With less than two months to go until the general election, the Labour Party should be charging ahead in the polls. Yet Labour find themselves neck-and-neck with the Conservatives. The responsibility for this lies entirely with the Labour leaders, who have failed to connect with the real mood of anger and radicalisation that exists across society.
With less than two months to go until the general election, and after five years of falling living standards and Tory austerity, the Con-Dem Coalition is hated and loathed. The Labour Party, by all accounts, should be charging ahead in the polls. Yet Labour find themselves neck-and-neck with the Conservatives as the election campaign picks up steam. The threat of another Tory-led government looms. The responsibility for this lies entirely with the Labour leaders, who have shown themselves to be increasingly out-of-touch from the lives of ordinary people, consistently failing to connect with the real mood of anger and radicalisation that exists across society.
The Tories have spent the entirety of their time in government carrying out vicious cuts and attacking the poorest in society. They have been joined in this zealous mission by the Lib Dems, who have shown little remorse for betraying their pre-election promises and playing the role of obedient servant to the Tories. Despite the anti-Establishment demagoguery of Farage, it is clear that UKIP would more than happily join in with these attacks on workers and the poor if given the chance. The primary focus for the labour movement, therefore, must be to get rid of the Tories and the Liberals, and to keep UKIP out.
The only way to do this, however, is to draw a clear line in the sand between these bourgeois, anti-working class parties and those who seek to represent ordinary workers and youth. By providing a clear and genuine alternative to the Tories’ endless austerity, and thus mobilising and galvanising support from the majority of ordinary people, Labour could charge ahead in the polls and win a clear majority. But by failing to offer such an alternative, the Labour leaders are paving the way for a potential Conservative victory, as workers and youth stay at home, seeing little to vote for.
Would you like some cuts with your cuts?
Last Saturday, in a speech to Labour supporters in Birmingham, Ed Miliband outlined Labour’s pledges – the bedrock of their electoral campaign. These pledges, consisting of five points, are what Labour hopes to inspire the electorate with in the run up to the vote on 7th May. There is little, however, for most people to get enthused about.
The tone for Labour’s whole election campaign was set by Miliband’s first promise: for a “strong economic foundation”, with guarantees that Labour will “cut the deficit every year” and “[balance] the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament” – in other words, there will be five more years of cuts and austerity.
Labour’s cuts, we are told, will be nicer and fairer than those of Cameron, Osborne, and co. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that Labour cuts will amount to £7 billion in the next Parliament, compared to £33 billion for the Tories. However, the IFS think-tank also warns that this means Labour would have to borrow £50 billion per year more by 2020 than the Conservatives, leaving the economy vulnerable to further waves of crisis.
“…even if Labour do keep spending cuts to a minimum over the next parliament, further tax increases or spending cuts might prove necessary down the line in order to reduce risks with the long term state of the public finances further. The problem is that another recession will strike one day.”
So the choice for ordinary people is between the immediate pain of large cuts straight away, as offered by the Tories, or an entrée of austerity by Labour, with the main course to be served at a later date. In either case, the only option on the menu is of cuts, cuts, and more cuts.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
After outlining the need for further cuts, Miliband moved onto the real meat of his manifesto: “higher living standards for working families”, to be achieved by freezes energy prices, upping the minimum wage to £8 per hour, and banning exploitative zero-hour contracts – all noble aims, which, if introduced, would doubtless improve the lives of the poorest in society. Similarly regarding the Labour leader’s third pledge: to “rescue the NHS” by hiring 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors, 5,000 more care workers, and 3,000 more midwives, all funded through “a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million.” Elsewhere, Miliband has also emphasised that Labour would scrap the much hated bedroom tax, which the Tory-led Coalition have used to attack the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
Such reforms would be more than welcomed by most, and would indeed bring a real improvement to ordinary working families across Britain. But the real question is: how? These promises exist side-by-side with Miliband’s primary pledge to balance the budget and cut the deficit, which – if education and healthcare are to be “ring-fenced”, as has been stated by the Labour leaders – can only be achieved through drastic attacks on other areas of public spending. In particular, Rachel Reeves, the shadow secretary for work and pensions, has promised that Labour will be “tougher than the Tories” when it comes to attacking welfare for the poorest. What the Labour leaders offer with the one hand, therefore, they will merely take away with the other.
Most importantly, how will any of these basic demands be carried out in practice, at a time when governments of all colours across Europe are being told by the bosses and bankers to implement nothing but austerity? The current state of affairs – of high energy prices, a low minimum wage, and an abundance of zero-hour contrasts – exists in the interest of these very same bosses and bankers; in the interest of keeping labour costs and taxes for big business low, and thus keeping their profits high. Anything that threatens this state of affairs will be resisted tooth-and-nail by the capitalists, primarily through threats to starve the economy of the money and investment that is the lifeblood of capitalism.
