Britain: The ConDem coalition

Not-so-new politics

After intense negotiations and backroom deals, the Tories and Liberal Democrats cobbled together a coalition government. This was the option favoured by the ruling, capitalist class, once it was clear that David Cameron’s Tories had failed to win a majority. They believe it will be able to deliver the deep, savage cuts they are demanding to make working-class people pay for their crisis. PETER TAAFFE assesses the situation.

WHEN A FORMER prime minister of Ireland was asked to define the political differences between his party and the main opposition, he replied: “We’re in – they’re out!” The ‘victors’ of the British general election – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their parties – could with equal conviction reply in the same vein in relation to New Labour. Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist has argued in the past that all three establishment parties in Britain, the Tories, Liberal Democrats and New Labour, are three wings of the same pro-capitalist party. Therefore, they should come together in one party, clearing the ground for the emergence of a real alternative, a new mass party of the working class rooted in the most combative sections of the trade union and labour movement.

Two thirds of this ‘fusion’ – at least at governmental level – has taken place in the Con-Dem coalition. How permanent or ‘happy’ the newly-weds will be in a coalition government depends more on events – and big events at that – than in the ‘psychological’ compatibility of the parties. Superficial capitalist commentators, echoed in the demoralised ranks of New Labour, believe that the arrangement will endure. They have no real perception of the social and political storms which are brewing in Britain.

These are a product of the most devastating economic crisis to afflict world capitalism in 70 years. Its impact on Britain has been colossal and is the main factor in New Labour’s election defeat. This crisis remains unresolved, is organic and will be drawn out. As we and the more serious spokespersons of British capitalism repeated during the election campaign, ultimately, this crisis would determine the policy of any subsequent government.

Cameron and Clegg’s public spending cuts. Cartton by Suz

The strategists of capital well understand that there is no fundamental difference between the three major parties. However, they need to maintain the fiction of ‘differences’ in order to swing the parliamentary pendulum from ‘left’ to ‘right’ and back again as a means of ventilating the anger of the masses. The model is the US, where the two big parties, the Republicans and Democrats, are ultimately in the pockets of big business. However, this does not exhaust the issue from the standpoint of the mass of working-class people, or the middle class for that matter. In the absence of a mass workers’ and socialist alternative, the Democrats are perceived as more ‘radical’. Events in the US will undermine this impression.

Perception is important, sometimes crucially so in the short term, in the psychology of classes, as it is with individuals. The views of a substantial section of the population – particularly the older generation – was that New Labour was still ‘different’ to the Tories, as were the ‘radicalised’ (at least during the election) Lib Dems. This was a manifestation of ‘lesser evilism’, which the Socialist Party warned well in advance would play a significant role in the election.

We have pointed out many times that workers, disgusted with the record of New Labour’s 13 years of office, would nevertheless ‘hold their noses’ and vote against the Tories – in the main by putting a cross for New Labour. Lo and behold, Margaret Hodge, the millionaire New Labour MP for Barking, was actually seen on television appealing to a worker to vote for her, despite his stated hostility to her and her programme, while ‘holding your nose’! In truth, New Labour experienced electoral meltdown on 6 May.

Under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Labour has lost over 36% of its voters since 1997. Yet, so low were the expectations of Labour grandees that there was a sense of relief that it was not worse, that they did not come third behind the Lib Dems, which appeared likely at one stage. New Labour’s vote was the worst since 1983 and has produced – in parliament, at least – New Labour-free zones in parts of the country, such as Kent, East Anglia and most of the South-West, apart from a few urban areas such as Bristol. In Scotland, however, Labour’s vote actually rose, signifying that the Scottish people, particularly the working class with long memories of Thatcherism and the devastation it wreaked, were determined to bar the way to Thatcher’s heirs.

