Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2011 document


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Liberal Democrats and the Coalition, Labour and the Greens

75) The government claims that it does not have a 'Plan B', an alternative policy in the event of its ruthless deflationary policy collapsing, as it will.

However this is largely a public posture for the benefit of the 'markets'. We have remarked on the U-turns of the government already.

Added to this must be the u-turn of Cameron himself again over the Christmas period in the hope that it would be hidden when he took off the government payroll his 'vanity' staff.

Much more significant retreats impend on the basis of big events. The strength in a certain sense of the government in its initial phase has been the preparedness of the Liberal Democrats to perform the role of lightning conductors for all the most unpopular and odious policies of the government.

They play today the traditional role of social democrat ministers in popular front governments in the past. Invariably, these ministers were given the unpopular portfolios; labour, for instance, responsible for keeping the unions 'in order'.

One Tory minister admitted as much when he blurted out to the Independent as he 'smiled': "Thank goodness our policy had been fronted by Vince Cable" (the Liberal Democrat business secretary).

Andrew Grice, the political correspondent of the Independent who recorded this, added: "You bet"!

76) Having been used by the Tories to front the rise in tuition fees and then discredited through his 'quotes' to Daily Telegraph 'reporters' about the Tories, the Lib Dem 'saint', Vince Cable, has been stripped of effective power.

He will not now be able to re-establish some of his lost credentials by 'clipping the horns' of Rupert Murdoch and his empire by preventing Murdoch's full control over BSkyB, which would be a further step in the 'Berlusconisation' of the British media.

The Liberal Democrats will not recover from this situation. The Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election saw them come second but only by the grace of an estimated 7,000 Tory voters switching their votes, with Cameron urging them beforehand to save his 'partner' Clegg.

Also, this was not a normal by-election with the stench of Labour's debarred MP Phil Woolas's corruption hanging over it. Even then, Labour increased its majority.

77) There are a number of big events apart from the cuts themselves which could even shipwreck the Coalition within the next couple of months. For instance, the question of the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

This will be, in effect, a referendum - as the Oldham by-election was - on the government including the Liberal Democrats. It is likely to be defeated because of the general unpopularity of the government.

We are opposed to AV - despite the fact that we support a genuine form of proportional representation - because it entrenches the power of the major parties as opposed to even the limited possibilities for new parties in the first past the post system.

Additionally, it is linked to a proposal to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600; this too is a profoundly anti-democratic and anti-working class measure.

The intention is to entrench the power of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats if they are still in coalition with them.

78) A split in the Coalition could come on a number of issues - not necessarily on the cuts themselves. It could be on control orders, the prison reform programme announced by Clarke which has split the Tory party with proposals for votes for certain categories of prisoners, on Europe and on AV itself.

It cannot be excluded that we will have a general election at Easter, shortly afterwards or some time later this year. Cameron himself and the Tories have largely avoided until recently the full odium of the cuts.

He has stated that he intends to remain in power for five years. But the Tory right is becoming more and more restless as further concessions appear to be given to the Liberal Democrats.

This parliament has already recorded more revolts against the government than any since 1945.

79) Cameron surreptitiously floated the idea of a kind of permanent pact between the Tories and the Lib Dems from now right up to the next general election! This has provoked opposition from the Tory right.

They could break ranks on a number of issues: Europe, immigration, etc. On the other hand, Cameron has made it clear that he intends to 'last the full five-year term' as has Clegg and the Lib-Dem leadership.

Clegg has demanded that his party must not only participate in the Coalition but "own it". That means accepting full responsibility for all its decisions.

Clegg along with Laws and others from the 'Orange Book' wing of the Liberal Democrats, represent those who will collapse - like the National Liberals in the 1930s - into the Tory party itself.

We should remember that the Liberals were reduced in the past to a sect receiving just 2.5% of the vote in 1951. There have already been significant defections from the Liberal Democrats from the alleged 'social democratic' wing of the LibDems towards New Labour, while many have dropped into inactivity.

It is not possible to give an exact perspective of the likely march of events but the developments in the economy worldwide and in Britain, as well as the political conjuncture that flows from this, makes it highly unlikely, to say the least, that this government will last its full term.

If against expectations it does, it will be against the background of the most convulsive period in British history that we have seen in 70 years. This will present us with huge opportunities for the growth of significant forces of socialism and Marxism.