Such threats are very real, and have already been seen in recent times in countries such as France and Greece, where the left governments of Hollande and Tsipras have both capitulated to the demands of the capitalists. Both initially raised hopes and enthused workers and youth with promises to fight austerity and instead make the rich pay; but both have now, after seeing a flight of capital, been forced to kneel before the dictatorship of the bankers and accept their demands.
One party; two faces
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Miliband and co. would do well to read these words of wisdom from the Bible. In today’s times, the dilemma could be summed up as such: one cannot serve both the 99% and the 1%.
On the one hand, the Labour leaders must see the burning fury and indignation that exists within society towards the bankers, and indeed the whole Establishment. Even the most out-of-touch of these professional politicians cannot fail to understand the need to display at least a modicum of anti-banker rhetoric – hence Miliband’s promise to “replace a failing, tired, government for the few” with “a government that is truly for all the working people of Britain”.
On the other hand, however, these same Labour leaders trip over themselves as they attempt to demonstrate their dedication and devotion to their masters in The City and the right-wing press at every opportunity. At times, they even try to out-Tory the Tories, as demonstrated by Reeves’ comments above regarding Labour’s harsh stance on benefits.
Similarly, Miliband has himself tried to outflank the Tories on the right regarding the question of immigration, providing echoes of Enoch Powell with the fourth of his pledges: to ensure there are tougher controls on immigration, with those coming to Britain being made“to wait for at least two years until they can claim benefits”. Instead of bending to the rhetoric of Nigel Farage, the “pound shop Enoch Powell”, Miliband should be explaining the real cause for the lack of jobs, housing, and public services in society: the capitalist system, which offers nothing but crisis, scarcity, and declining living standards.
As with the economy and the question of cuts, so it is with the question of immigration. In both cases, and in fact on all issues, Miliband and Balls have completely accepted the terms of the debate laid out by the Conservatives and their rich friends in the media. Rather than highlighting the hypocrisy of the Tories, who preach the virtues of austerity whilst accepting donations from tax-dodging billionaires, the Labour leaders have gone along with the UKIP-led scapegoating of immigrants whilst begging for mere crumbs off the table. Their manifesto can accurately be described as the politics of “me-too-ism”. Osborne: I will cut public spending; Balls: me too! Cameron: we will stop immigrants coming to Britain; Miliband: me too! And we’ll stop them claiming benefits as well!
Blair is back
With such comments, the Labour leaders hope to prove that they will be “responsible” and “statesmanlike”; that they will be a government that can be “trusted” – trusted, that is, to obediently carry out what is asked of them by the capitalists, like a dog that immediately sits at the sound of his master’s voice.
At the same time, however, the capitalists do not completely trust Miliband. They will never forgive him for courting the union vote in his bid to become leader. At root, they do not trust a party such as Labour, where the trade unions still have a voice and a shred of influence – despite all the best efforts of Blair and his ilk in the past.
Hence the renewed attempts by the Blairites – including the head honcho himself – to try and prove that they can be the party of business by removing the Labour Party’s reliance on union funds. In a recent article from City A.M., this reliable mouthpiece of the bosses and the bankers announced that, “Tony Blair adds to Labour war-chest to help Miliband fight the unions”. Fearful of Labour losing union donations as a result of its anti-working class promises of austerity, this paper of the capitalists inform us that “Tony Blair has flung himself back into the political fray,” setting up a dinner at his family home with Hull football club boss Assem Allam in order to organise “a deal to secure Labour up to £1m of funding if it gets on the wrong side of its Unite [the Union] donors.”
“I want to see a strong Labour party less reliant on trade union money,” Allam stated, “so I have said if you have any problem with the Unite money I will make my donation £1m.”
“As I have always said to our friends in the Labour party, Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, I would increase my political donations to gradually reduce the Labour party’s financial reliance on the trade unions.
“I hope I can inspire other like-minded business people to do the same so that the Labour party can stand on their own without having to satisfy one paymaster.”
Here we have it once again, this time from the horse’s mouth itself: one cannot serve two masters.
Out of touch
There are none so blind as those who will not see. At the very moment when capitalism is dying on its feet, the Labour leaders cling to this rotten corpse of a system and pose themselves as its most loyal supporters. At a time of intense volatility – economically, socially, and politically – when society is undergoing tumultuous changes, these learned ladies and gentlemen bury their heads in the sand, hoping that the storm will pass. As consciousness changes and the political landscape fractures and polarises, Miliband and co. fail to notice the radicalisation taking place in Britain and beyond, instead consoling themselves by monotonously parroting the need for cuts, and instead putting forward a programme of mild demands that is far short of what ordinary people are yearning for.