The increased turnout to 65% from 61% also benefited Labour in the local elections held on the same day, as it net gained 15 councils and 412 councillors. The same factor undermined Socialist Party councillors, unfortunately leading to their defeat, despite the record number of votes they received in their wards. It also helped prevent Labour from being overtaken by the Lib Dems who were riding higher in the polls, at one stage, particularly after the first, ‘presidential’, three-party leaders’ debate.

Rightwing Orange book domination

LIB DEM LEADER, Clegg, puffed up like a bullfrog, even dreamed of emerging as leader of the largest party. This recent development and ‘growth’ seemed to confound the historic destiny of the Liberals of stagnation and decline. Karl Marx, in the middle of the 19th century, expected the Liberals to supplant the Tories as the main capitalist party. But this was before the advent of imperialism with its tariffs and protectionism. This collided with the economic laissez-faire policy of the Liberals and they were replaced by the Tories as the main capitalist political force. Liberalism still vied with the Tories but declined and was marginalised, ultimately, by the rise of the Labour Party. The entry of the National Liberals into the 1931 national government coalition split them into three and reduced them to an insignificant force.

Their entry into the Tory coalition today means that Clegg and Co will suffer a big decline, a similar fate to the Free Democrats in Germany, who have plunged in popularity after joining the government of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

The current rise and fall of the Lib Dems is a marked expression of the volatility in British society. This reflects the discontent that latches on to something ‘new’ and then swings away from it, because there is no mass pole of attraction. Many workers, youth and alienated sections of the middle class, disgusted at Brown and Blair – their support for the invasion of Iraq, the savaging of public expenditure and a massive rise in unemployment – supported the Lib Dems in protest. Even radical intellectuals and former Labour voters, like George Monbiot, Francis Wheen and others, and even those to the left of Labour, swung over to support them.

Opinion polls indicated that 43% of Lib Dem voters were ‘left of centre’, 29% were ‘centrist’ and only 9% stood on the ‘right’ (probably refugees from the Tory party). This led us in Socialism Today (No.137, April 2010), mistakenly as it turned out, to believe that Clegg, despite his political proclivities towards the right, would be prevented from entering a coalition with the Tories.

We perhaps underestimated the degree to which the Orange Book wing of the Lib Dems – led by Clegg, Vince Cable and David Laws – had penetrated not just the upper echelons of the party but had installed like-minded crypto-Tories at all levels of the party. The collaboration of Tories and Lib Dems in local government coalitions probably facilitated agreement at the national level. Clegg is a scion of merchant bankers, like Cameron, who he ‘love-bombed’ on the lawn at 10 Downing Street. He was also an aide to Tory European commissioner, Leon Brittan. Laws is a millionaire City banker, set to wield the axe against public-sector workers and services. Cable – former reformist left ally of Brown when he was in the Labour Party – was chief economist at Shell. Chris Huhne was an economics journalist who worked for ratings agencies including Fitch, which were largely responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.

It became clear during the election campaign that the Clegg-Orange Book gang had performed a similar transformation of the Lib Dems as the pro-capitalist ‘entrist’ Blair had carried out in the Labour Party. Before the election, they had not experienced their ‘Clause IV moment’ as Brown and Blair had in 1994-95. In other words, to be accepted into capitalist circles, to be trusted with the ‘reins of office’ – if not power, which remains in the hands of big business and their strategists – a totemic symbol was required. This ‘trust’ was achieved by Blair as he loyally carried out the wishes publicly desired and urged by Thatcher: the extinction of any connection of ‘New’ Labour with socialism, as expressed in Clause IV.

Interchangeable partners

A SIMILARLY DEFINING event is Clegg and Co’s entry into a Tory-dominated cabinet. Yet it was not preordained in the first days after the election that this would happen. Had Labour won even a few more seats, this could have allowed it to achieve a majority with Lib Dem support – without relying on the Welsh and Scottish nationalists and other smaller parties. Then, the longed-for ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour and the Lib Dems – a goal of the Liberals for more than 30 years – would have formed the government instead of the Tory-dominated one. We are supposed to believe that a few noises expressing opposition to such a coalition, from the likes of former cabinet ministers John Reid and David Blunkett – and, in private, probably Ed Balls – was sufficient for Clegg to switch from a Labour-Lib Dem deal to the Tories.

