Britain: Labour to continue austerity offensive

Labour conference a carefully stage-managed affair

After five years of unrelenting Tory austerity and a ’recovery’ that has only benefited those at the top, anyone hoping for something new would have been disappointed by the Labour Party conference in Manchester. This saw Labour setting out its policies for a future government in its last conference before the general election.

Labour has already promised a ’binding fiscal commitment’ to match Tory spending plans – a continuation of austerity. Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, and shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, used conference to spell out what that means; for example, freezing (in other words cutting) Child Benefit, Winter Fuel Allowance, and increasing the retirement age, which are a huge blow to the living standards of millions.

The pro-Tory press continue to call Labour ’spendaholics’ by pointing out that its figures do not add up. But, in reality, this means that cuts under a Labour government will be deeper and more vicious than anything they are prepared to announce now.

These polices mean that a Labour win in the general election is far from certain. Miliband’s approval ratings have consistently shown him behind Tory leader David Cameron. And the poll lead enjoyed by Labour is far narrower than would be expected for a party planning to win. Yet Miliband is hoping to sleepwalk into Number Ten Downing Street.

It is the promise of ’more of the same’ that is damaging Labour’s election chances. But opposing the current Con-Dem government’s cuts programme would win more support from ordinary working people.

Living wage

Miliband’s proposal for a £8 an hour minimum wage falls short of a living wage – the £10 an hour starting point that the Socialist Party campaigns for. Even worse, Labour’s minimum wage is not to be implemented until 2020, so it gives no relief to the millions of people who are struggling on poverty wages today.

The disregard Labour leaders have for their own conference is reflected in the fact that it was a carefully stage-managed affair, with little room for real debate. All the major decisions had been made behind closed doors and were announced during carefully crafted set-piece speeches.

Every year a new curtailment of the remaining party democracy is introduced, most recently the direct appointment of the Shadow Cabinet and, of course, the effective breaking of the trade union link at the infamous special conference, last March.

If any resolutions challenging the leadership do get through, conference has no binding mandate on them anyway.

The socialist ’Yes’ campaigners in the referendum in Scotland have given a glimpse of what sort of movement can be built to oppose austerity in the whole of the UK. But it is guaranteed that the Labour Party would oppose such a movement. There is nothing that can be done to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class.

Instead the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in which the Socialist Party is prominent, will be standing in the general election, to give a real alternative to the pro-capitalist establishment.

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September 2014