Labour leader’s ’responsible capitalism’ shows its bankruptcy
"Our sweet victory", read the London Evening Standard, owned appropriately by a Russian oligarch and reflecting their delight at the unexpected victory of the Tories. "Corks pop as threat of populist policies evaporates in the swanky Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly", reported the Financial Times.
On the other hand, the Daily Mirror summed up the widespread dismay of working people with a funereal black background on its front page which read: "Condemned again, five more damned years".
How is it that David Cameron, George Osborne and their hated Tory crew have, against all the predictions and with their brutal record of attacks on working people, managed to sweep back into power with a 99 seat lead over Labour, and an overall Commons majority of 12?
There was no massive shift in votes towards the Tories compared to 2010. They took votes primarily from their partners in crime, the Liberal Democrats, who suffered payback for Nick Clegg’s decision to prop up "his friend" Cameron in 2010. The Tories also picked up a few marginal seats from Labour. But compared to 2010 the Tories increased their overall share of the vote nationally by just 0.8%.
Labour on the other hand increased its share of the popular vote nationally by 1.5% – gaining in the demographically mixed population of London – but they were wiped out in Scotland. It is true that the Tories were mightily aided by the right-wing press who outdid themselves in the bile directed against Labour. The Daily Mail – supporter in the 1930s of Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts – on the day before the election hysterically warned in relation to Ed Miliband: "For sanity’s sake don’t let a class war zealot and the SNP destroy our economy – and our very nation".
Very few would recognise this as an accurate picture of Miliband, who had spent his time since his election as Labour leader preaching in favour of "responsible capitalism", as well as slavishly seeking to imitate Tory Chancellor Osborne’s cuts mantra.
But when has the Daily Mail ever allowed the truth to get in the way of a good story aimed at frightening its readers? The same can be said of the Murdoch press which, through the Sun newspaper managed to back the ’anti-austerity’ SNP in Scotland and yet lined up behind the pro-austerity Tories in the rest of the country!
But their backing for the Tories was not enough to explain this serious setback for Labour. The Tories’ record over the last five years provided more than enough ammunition to have buried them electorally.
The Con-Dem government boasted about the economic recovery. Yet few feel the alleged beneficial effects and it is the slowest recovery from a recession in 100 years. They also boasted about halving the deficit over five years but they originally promised to eliminate it completely. They also told blatant lies – in making Labour solely responsible for the deficit without a mention of the world crisis of 2008.
Yet in 1997, when the Tories were still in power, the deficit was 42% of GDP, which decreased to 35% during the Labour government before the 2008 British and world economic crash. It was driven up again by the crisis and the rise of unemployment, resulting in reduced tax income, the increased cost of welfare benefits, etc.
Miliband and Labour were so inept that they were incapable of defending their own record in power. Their real mistake was to try to work within the framework of capitalism and, at the same time, give the impression through Gordon Brown that they had abolished the laws of capitalism itself, the cycle of ’boom and bust’.
Housebuilding is at its lowest level since the 1920s, with a dramatic increase of homelessness and home ownership for millions of young people just a distant dream. The first fall in living standards over a five-year period has taken place since modern records began in the 1960s. More than 900,000 people rely on food banks, a 15-fold increase since the last election.
Greater cuts pledged
Yet the Tories, now shorn of their Liberal Democrat tail, are set to inflict even greater misery and devastating cuts in the next five years. Cameron re-entered 10 Downing Street proclaiming a supposed return to the philosophy of "one nation". Thatcher also invoked St Francis of Assisi when she came to power, and then proceeded to act more like Genghis Khan!
This government will now maintain the vicious bedroom tax, impose £12 billion of cuts in child and other benefits, savage the NHS and ruthlessly pursue its privatisation agenda. It will deepen the campaign against the trade unions through the abolition of the check-off system and also through increased punitive charges to access industrial tribunals, effectively backing the bosses in unfair dismissal cases, etc.
It is not excluded that it will also attempt to introduce further anti-union laws, such as a requirement for a 50% vote in favour in trade union ballots before industrial action can take place. Yet in every election since 2005, only four voters out of 10 backed in elections the government in office and, in this election, the Tories were backed by just 37% of voters.
Given the Tories’ vicious record there is outrage and derision that Labour had a worse election result than even in the 2010 general election. Victory for the Tories was not preordained. The Tories and their Lib Dem henchmen could have been defeated with different policies from those of Miliband and Labour. They shamefully swallowed the austerity mantra, promising, in the words of the now defeated Ed Balls, to "cut the deficit every year"! Miliband also boasted that he was the first Labour leader in history who actually fought an election campaign promising to make cuts!
And, as he was continually reminded by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) during the election, in January he and his MPs trooped through the same lobby as the Tories and Lib Dems – with only five Labour MPs voting against – to support the continuation of savage austerity, planned poverty to give it its right name!