He had already indicated – especially in the latter stages of the election campaign – that he could not ‘keep an unpopular Brown in power’, and that the party with the most seats and highest percentage of the popular vote – which was obviously going to be the Tories – should have the first chance of forming the next government. Brown’s resignation removed this obstacle. By this time, however, Clegg was running scared from the howls of outrage at the prospect of a Lib-Lab ‘coup’ (Daily Telegraph) when he turned to discuss the possibility of a Lib-Lab government with Brown.

The right-wing press – with the exception of the Daily Mirror – had also poured scorn on his and the Lib Dems’ heads following his initial success in the first televised debate. His support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants was frontally attacked by Cameron and Brown in subsequent debates, and viciously played up by the likes of the Daily Mail and the Sun. This, together with a certain distorted class polarisation, particularly the ‘lesser evilism’ behind Brown, accounted for the Lib Dems’ rapid demise in the latter stages of the campaign.

The strategists of capital, through their mouthpieces in the media, made it clear that, if a minority Tory government was not to be installed, a Lib-Lab coalition was not their ‘preferred choice’. The prospect of a seven-party coalition, which would not even have an overall majority in the House of Commons, was also a big obstacle to the Lib Dems and New Labour securing an agreement. The price of such a coalition would have been concessions to the Welsh and Scottish nationalists and the Northern Ireland Unionists. Limited or no public spending cuts in these areas would have meant a greater impact on England, which would play into the hands of the Tories who are dominant there. Nevertheless, a ‘progressive alliance’ was clearly wished for by the majority of New Labour leaders – with the trade union leaders in tow – and also by top luminaries of the Lib Dems.

Initially, Clegg’s deal with Cameron met with firm objections from former leader Paddy Ashdown. Another former Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, remains unreconciled, as did former right-wing Labour MP (now Lib Dem doyenne) Shirley Williams, although she has since moderated her criticism somewhat. Big sections of rank-and-file Liberal Democrats – insofar as they exist separately from councillors and paid officials after the Orange Book counter-revolution – and those who voted Lib Dem thinking they were a ‘radical’ alternative, were up in arms at Clegg entering the Tory ‘den of thieves’. The Guardian letters page was full of dire predictions of the demolition of the Lib Dems. In a poll taken since the pact was agreed, one third of Lib Dem voters considered that they had been sold out. The Lib Dems dropped by 3% in a poll immediately after the agreement.

Nevertheless, Clegg bulldozed the agreement to enter a Tory-dominated cabinet through his parliamentary party. Even ‘social democrat’ Simon Hughes capitulated, as did the special, ‘closed’ Lib Dem conference in Birmingham. According to New Labour sources, this did not prevent 10,000 former Lib Dem members or supporters applying to join the Labour Party. So keen is New Labour to sign them up that ‘cut-price’ membership – or even that they pay no dues for six months – has been suggested!

The very fact that a Lab-Lib Dem or a Con-Dem coalition could have been formed underlines that there are no fundamental differences on policy between these three parties, particularly on the economic crisis. They can pass from one to another like a man going from one train carriage to another. Moreover, the coalition is a government of ‘losers’.

An anti-democratic coalition

THE CLAIM – UNBELIEVABLY echoed by the Financial Times – that two thirds of the electorate support the coalition is spurious. Nobody voted for this coalition. Moreover, support for the Lib Dems has crashed since they decided to sup with the Tory devil. Attempting to insulate himself from the anger, Clegg has launched a ‘democratic power revolution’. The control freakery of New Labour, with its panoply of ID cards and other anti-democratic measures, now cancelled, allows Clegg to appear to be ‘liberating’ the British people.

