A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Far from a classic affair

Despite the efforts of Labour supporters in the trade union movement to play up the party's general election manifesto as a social justice classic, the facts indicate otherwise. New Labour remains committed to big business and the banks and to making working people continue to bear a disproportionate burden of taxation. The main case to vote Labour remains the negative realisation that the Tories would, difficult though it may be for some to credit it, be far worse than Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling. Though Darling has boasted that he will cut public spending even more deeply than Margaret Thatcher in her Tory government heyday, George Osborne has outdone him, insisting that he will cut more quickly and more savagely. The implosion of the banking system just over a year ago was prevented by the government setting aside £1.3 trillion to bail out the banks, driving up the national debt to do so. The Bank of England has made state finance - our money - available to the banks at 0.5 per cent, but, despite this, the finance sector has refused to lend sympathetically to small businesses and home-buyers, preferring to drive up their own profits by imposing swingeing interest rates on loans. The Treasury has effectively allowed the banks to transform public money into private profits through methods that reek of usury.

When the government boasts in Labour's manifesto that it will realise stakes in publicly controlled banks, it means that the banks will repay some of what was invested by government in the banks without any share of the profits windfall. The banks will return to business as usual, ripping off personal customers and small businesses and lecturing ministers on the need to slash government debt even though it was their own greed and recklessness that drove up public borrowing in the first place. Brown has made much of his determination to continue the Blairite "reform" agenda for public services. This involves facilitating private contractors to loot the public purse through PFI contracts and taking over supposedly "failed" state schools and hospitals in England, where new Labour's obsession with foundation trusts and city academies blazes undimmed. Given the scale of the finance-sector meltdown and government investment that was needed to counter it, there was an excellent case to be made for the public sector to take over the banks and run them in the interests of the people not the shareholders and directors. Brown pledges to reduce the public debt caused by the banks, not by taxing those whose conduct created the crisis - the banking speculators and super-rich - but by raising £11 billion through public-sector efficiency savings, £4 billion by trimming public-sector pay and pensions and £5 billion from what he calls non-priority public-sector areas.

In other words, public services and their staff, which bear no responsibility for the crisis, will be clobbered to allow the banks to carry on ripping us off. Even the much-vaunted "Robin Hood" tax on financial transaction will be dependent on global agreement, which effectively punts it into the long grass. Labour's manifesto is marginally less toxic than what the Tories have in store, but it indicates that, whichever party wins the election, working people will still have to fight on a number of fronts to defend their jobs, pay, conditions and our public services.

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