The following article first appeared on the website of Fightback Ireland.
The British General Election takes place on May 6th after 12 years of Labour government. The outcome is still perhaps too close to call, although it has to be said that Labour’s slow
and uncertain recovery in the polls over the last year or more means
that the prospect of a landslide Tory Victory seems less likely than
was the case in the depths of the economic crisis. However,
it’s also true to say that the aftermath of the economic crisis means
that the same issues that affect Ireland are slap bang on the agenda.
Each of the big three parties, Labour, Tory and the Liberal Democrats
have been majoring on how they will deal with the “national debt” and
the budget deficit. This at a time when unemployment has rocketed and
the economy is crawling out of recession.
is a tremendous clamour in the press and the media to make the working
class pay for the crisis, which no doubt won’t be a much of a shock to
anyone on this side of the Irish Sea. But the tempo in Britain has been
affected by a couple of factors. On the one hand there is the election
itself; Labour have been anxious to distance themselves from Tory plans
to immediately slash spending after the style of the FF in Ireland. But
Brown and Darling – the chancellor, don’t have a clear alternative;
instead they will make the cuts later, making up for lost time when
size of the British economy is another important factor, as is the role
of the City of London, which has allowed the £ sterling to maintain
itself separately outside of the Euro zone. The size of the internal
market, relative proximity to Europe and the role of the city mean that
Britain is less trade dependent than Ireland. One of the factors in the
Irish crisis has been the collapse of world trade, that has had an
effect on Britain but the effect has been less acute.
Britain still went through the same bubble of cheap credit, which as
the Marxists have argued for decades only serves to extend capitalism
beyond the limits imposed by its own laws. You can’t spend the same
money twice; eventually you have to pay back the loans. The only issue
is when. The problem for all of us was that when the economic recession
came, when became now! The banks called the money in.
while Gordon Brown was thrust into the biggest crisis in world economic
history, immediately after he took office, the Tories have been unable
to capitalise on the situation. In fact the Tories have struggled to
find cohesion ever since the departure of Thatcher back in 1990. There
has been a succession of “leaders” most of whom are ex cabinet
ministers none of whom have made much impact. David Cameron, who was
presented as the new (Blair like) charismatic leader has failed to make
a significant breakthrough.
the current situation is very different to the superficially similar
position that existed before 1997, where the Tories had been seen as
being a dead duck after getting into serious economic difficulties in
1992. Then John Major and the Tories lagged miles behind for virtually
the whole parliament.
So what is likely to be the outcome?
are a number of options. Labour may win a majority, although this seems
unlikely. They may be the biggest party in a hung parliament, but it is
most likely that the Tories will win a small majority or be the biggest
the event of a hung parliament it’s likely that there will be a
coalition formed with Labour or Tories courting the Liberal Democrats
or the smaller parties. An example of this has been the Tories
activities in the North. The Tories have been trying to bolster the UUP
in the North and have now effectively merged with them. But they are
unlikely to benefit much from this arrangement given that the DUP and
SF are far stronger at the moment than either the UUP or the SDLP.
After 13 years of Labour Government it is most probable that Labour
would lose out to the Tories in a coalition scramble. But any coalition
government would be perceived as weak and would immediately be faced
with an economic mess.
possibility is a National Government such as developed in 1931 when
Ramsey McDonald split from the Labour Party and went into coalition
with the Tories and Liberals. Although this isn’t the most likely
outcome, its worth noting that the idea of “national unity” has already
been raised in a few places, including by Vince Cable the Liberal
Democratic Economic spokesman. More than anything this reflects the
scale of the mess that the next government will be facing.
for the Marxists the outcome of the election in itself isn’t the most
important issue. Far more important is the outcome in terms of the
development of society and of the consciousness of the working class. There
is no doubt that the axe will fall on public services and on the
working class as a whole. How will workers react? We’ve explained that
this isn’t a straightforward question. The crash and the recession had
a significant effect on workers, many of whom have been desperately
hanging onto their jobs.
have been bitter disputes and even occupations. But in general the
class struggle has been at a relatively low ebb. There are some notable
exceptions, particularly the recent Civil Service strikes against
pension cuts and the recent postal workers dispute. One thing is for
sure, the trade union leaders will have to shift their position if the
Tories are elected or if there is a hung parliament. They have been
holding the line for Labour for a long time, which has determined their
industrial policy; they won’t be able to have the same cosy
relationship with the Tories. There is also likely to be a
differentiation within the Labour Party and also potentially an upturn
in industrial struggle in the private sector as the economy picks up.
to the perspective for Britain and for the world for that matter is the
inherent instability of the capitalist system. It’s likely that the
next period will see the beginning of an age of austerity, which could
last for decades. That will affect the psychology of all the classes in
society. From that point of view the British Election reflects some of
the opening lightening bolts in a huge social and political storm that
will affect Britain, Ireland and the whole world.