But the agreement underpinning the coalition promises a vote on a ‘referendum bill on electoral reform’, including provision for the introduction of the undemocratic ‘alternative vote’ system in elections. In the same paragraph of the agreement statement, there is a proposal “for the creation of fewer and more equal-sized constituencies”. This means the gerrymandering of seats designed to cut representation from Scotland, Wales and urban areas where the working class is concentrated.

The need for increased democratic representation, the right to recall MPs, was underlined by the MPs’ expenses scandal last year. Yet the Tories, with the Lib Dems, propose an even more undemocratic set up and intend to ram this through parliament. The labour movement must demand and organise a democratic convention of trade unions and community organisations for a more democratic parliament able to give expression to the real views and will of the people. Parliament should last for two years at most; MPs should be subject to recall from local and regional elected delegate bodies from workplaces, communities and regions; no MP should receive more than the average wage of a worker. Down with the scandalous proposal of Will Hutton – who has agreed to collaborate with the Con-Dem cabal – for top civil servants to receive no more than 20 times the wage of the lowest-paid! If there is to be any wage differential as a reward for skill, it should be decided democratically and be no more than two or three times the average wage.

Even more scandalous is the proposal for the “establishment of five-year fixed-term parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday in May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed-term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour”.

This is naked parliamentary Bonapartism, a step towards a parliamentary dictatorship, in effect. It is no accident, of course: the Lib Dems and Tories have 56% of MPs in the new parliament. Even some Tory MPs, such as David Davis – denied a seat in Cameron’s cabinet, stuffed with Lib Dem ministers – have protested and are pledged to defeat it. Presently, 50% plus one MP is required to pass a motion to dissolve parliament. This is a clear attempt to shore up this government – ‘whipping’ Tory and Lib Dem MPs into supporting the brutal measures that loom against working- and middle-class people. But, ‘methinks New Labour protests too much’. It introduced a stipulation for a two-thirds majority into the rules of the Scottish parliament!

The coalition clearly intends to ape the Papandreou government in Greece which has expelled members of its own parliamentary party for ‘abstaining’ on the ruthless cuts accepted under the whip of the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. As in Greece, however, this will not deflect mass discontent which transcends the narrow limits of parliament. It is a stark expression of the financial crisis confronting the government and British capitalism as a whole. The £156 billion budget deficit does not arise from the ‘profligacy’ of working- or middle-class people but is the product of the crisis of capitalism. Ten per cent of wealth in Britain has already been lost with factories and workplaces closing, the resultant drop in tax income, and the rise of unemployment to over 8.55% of the workforce. It stands at 2.5 million now and is likely to rise, with almost one million young people already unemployed.

The Lib Dems have bent the knee to Cameron’s Tories in acceding to an immediate £6 billion cut in public spending, which they were against during the election campaign. This is mild in the context of overall public expenditure. But it is the first ‘token’ to satisfy the all-powerful markets.

The prowling wolf pack

JOE HIGGINS, SOCIALIST Party MEP in Southern Ireland and prominent member of the Committee for a Workers’ International, electrified a 2,000-strong meeting in Athens on 14 May when he explained simply and precisely what this ‘market’ was and intended to do to the Greek people. If they succeed, it will be the turn of the British, Portuguese, Irish and European working class as a whole. Joe called for the maximum unity of the trade unions and left parties on an all-Europe basis to expose “the dictatorship of the financial markets”.

In an article in an Irish newspaper, he pinpointed what this market was: “On 8 February… the Wall St Journal carried details of [a] dinner attended by representatives of 18 US hedge funds… Examples of hedge funds [which attended] are Soros Fund Management which controls an estimated €20 billion and… Brevan Howard hedge fund, based in London, which controls a fund of about €19 billion”. They are just two of the biggest among about 10,000 such funds controlling €2,200 billion, their operations based mainly on the East Coast of the US and in London. Moreover, “there is a strong suspicion that there was agreement that there should be massive speculation with the euro as a currency, particularly in light of the financial difficulties in a number of EU member states such as Spain and Portugal but most especially Greece”.

