashion.
Denham's sentiment is redolent with a cynical view of the electorate and locked into a model of voting behaviour as being based solely on a narrow calculation of self-interest, rather than one informed by an ethical world view. And certainly Labour are acting on just these assumptions. Take a look at the new welfare reforms. As well as producing some dubious practices, they are full of gems like this,
Three hundred thousand of the poorest households in Britain are expected to lose up to £60 a month from their housing benefit under government plans to curb the welfare budget. The cut, which would hit Labour's core voters a month before the next general election, could spark a revolt reminiscent of the 10p tax rate debacle.And what about paying for the credit crunch? Oh yes, public sector workers will have to bear the brunt (and do read Will Hutton's strong dissent from the prevailing conventional wisdom here). Of course the election of two BNP MEPs has scared them into throwing a bit of potentially illegal raw meat to appease far right voters, but the bulk of the working class is left out in the cold.
The fight to establish social liberties is only one part of the historic role of the left, the other is the struggle for economic security and equality. That is why Terry is right to emphasise the role of the international solidarity of labour unions in confronting oppressive regimes. Others, though, have lapsed either into a Panglossian complacency about western societies, or a crude and self-serving electoral cynicism. If we are lucky, the left may be about to regain part of its soul, but there is still a world to win.