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Election 2015 – a race to the bottom 

By Dave Stockton, 9 February 2015

Rampant inequality, falling real wages, the NHS in crisis, young people unemployed or condemned to crap jobs or piling up debt to get an education. These are the real results of governments, both Labour and the Tory led-coalition, trying to rescue capitalism from its historically long and severe crisis at the expense of ordinary people.

The billionaire press barons – Richard Desmond, Viscount Rothermere and Rupert Murdoch – and their hate filled rags – the Express, the Mail and the Sun – take the responsibility for covering up for those really to blame for all this.

They foment hatred for immigrants, who claim far less in benefits than they pay in national insurance and taxes. They stigmatise as scroungers and freeloaders the most vulnerable and impoverished in our society. And the supposedly liberal Channel 4 joins in with programmes like the “Benefits Street” series. What our rulers are up to? It’s simply a case of divide and rule.

In fact, divert and rule, too. Divert attention away from the real causes of the suffering affecting the great majority and aim all the indignation at those at the bottom, rather than the top of society.

The working class with jobs – nurses, train and bus crews, engineers, builders, teachers – all struggling on falling real wages are encouraged to target their anger on the unemployed, or those whose wages are so low they are forced to draw benefits and rely on food banks. Meanwhile, the rich, never as well off as today, laugh all the way to their banks.

Labour’s straightjacket

Of course, it is no surprise that the press and the right wing parties ignore the suffering they have inflicted as they defend the privilege of the rich at the expense of the poor. But what about Labour, the party of the trade unions, the party of the working class? What are they saying?

Instead of using the platform of parliament and reportage in the media to reply to Tory, Lib-Dem and Ukip lies, Labour all too often echoes them, claiming that it is listening to “public opinion”.

When media “experts” claim that Labour has a credibility gap on the economy, which can only be narrowed by adopting policies closer to those of the Coalition, Labour does just that!

It promises that it will not borrow to expand public services because that would “get Britain into debt”. Instead of exposing the ridiculous lie that government debt is the result of Labour spending on public services by reminding people that the enormous borrowing was actually to rescue the banks and the City of London, the Labour leaders meekly bow their heads and apologise. Then they promise to continue with George Osborne’s cuts, but to make them more fairly and over a longer time.

Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, promises not only to stick with Osborne’s cuts, but to continue with wage restraint in the public sector. He has even promised to strap himself into a “neither tax-raising nor borrowing” straightjacket. At Labour’s conference he declared:

“We will legislate for these tough fiscal rules in the first year after the election and they will be independently monitored by the Office for Budget Responsibility. So in our manifesto there will be no proposals for any new spending paid for by additional borrowing.”

The Guardian purred that, “business liked what it heard from Ed Balls in his speech to Labour’s conference,” noting that, “what was unusual about the address was that it contained nothing new to wow the party faithful”. Instead, what they got was “fiscal responsibility in the national interest”. And, in Business and Industry Shadow Secretary Chuka Umunna, big business has another firm friend, one touted to succeed Miliband as leader if Labour loses.

Ed Miliband himself emphasises, “I would be a prime minister who champions the rights of the consumer and the rights of businesses to succeed and make profits in a competitive market” while, at the same time, promising “sensible cuts”.

Class politics

Yet Labour is the party founded over a century ago to stand up for the poor, the exploited, the victimised and the voiceless. It still depends on the unions for money, though Miliband has reformed the procedure for the payment of affiliation fees. Despite this, apart from a few marginal reforms, such as the “mansion tax” and a tax on tobacco companies, the party will not dare either to borrow or to raise taxes.

Neither will it dare to advance a plan to eradicate unemployment altogether or to end insecure under-employment. True, they have promised to end zero-hours contracts and to raise the minimum wage a little, but putting young people back to work, or allowing them to go to college without piling up half a lifetime of debt requires something far more radical than that.

It needs a major programme of public works – to build, equip and staff more houses, schools and hospitals, to prepare defences against the effects of climate change, to turn the paltry minimum wage into a real living wage, at least £10 an hour, to unshackle the unions from the most undemocratic laws in Europe so they can strike to force up pay.

Despite widespread public support, they dare not pledge to renationalise all the rail companies or the Royal Mail. Although they are promising to repeal Lansley’s Health and Social Security Act, they do not dare proclaim that they will end PFI and cancel all the PFI debts, with no compensation to the parasites currently running hospitals into the ground.

Why? Because they know this would mean a real fight with the capitalist class, with the industrialists, bankers and bondholders, who would take revenge on them. So their response is to promise only policies that have been costed and approved by the bosses’ own experts, even though they know this will not meet the crying needs of their supporters.

Mass movement

Of course, if after the election a Labour government only has a pile of votes behind it, then the City and the media could easily push it around. But Labour, as its founders envisaged it, was not to be simply a parliamentary or a municipal party, but the representative in parliament or local councils of a mass movement made up of millions of trade unionists.

That is still true today, although to a greatly reduced degree. That movement, mobilised in the workplaces, in the communities and on the streets, could give Labour the backing to force through many of the measures needed by the working class. Instead of raising taxes on ordinary people, it could make the rich pay. Even if they only coughed up the vast fortunes they have made since the crisis of 2008, this would go some way to doing this.

Because of the party’s continued connections to the trade unions, millions of working class people still hope that by supporting it they will get a better life and some protection from the Tories. Supporting Labour at the polls, while demanding that they go much further than current policies, can raise the horizons of the great mass of the working class.

Union members, whose subs fund Labour, should insist it carries out the policies of no cuts and renationalisation that their own conferences have repeatedly voted for. Such a campaign could not only give them hope of reversing the onslaught on the welfare state, on their real wage levels, their pensions and their children’s access to a first class education, but also create a movement to enforce their demands.

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