These ‘bond raiders’, dubbed the ‘wolf pack’, have speculated against the euro and Greece’s debt. This has pushed up the interest rates for financing this debt, meaning that “Greece would have to pay €750 million more interest on a €5 billion loan than Germany”. Greek workers suffer agonies on the altar of this ‘market’. And this will be repeated in other countries in Europe, including Britain, unless the power of these hedge funds and the panoply of outmoded capitalist control of industry is removed. Even the European Commission – against Brown’s objections, and now those of Cameron and Osborne – is to ‘regulate’ these funds.

But you can no more contain these creatures – even described by Adair Turner, former director of the Confederation of British Industry, as ‘socially useless’ – than you can peacefully pull out the claws of a tiger. A proposed increase in capital gains tax will have a minimal effect on big business. Twenty-five percent of the world’s savings are sucked into financing state debts. This is an example of capitalism’s parasitism, its inability to develop the productive forces in the modern era. Nouriel Roubini, the capitalist economist who, with the Marxists, foresaw this crisis, has pointed out that 30% of ‘capex’ (capital expenditure for investment) is lying idle in the US. A similar situation exists in Europe, Japan and throughout the capitalist world.

Fear of contagion

THE RECENT €750 billion rescue package initiated by the EU aims to put a floor under Greece and all those threatened by the bond wolf pack. It is also a desperate attempt to avoid the collapse of the euro. Merkel was between the millstones of the need to shore up Greece and pressure from Germany’s right-wing press to pull the plug financially. This led to incredible personal pressure on her from Barack Obama, who feared ‘contagion’ by Greece and Europe, and its effects on the US dollar. A loss of $1 trillion on the world bourses happened before the package was agreed. It was subsequently revealed that, unless Merkel stepped into line with other eurozone powers to ‘help out’ Greece, Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the euro, banging his fist on the table in the negotiations to underline the point.

At the same time, Spain is threatened with a public-sector general strike on 8 June, co-ordinated by the two main trade union federations, the UGT and Workers’ Commissions. This is in protest at the 5% cut in state employees’ wages and a freeze on pensions introduced under the whip of the crisis by the Zapatero government. This has provoked the UGT, once allied to the Socialist Party (PSOE), to separate itself from it – shades of what will happen to the unions in Britain if New Labour remains wedded, as it will, to its pro-capitalist position.

But the measures taken are unlikely to rescue Europe from economic crisis. This year the Greek debt will probably be funded, the country will remain in the eurozone. But this will not last. The economic crisis remains unresolved and it is possible, indeed likely, that European capitalism, along with the dominant centres such as the US and Japan, will experience an extremely anaemic recovery, if not a double-dip recession. ‘Modern’ capitalism is now sclerotic, with little prospect of a return to even the low growth rates immediately prior to this crisis. Greece is in a ‘death spiral’. Portugal, Spain, Ireland, even Italy are in similar situations.

The position in Britain is not much different, vulnerable to a crisis of funding the state debt, as the IMF has pointed out. Hence the almost unanimous support from the possessing classes for the savage cuts which the Tory-Lib Dem coalition is expected to carry out ruthlessly. The idea that this government can benefit from a ‘recovery’ similar to what New Labour experienced between 1997 and 2007 is a chimera. The forced devaluation of the pound after the exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism of the European Monetary System in 1992 led to a boost for British exports. This, and the concentration on ‘financial services’ in the City of London on the back of the US and China-fuelled boom, gave a lift to the British economy. But the world and British situations are entirely different now.

Cuts across the spectrum

ACCORDING TO HAMISH McRae, economic commentator for the Independent, Greece is ‘the canary in the mine’. In other words, if the capitalists can get away with ‘austerity’ there, everything is possible in other countries. Such is the scale of the cuts here, however, together with Britain’s economic position, that this is not at all predetermined.