Is it little wonder that some, therefore, preferred to vote for the real Tories, rather than the ’red Tories’ – the contemptuous term which Scottish workers used to describe Labour who collaborated with Cameron during the Scottish independence referendum to organise the ’No’ vote.
True, Ed Miliband sought to tilt slightly left during the election campaign by suggesting some limits on rent increases, attacks on energy companies’ profits, promising action against the ’non-doms’ and wealthy, etc. But this was too little too late, particularly as he and Labour had spent most of the previous five years distancing themselves from struggles against the government. He denounced strikes and bent to the austerity policies of the government.
Miliband spurned SNP offer
Therefore, promises for radical action were not taken seriously by many workers. Miliband maintained his ’austerity-lite’ stance throughout and refused to even contemplate a working parliamentary agreement with the SNP to "lock out Cameron from Number 10", in the words of Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP. Incredibly, he refused her offer for collaboration even if this meant Labour not taking office.
This, in turn, reinforced the Tory English nationalist campaign, orchestrated by Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ Australian ’eminence grise’, with his North Korean-style propaganda. If Labour won, Crosby put out, it was likely to be held hostage by Scottish nationalism. This probably had some effect on wavering voters. As in the 1992 election, ’shy Tories’ opted for the status quo.
However, the arguments of the Tories could have been effectively answered by a bold campaign pointing out that it was the British people who were really ’held hostage’ by a vicious austerity regime which, moreover, the Con-Dems had no mandate for.
The SNP promised to act in concert with Labour in an attempt to prevent further savage attacks on living standards. There were significant sections of the working class and other voters who would have welcomed such a bloc, a united front or anti-austerity alliance. It was not an accident that Sturgeon was widely applauded in England and Wales for opposing austerity – at least in words – in the party leaders’ debates. Moreover, the slaughter of Labour in Scotland testifies to the fact that the anti-austerity of the SNP was enormously popular!
It is a measure of the political timidity of Miliband and the whole of Labour – rooted as they are in the refusal to step outside the limits of crisis-ridden capitalism – that this offer was turned down. He paid for this with his resignation as Labour leader, followed by the contemptible Clegg – reduced, as we predicted, to a rump of now just eight Lib Dem MPs.
Fault-line of EU
What therefore are the perspectives for Britain in the light of this election result? Cameron is triumphalist but so was Major when he crept back to power in 1992. However, he was assailed soon after from both within and outside his party.
From inside by the ’bastards’ – his term for the right-wing Tory eurosceptics – who harried him continuously, demanding he should lead the charge for concessions to Britain from the European Union (EU). If anything this wing is even stronger in this parliament amongst Tory MPs. Even before the election, Cameron was forced to concede an EU referendum by December 2017, which could even take place as early as 2016. The Tory right will ensure that his feet are kept to the fire on this issue.
But with the majority of big business fearing the economic consequences of ’Brexit’ – British withdrawal from the EU – and most of the Tory Cabinet forced eventually to reflect this, this issue could tear Cameron’s party to pieces. Not least are the consequences of this issue in Scotland, with the SNP leaders opposed to withdrawal from the EU.
If Cameron does not get sufficient concessions from Brussels and is therefore forced to advocate leaving the EU, this will put the issue of Scottish independence back on the agenda.
The Socialist Party will intervene in an EU referendum favouring a ‘No’ (to EU membership) vote but at the same time completely rejecting a nationalist approach. We will advocate a clear class programme to oppose the capitalist EU, linking this to the idea of a socialist confederation of Europe.
Scotland, England and Wales
A new round of cuts -already promised by Cameron and Osborne – will also resurrect the independence issue in Scotland, which in turn will have important repercussions in England and Wales. Boris Johnson’s reference on election night to the need for some kind of "new constitutional federal arrangement" indicates the direction in which the government is likely to move.
The Tory ministers probably intend to give a form of ’fiscal autonomy’ to Scotland with a reduced ’grant’ in order that they can unload responsibility onto the SNP for whatever pain is inflicted. This in turn will test out the SNP’s declared aim to "resist austerity". But if the SNP decides to carry this out – while still blaming ’London’, as it has done up to now, when ’reluctantly’ carrying through cuts – it will pay a price in the opposition that will develop.
It will be the same as when English and Welsh councils – including Labour ones – carried through the government’s bidding in imposing cuts. They have been perceived as agents of the government’s programme for misery, with a growing demand for them to either resist and refuse to act as the government’s butchers, or make way for real fighters.
The Cameron government will also move towards some kind of federal solution. It will also attempt to force through ’English votes for English laws’, thereby hoping to continue with its strategy of seeking to divide the working class along regional and national lines.
While recognising the legitimate national aspirations and rights of the Scottish people, at the same time, the Scottish workers and the trade unions must be implacably opposed to reinforcement of divisions in their organisations along national lines.
Autonomous rights within the trade unions on a regional and national basis are legitimate and can be supported, but we are for the unity of the working class and its organisations, particularly the trade unions, across national boundaries.
