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

Friday, 16 April 2010

We must battle slash & burn politics

This is the first general election for eighteen years where the outcome is impossible to predict. Yet, far from being gripped by the drama, millions of voters are already fed up to the back teeth with the election. Even some Guardian commentators reflect this mood. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, for example, expressed his happiness that he will be out of the country for the course of the election campaign.He described the plea of Guardian advocates for New Labour as being: "Yes, all right, the Labour government presided over a spurious economic miracle that was really no more than an explosion of household debt combined with criminal recklessness in the financial sector, it has created the most intrusive surveillance state in Europe, and it took us into a needless, illegal and disastrous war - but, hey, the Tories might be even worse." The "alternative slogan", Wheatcroft suggested, is equally "uninspiring": "Even if the Tories are pretty dodgy, anything to get rid of the present lot." In the last two general elections, turnout has been an historical low of around 60%. No doubt this time as well, many millions will abstain from voting in protest at three establishment parties who offer almost identical pro-capitalist policies. Others will vote for socialist candidates, particularly in the 42 seats where the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is offering a militant anti-cuts alternative. Unfortunately, in some areas, the lack of a genuine workers' party will mean that a layer of people will express their anger with the capitalist politicians by voting for the far-right, racist BNP.

However, there will also be workers, including some that did not vote New Labour in the last general election, who will, through gritted teeth, put a cross on their ballot paper next to New Labour. In most cases this will not represent one iota of enthusiasm for Gordon Brown and his cohorts, but stems from desperation to prevent a Tory government. The Socialist Party's predecessor, Militant, led some of the most important battles against the Tory Thatcher government - including the struggle of Liverpool City Council and the eighteen million strong anti-poll tax movement which brought down both the tax and Thatcher herself. We fully understand why workers rightly fear a Tory government, which will attempt to implement brutal anti-working class policies. However, the policies pursued by a fourth New Labour government would not be fundamentally different. Whoever wins the election will demand that the economic crisis and the bailout of the banks be paid for by cuts in public services and working-class people's living conditions. New Labour's manifesto yet again reiterated that they will halve the public sector deficit by 2014. This will not come from greater taxation of big business - in fact the manifesto emphasised that tax on big business would be "kept as low as possible". Instead we face £78 billion worth of cuts and tax rises for working and middle class people over four years. This vast amount of money is almost equal to cutting the entire NHS annual budget in the course of one parliament.

It would not be true to say that there are no differences between New Labour and the Tories. For example New Labour's manifesto includes a pledge to raise the minimum wage in line with average earnings which is designed to emphasise the 'difference' between them and the Tories. The Tories are planning £6 billion more in 'savings' (ie cuts) in the first year to pay for their reversal of the National Insurance increase planned by New Labour. However, compared to the scale of the cuts planned, the differences are small. Ludicrously the Financial Times dedicated an editorial to attcking New Labour's manifesto for failing to cut the size of the state. In fact New Labour proposes to accelerate the privatisation policies pursued over 13 years in office. The fat cats are to be invited to make profits from ever greater swathes of our public services. Every hospital would become a 'foundation trust', a significant step towards privatisation. Even the shiny new hospital where the manifesto launch took place was built on the basis of private finance at huge cost to the taxpayer. It is worth around £627 million but, because it was built using the Private Finance Initiative, taxpayers have been left with a bill for £2.58 billion.New Labour clearly wanted to highlight the hospital's new treatment centre for soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. While this facility will be welcomed by soldiers and their families, it is no compensation for the government's occupation of Afghanistan in the first place!

The differences are equally small on other issues. The Tories stand for total privatisation of Royal Mail, but both New Labour and the LibDems call for part privatisation. At the same time the previous Labour commitment to freeze university tuition fees has been dropped, an indication that New Labour, just like the Tories, would lift the present cap on fees beyond the general election. It is clear that a Tory government would move to increase the amount of repressive anti-trade union legislation. New Labour, however, has not only left the previous Tory government's anti-trade union laws overwhelmingly intact, but has allowed them to be used in a brutal manner against the British Airways cabin crew and railway workers' union - effectively taking away the right to strike.The Socialist Party, like millions of workers, is not willing to accept a choice between a 'greater' and a 'lesser' evil. Neither is abstaining from elections a way forward. What is needed is the creation of a mass party that stands in workers' interests. TUSC, by standing in these elections, can be a step towards such a party. It is also standing to argue the case for socialism and to help prepare working class people for the mass struggle against cuts which will be needed beyond the general election.

LibDem leader Nick Clegg was right when he warned that "Greek-style unrest" would take place in Britain if a government with a small majority attempts to carry out "slash and burn" policies. However, any party that accepts the logic of the capitalist markets, as all three establishment parties do, will attempt to "slash and burn" our public services. The next government - regardless of its political stripe - will be a weak government with a shallow basis of social support, attempting to carry out deeply unpopular policies. As a result, at a certain stage, Greece will come to Britain as workers are forced to defend their living conditions against the brutal reality of 21st century capitalism. In the course of such movements there will be opportunities to build mass support for socialist ideas - as a real alternative to the three big parties of the bankers and the billionaires.

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