As in Thatcher’s time, ‘Tina’ – there is no alternative – is the unrelenting theme in the media and in speeches by capitalist politicians. But there is an alternative: struggle to defeat the cuts. ‘You cannot win’, they said in the 1980s, when the Liverpool labour movement mobilised in their masses to wrest back millions of pounds which had been robbed from the city. As if by magic, the resources were found. The same process happened with the poll tax when we defeated Thatcher and consigned her to history. Where did ‘bankrupt’ governments – with swollen deficits – get the colossal amounts to rescue the banks? From working- and middle-class taxpayers, and the printing press as well. If the working class struggles it can win. The capitalists will then try to take it back through inflation. We could experience stagflation. But this will raise the question of socialist change.

Britain’s balance of trade continues to deteriorate and investment in industry is in decline – a sure measure of the capitalists’ lack of confidence in their future. The idea that the devaluation of the pound, by more than 25% in the last three years, could give British industry a competitive edge has been undermined by two factors. One is that cuts across the spectrum in the eurozone will lead to an even greater cut in demand and, therefore, another twist to deflationary tendencies. Moreover, the world market is in a similar parlous state. Added to this is the underlying weakness and short-termism of the British capitalists, who prefer to boost their profits by devaluing the pound rather than increasing competitiveness.

The crisis in Britain is not yet as deep as in some southern European countries, but the measures to resolve it are unpostponeable. The £6 billion cut proposed by Osborne is merely a small payment-on-account for what is to come. The Financial Times declared: “Something like £37 billion will have to be cut from public spending by 2014 in order to halve the deficit. To eliminate it, cuts of perhaps £50 billion would be needed. These are massive sums for the country. £50 billion approaches half the NHS budget in England or two thirds of the annual cost of basic state pensions”.

To proceed quickly – as the Tories originally argued – will produce no less an explosive situation as Greece, a semi-insurrectionary movement. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that, in its anxiety not to “frighten the voters, Mr Cameron’s party spelt out only about a fifth of the cuts in government spending needed to meet its fiscal targets. Mr Clegg’s Lib Dems have done a little better by offering details on a quarter of the necessary savings”.

The hosannas for the coalition – symbolised in the popping of champagne corks in the City, especially a vintage Methuselah bottle of Cristal costing £36,000 in one night club – show that the ruling class believes that this coalition is more likely to carry through the cuts than one led by New Labour.

But resistance will come. If the tops of the trade unions deal once more in bombastic but empty threats in the teeth of cuts, then action can come from the base. The British Airways (BA) strike, looming conflicts facing the Rail Maritime Transport union (RMT) and PCS civil servants, are symptoms of what is coming. A public-sector general strike is rooted in the situation. Once the social situation is blown apart, it will impact severely on the coalition parties.

Hanging together or apart

AMITY AND PEACE reigns for the moment amongst Clegg, Cameron and their supporters. Cameron, it seems, sees Lord Palmerston, the 19th century Whig prime minister, as one of his heroes. On a projected Palmerston-Disraeli coalition in 1857, however, Palmerston declared: “You may call it coalition, you may call it the accidental and fortuitous concurrence of atoms”. Atoms can come together but they can also fly apart under the impact of physical processes. So can political coalitions shatter under the impact of events. This coalition is unlikely to last its full intended five years.

The 18th century US statesman, Benjamin Franklin, declared: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”. Tory cabinet minister, Ken Clarke, made the same point, urging the ‘partners’ not to fall out. In fact, if the Con-Dem coalition had not materialised, Cameron would have been overthrown by his own party. Right-wing Tories were unreconciled to his leadership, even during the election. In forming the coalition, he saved his leadership, temporarily, and, it is claimed, seized the opportunity to begin to ‘detoxify’ his party from the unreconstructed Thatcherite right. It remains to be seen how far he will succeed.

Nor will the polite language between the marriage partners last. In 1945, at the end of the second world war coalition, “Churchill made a tearful farewell to his coalition colleagues, assuring them that the light of history would shine on all their helmets”. A few weeks later, he accused Labour of wanting to introduce a ‘Gestapo’ into Britain! The Tories and Lib Dems will need ‘helmets’ to protect them from mass indignation as their cuts bite home.