An immediate example is that relating to Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices. Whilst the Labour leaders promise merely to regulate the fat-cat “Big Six” utility companies, opinions polls demonstrate that the vast majority of people in Britain support the idea of re-nationalising these parasitic big businesses. Similarly regarding the railways, the banks, and the postal service, where public opinion is far to the left of the Labour programme, with the leaders talking of regulation whilst ordinary people indicate support nationalisation. If the Labour Party were to adopt such demands – for nationalisation of the banks and the major utilities – it would clearly find an echo in society and propel Labour ahead in the polls.
The election of SYRIZA in Greece; the rise of PODEMOS in Spain; the mass support for nationalisation of the energy companies and the railways; the popularity of anti-establishment celebrity figures such as Russell Brand and his calls for Revolution; the growing support for the Green Party on an anti-austerity programme; the phenomenal surge in membership for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP): all of these demonstrate the process of radicalisation taking place in society as ordinary people desperately search for an end to austerity and a way out of the crisis.
Indeed, the Labour leaders will soon experience a harsh lesson in what happens if you do not provide an alternative to cuts. The latest opinions polls from Lord Ashcroft, the Tory peer, indicate that Labour will be demolished in Scotland at the upcoming elections, with the SNP on course to sweep the board. Gordon Brown’s seat, which the former Prime Minister is vacating, having won a 23,000 majority in 2010, is predicted to swing to the SNP. The same polls estimate that the SNP could win as much as 56 out of the 59 seats available in Scotland, with Labour being reduced from 41 to 1, and the Tories and Lib Dems taking one a piece.
Whilst such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely, it is clear that Labour will pay a heavy price for jumping into bed with the Tories over the independence referendum campaign, not to mention years of treating Scotland as a vassal to Westminster.
Importantly, the meteoric rise in support for the SNP must be understood, not as a product of nationalist sentiments, but as a reflection of the yearning for an alternative. The referendum was seen by many as a protest against austerity; against Westminster and the whole Establishment – an Establishment which Labour is now seen as being part of also. Independence was – and still is – seen as offering a guarantee against the possibility of any future Tory governments – a feeling that will only have been strengthened in the minds of Scots following Conservative peer Lord Baker’s recent comments entertaining the possibility of a “grand coalition” between the Tories and Labour in order to “save the United Kingdom”.
Even those in Scotland who don’t support independence also, understandably, see the SNP as being the party that is most likely to protect and win reforms – that is, as a party with a programme that is to the left of Labour. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has cleverly exploited the situation. Knowing that Labour will likely be reliant on support from the SNP in order to form a government, Sturgeon has emphasised that any support – either from within a coalition government or from without – would come with important conditions: most importantly, a promise to end the cuts. With stern demands like that, there are likely to be many in England and Wales who would like to vote for the SNP too, if they only had the opportunity.
Instability and volatility
In an attempt to once again prove himself the reliable statesmen and defender of the realm, Miliband has – under pressure from the Tories to “save Britain” – assured the ruling class that he will not enter into a coalition with the SNP. Yet with the polling figures as they are, Labour will, in one shape or form, be reliant on the SNP. For if not them, then who?
Even with the explicit support of the Liberals (and possibly the Greens), a majority would not be possible. The alternative would be a minority Labour government, reliant on Tory votes to carry through cuts. Such a scenario would only further fuel the fire of anger in society towards Westminster and the Establishment, driving yet more people into the arms of insurgent parties such as UKIP, the SNP, and the Greens, and causing civil war between the Blairites and the unions inside the Labour Party.
Some opinions polls now put the Conservatives ahead. Indeed, why vote for the “Tory-lite” policies of Miliband when you can have the real thing? Why elect a pale imitation of the Tories when you can have the genuine article? If you’re going to vote for cuts, you might as well vote for the party that has five years of recent experience pushing through austerity!
The threat is, therefore, now even being raised of a potential Tory-UKIP-Liberal coalition, or a minority Conservative government. The labour movement must mobilise to keep out these parties of big business out. If the next government is Tory-led, in whatever form, the blame for such an eventuality lies entirely on the shoulders of the Labour leaders who, with their consistent attempts to outflank the Tories on the right and demonstrate their subservient loyalty to big business and The City, have only helped to discredit themselves and alienate working class voters.
Whatever the outcome of the election, the stage is set for a period of turbulent events ahead. Whichever government is formed will be a government of crisis from day one, forced to carry out vicious austerity and attacks on the working class. This, in turn, will stoke further, intensified waves of militant struggle by workers and youth.
In the battles ahead, the key weapon will be that of a socialist programme. Only by being armed with such a sword and shield can the labour movement defend itself and go on the offensive to win back what has already been taken. Only with bold socialist policies can the fightback be won. Workers and youth: unite and fight!