Following their vote for war against the Islamic State in Parliament, the Tories then headed off to their party conference last week to re-declare another war: a class war against the working class. Steve Jones looks at the latest promises of austerity that Cameron and co. have offered to workers and youth.
On Friday 26th September, the Tories arrived in Westminster to attend a recall parliament to vote through the war against the Islamic State (IS or ISIL as it is known). Having mobilised the might of the British Empire, complete with Churchillian-style swagger, the Tories then headed off to their conference in the Midlands to re-declare another war: a class war against the working class.
With the UKIP bandits snapping at their heels, the Tories seem set to bring in new waves of reaction to outflank the angry old men of Farage’s party. With Tory Party membership now at 134,000 (compared to the two million plus it once had in the 1950s) and a number of rich donors deserting the ship along, with yet another MP and several local councillors, desperation has set in, hence the lurch to the right.
No future for the youth
The conference was preceded by Cameron’s announcement that youth unemployment is to be abolished, or to be more accurate, the youth unemployed are to be abolished. They will still exist, of course, but under new proposals all childless 18-21 year-olds will no longer be able to claim housing benefits or the jobseekers allowance. Presumably they will now have to starve to death in the national interest.
Naturally, it never occurred to Cameron that the real way to deal with youth unemployment is to provide jobs for them. For today’s generation of young people coming onto the jobs market the situation is absolutely dire. For most, any though of a decent job let alone something called a career has gone out the window. Low-paid, dead-end jobs are the order of the day. Britain has produced the best-educated shelf-stackers and coffee-makers in history.
Attacks on welfare
On the Monday, chancellor George Osborne laid in with the real attacks. With his trademark smirk he showed us all what real Conservatism means. Having sidestepped the problem that the much obsessed-over UK deficit has been rising in recent months and is now £50 billion more than forecast in 2012, he announced a vicious programme of £3 billion in new welfare cuts.
Over 5 million families will be hit by these cuts. An “in-work” family can expect to lose £490 a year as a result of the measures being proposed. This is an irony given that the political class in Westminster constantly go on about “hard-working families” – a theme repeated many times by Cameron and others over the conference period – and yet a section of the hardest working, least well-paid people in Britain are now to be targeted again. These are the people in low-paid jobs, often working long hours or split shifts at unsocial hours in order to survive.
In reality, “hard-working families” is a code for the middle-classes who the Tories are trying to motivate to vote for them in 2015 by trying to convince them that everything wrong in society is the fault of the “undeserving” poor who, they say, have brought all the problems of society on themselves by their own fecklessness. This is classic Tory class bigotry and recalls all the previous campaigns against the working class, going back to the dark days of the Workhouse and the constant mumblings about “sturdy beggars” and so on.
Demonisation of the working class
Just to add salt into the wound, the government also wants to further demonise those in benefits by forcing them to use special pre-paid cards when buying essential foods and supplies. What’s next? Forced wearing of stars on their jackets? If the £3 billion in cuts are not enough, Osborne has also declared that his aim is to cut £12 billion from welfare on top of what has already gone. Everything is blamed on the need to deal with the all-important deficit, yet these welfare cuts represent just 3% of that – hardly a decisive figure.
For ordinary people this should be yet another reason to get the Tories out in May. A report released by Ernst and Young confirms that average real pay will fall to £17,827 in 2017, representing a fall of £1000 compared to 2008. They now talk of a “lost decade” of pay. Such pressure on poor and even middle-income earners is fast becoming unbearable.
At the end of conference, Cameron tried his best to throw out the usual Tory pre-election bribe – tax cuts. £7.2 billion is to be given away, mainly to higher–earning taxpayers. This represents double what Osborne announced he was grabbing at the beginning of the week. So it seems the deficit is not so important after all given the pressing need to grab votes come next spring, not to mention two rather tricky by-elections coming up. Given that nearly a third of 2010 Tory voters are now minded not to do so again in 2015, Cameron is looking for anything that might save him and his party.
Miliband and Balls: uninspiring
The only bit of good news they have is that people continue to be uninspired by Labour. Although the mass media continue to present things as being all about personalities, as if voters decide on the basis of Ed Miliband’s teeth, the truth is that many people have found little to excite them in the Labour leadership’s continued commitment to austerity-lite.
Labour’s own conference, a week earlier, was marked by precious little in the form of any real reforms. Talk about Mansion House Taxes, spending on the NHS, a rise in the minimum wage and so on – mini-reforms at best – were swamped by Ed Balls’ confirmation that, under a Labour government, it will be more of the same – spending cut, benefits cut, child benefit cuts and so on – all the “tough decisions” that the well-off like to foist on us all. No wonder his remarks were met by a stony-silence and even some boos from those in the conference hall.
Trade union leaders like Unison’s Dave Prentis tried to talk up the conference as being “what we wanted” but it is hard to escape the feeling that the Labour leadership have fallen into the trap set by the Tories and the City of London. Miliband may have “forgotten” about the deficit but it would have been better had he remembered some socialist policies in his speech to delegates. Labour has a modest lead in most, but not all, opinion polls, but this seems to be in spite of not because of what Labour is saying. Union activists need to ask why was not more action taken by the affiliated trade unions to push Labour in another direction – to defend working class people, not the bastions of capital. Simply saying, “heads down and wait for the next election and a Labour government” is not good enough if all you end up with is more of the same, even assuming this strategy doesn’t totally backfire and the Tories sneak back in some way.
Fight for a socialist programme!
The struggle for socialist policies and a leadership prepared to fight for them has now become critical. The sad fact is that the trade union leaders have been passive at best over Labour’s lack of real fight. The unions can longer sit on the sidelines and trade union militants must draw the necessary conclusions and act.
The Tories have thrown down a bloody gauntlet to the unemployed, the poor and needy, the young and the old. This should be thrown back in their faces. They should be resisted on the industrial front; the call for the TUC to organise a one-day general strike to focus this action is essential.
On the political front, the demand must be for a break with capitalist policies and the system that demands endless austerity. All those who are looking to achieve this need to ally themselves with the ideas of Marxism, which is seeking to build the basis for real change, to mobilise the mightiest forces on earth – the power of the masses – to carry out the fundamental transformation of society.