The cuts – a mixture of tax increases such as VAT and cuts in national and local government – are objectively determined by the parlous state of British capitalism. There will be resistance. New Labour now occupies more town halls – although the majority are still under the control of the Lib Dems or Tories – but they will be expected to be the agencies for many of the cuts. New Labour and local government trade unions have a simple choice: to follow the Liverpool road of confronting the government on a programme of no cuts in services or jobs – and no council tax increases to compensate for these cuts. The ‘dented shield’ strategy of carrying through ‘unavoidable’ cuts but not others will cut little ice, particularly with those who will be severely affected this time. But they will no more lead than Neil Kinnock during the Liverpool battle in the 1980s or the epic poll tax struggle.

Still hoping to revive Labour

THERE WILL BE no left renovation of Labour. It is doubtful whether John McDonnell will get the requisite number of MPs to even stand for Labour leader. The choice will be between Cain and Abel – the Miliband brothers – on the programme of warmed-up Blairism. David Miliband has claimed a ‘decisive break’, naming his campaign ‘Next Labour’! There are familiar noises from others about ‘conversations’ with working-class people, ‘learning from our mistakes’, the desirability of ‘social justice’, etc. Ed Balls is being presented as the ‘left’ candidate! This is the minister who called for governors of schools to dismiss NUT members who refused, after a democratic ballot, to implement the SATs exams. The Milibands have attacked the BA strikes!

Not one candidate in the Labour leadership battle would dare to demand the complete abolition of the Thatcher/Blair/Brown anti-trade union laws which have been used on two recent occasions against BA workers. The fact that this happened under New Labour and now with a Tory-Lib Dem coalition speaks volumes about the similarity of the regimes. In effect, unelected judges, acting in the interests of their class, have found spurious grounds to ban strikes. The most recent ruling was subsequently overturned by the court of appeal, as realisation dawned that such decisions would completely undermine both the ‘authority of the law’ and the ability of the trade union leaders to hold back their members from ‘illegal’ action. Yet the trade union leaders still cling desperately to the trouser leg of New Labour.

Len McCluskey, left candidate in the election for the general secretary of Unite, has promised to launch a campaign to reclaim New Labour by encouraging thousands of trade unionists to join the party. Tony Woodley promised to do the same when he was elected but could not find the necessary legions to undertake this task. But hope springs eternal! If Len is serious, he would demand a pledge from any prospective leader of unconditional support for a campaign to remove the anti-trade union laws; the expulsion of the Blairites from the party and the readmission of left, militant fighters; democracy at all levels of the party, with full expression allowed for all socialist, democratic views; and a mass campaign of action against the cuts, linked to the restoration in Labour’s programme of democratic, socialist policies.

We have entered an unparalleled period of upheaval in Britain. The Socialist Party, together with the RMT and others, conducted a commendable campaign around the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Given what has gone before and what the working class will have to go through, there is no alternative other than the formation of a broad mass organisation, even though its programme may be imperfect, initially. Events and the intervention of skilled Marxists will be able to explain to the working class the need for a programme of action for socialism.

TUSC candidates were squeezed in this election, as were all small party candidates. This included the Greens, although they got Caroline Lucas elected. The far-right British National Party fared similarly, although it still received 500,000 votes. Despite its internal upheavals flowing from its failure to make a breakthrough, it is not at all finished. On the contrary, if the underlying economic and social situation persists, the BNP or a similar far-right party could recover, unless its oxygen supply is cut off. This is only possible through a new mass party of the working class, the urgent task of this period.

The Socialist Party, which gained members and influence during the election, will grow and develop in the stormy period opening up. Capitalism is in a dead end. The programme for struggle and socialism is on the agenda. The best layers of the youth, together with the exploited and downtrodden sections of the working class, such as blacks, Asians and immigrant workers, as well as the working class as a whole, can rally to the socialist message. We intend to provide this in the exciting period that is now opening up in Britain.

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