The bosses, through divide and rule tactics are always attempting to set workers against one another.
The repercussions of Labour’s defeat will have serious consequences for the labour movement. It is ludicrous, as the re-emerged Blairites have begun to argue, even on election night, that Miliband went down to defeat because he adopted a left ’old-fashioned socialist’ posture. Miliband’s ascent to Labour’s leadership did not represent a fundamental departure from Blairism. On the contrary, he and the defeated Balls stuck steadfastly to the neo-liberal script, seasoned with occasional left tinges.
A real left challenge
Only TUSC, with a combined vote of 120,000 votes in the general and local elections (see www.tusc.org.uk) consistently argued against all aspects of austerity and called for socialist measures.
Let the sceptics and the fainthearts dismiss our election results! TUSC managed to assemble a serious national challenge with a splendid election broadcast, which attracted the attention and support of broad layers of workers, even those who said that ’this time’ we may not vote for you, but in the future, ’we will see’.
TUSC was squeezed by the acceptance of ’lesser evilism’ by many workers. There was an overriding deep fear of four more years of attrition over living standards. Many workers who agreed with us nevertheless thought that they needed to stop the ’enemy at the gate’. They gave Miliband the benefit of the doubt and he cruelly disappointed them.
TUSC has now ’arrived’ as a recognised factor on the labour movement’s national and local electoral map. What conclusions will trade unionists and particularly the leadership of the unions draw from this? They poured resources into Miliband’s campaign – Unite even donating an extra £500,000 during the campaign on top of the millions already delivered – and what was the outcome? Back to Labour’s result in 1987, one of the worst in the post-war period.
Also Blairism – in the form of Gordon Brown, joint initiator of New Labour – led in 2010 to the disaster of the Con-Dem government.
No doubt some on the right will seek to undermine TUSC, to play down the achievement of putting together a coalition of trade unionists and socialists to fight the election. Some national trade unions may seek to distance themselves from TUSC. But how much more powerful and attractive to voters would an alternative have been if the trade union leaders, particularly those on the left with their huge potential strength, had come behind an electoral alternative, modelled on TUSC?
What general conclusions should workers draw from this election? So disillusioned with Labour were many workers that they were persuaded into voting for the SNP in Scotland or, in protest, some even opted for UKIP in the rest of Britain.
This party has now unfortunately established a serious base in the North in particular, which will not easily be dislodged, and has a presence now in all parts of the country. The danger from UKIP has not been ended by this election. Farage did not win and they may only have won one seat, but they got almost four million votes.
This has led to a renewed call for the introduction of proportional representation as a fairer method for conducting elections. The Socialist Party supports this. But despite the clamour of the Greens and UKIP, without a significant bloc of MPs this campaign is unlikely to succeed.
What the Tories will certainly do is to go back to their plan A, to gerrymander to their benefit, the existing electoral boundaries, which they were forced to withdraw in the last Parliament.
UKIP started in the general election where the French National Front ended up, as a far-right, but not fascist, party. In a very dangerous development, they have established a base now amongst disillusioned former Labour supporters, as well as the discontented middle-class former Tory voters. Ominously Farage has suggested that his party should make more of an appeal to youth, through social media. This must be countered.
They can undoubtedly be undermined and ultimately beaten but not by parties which remain within the framework of capitalism, which can do nothing to answer the concerns on issues like immigration. Only TUSC and the Socialist Party have a programme to answer the racist demagogy of UKIP through such measures as an immediate introduction for all workers of a living wage of at least £10 an hour, abolition of zero-hour contracts, etc.
Anti-austerity struggles to come
The whiff of ’counterrevolution’ – in the form of greater austerity and attacks on democratic rights wielded by Cameron – will undoubtedly provoke a demand for action from the ranks of the unions and the labour movement generally. In fact, blocked on the electoral plane, the unions and the labour movement have, in the past, usually turned to the industrial field. But the unions have been weakened by the axing of the public sector, where union density is greater, and by the driving down of wages and conditions in the last five years.
However, there can be no question of retreating in the face of the Tory juggernaut. The right-wing union leaders eventually chose this course last time, in the teeth of the Con-Dem cuts. Unless there is resistance, which has to be organised now, the cuts of the last five years will be as nothing to what Cameron has in store for the working class.
So-called ’One Nation Toryism’ of the past under governments like Macmillan in the 1950s rested on a relatively buoyant capitalist economy, which was still experiencing a boom. But that has disappeared like the snows of yesteryear. We confront today crisis-ridden capitalism which, far from offering real reforms and improvements in living standards, promises nothing but counter-reforms. This leaves no room for ’social democracy’, which was predicated on a few crumbs falling off the rich table of capitalism into the laps of working people.
Therefore, we must prepare for struggle, including industrial action, at the same time also maintaining the electoral challenges, particularly through the council elections, in an organised campaign to thwart the plans of Cameron and big business.