This, in turn, is related to the future of the labour movement, including the Labour Party, in Britain.

80) The likely result of a breaking of the Coalition, either by parliamentary revolt or early General Election, would be a Labour led government. While we recognise that Labour is now a pro-capitalist party and would deliver its own cuts, the confidence of the British working class would be electrified as a result of bringing down this coalition government.

It would set the precedent of a government being removed by popular unrest. This has not occurred since 1974, and if it were to happen today, such a development would have profound consequences, particularly for young people.

In that situation, a Labour led government would come under immediate scrutiny and enormous pressure. It would be a government in crisis.

Once it sought to impose a pro-capitalist programme onto workers and young people fresh from toppling the Coalition, those workers and young people would be pushed even more strongly than at present into recognising the need for an alternative.

Their consciousness would be further raised. As part of building this alternative we must continue to challenge Labour councils making cuts and stand candidates against them.

Congress re-affirms that a strategic task facing workers and youth is the removal of the coalition government. However, even if the ConDems manage to cling to power for a full term, the huge struggles that will take place will raise consciousness and will also create increased possibilities for the building of an alternative.

New Labour and Ed Miliband

81) The election of Miliband to the leadership initially caused a surge of 'optimism' in New Labour circles, amongst the trade union leadership and, incredibly, amongst some of the 'far-left' groups.

A 'new phase' had opened up within New Labour which would represent a step change towards the left, they argued. We stood out against this and showed that the election of Miliband did not represent a fundamental shift towards the left (see Socialism Today and the paper) and we have been proved to be correct.

The timidity of Miliband's approach, however, exceeded expectations. He gained the support of the unions, which was decisive in the leadership elections, only then to repudiate them, refusing to attend even an indoor TUC rally.

He repudiated Len McCluskey's call for strike action against the cuts.

He also opined that he "would like to meet the demonstrating students" only to dither, clearly afraid of the reaction of the right-wing press!

82) Miliband argues that he will form a 'progressive alliance'. Yet the very formation of the Labour Party involved a progressive struggle against Liberalism, recognised by the pioneers of Labour party as a party of big business.

The setting up of the Labour Party also represented a decisive defeat for the Lib-Labs; half 'Liberal' but not yet fully Labour. This was consolidated in the adoption of Clause IV in 1918 under the direct influence of the Russian Revolution itself.

Miliband now scrambles around in the dustbin of history to rescue these discredited, tawdry garments. His courting of the Lib Dems - when they are in the process of being utterly discredited - represents something else as well.

He clearly fears Labour ruling alone when this government collapses. He needs the Lib Dems as an excuse for inaction or worse; carrying through cuts.

Even Lord Owen of the 'Gang of Four' who split from Labour in 1981 is now considering rejoining Labour because of Miliband's rightward shift!

83) Miliband's latest 'guru' is, it seems, Maurice Glasman, director of the faith and citizenship programme at London Metropolitan University.

His pearls of wisdom include the following characterisation of Cameron: "I think that David Cameron is genuinely a One Nation Tory... It is Clegg and Osborne who are in the deep alliance on the neo-liberal Thatcherite economics." He also advises Miliband: "What Ed should do is invite Cameron to join Labour, which is really about the big society and won't be closing post offices and libraries."

84) These are not the actions of a bold socialist innovator. On the contrary one of Miliband's main planks is to actually seek to rescue the discredited Liberal Democrats in preparation for a future coalition - minus Clegg - with them! His problem is that the Lib Dems will collapse as an electoral force.

There may be little left of the Lib Dems to coalesce with! There has been a certain influx into New Labour's ranks but nowhere near the scale of the past when the Labour Party did act as a left pole of attraction for tens of thousands of workers who were looking for a real struggle against capitalism and the Tories.

A layer of young people, some of them sincere in their intentions, may have joined. It was reported that 500 were mobilised in one day of canvassing during the Oldham by-election.

But most new Labour Party members are likely to be passive new recruits, joined by the 'salariat' of paid councillors. They now make up the body of the New Labour 'rank and file', alongside officials, place-seekers and odious types from amongst the 'youth' symbolised by Aaron Porter, the president of the NUS.

This gilded youth are firmly entrenched in the confines of capitalism and are utterly incapable of finding a way towards the working class. In fact, they do not even desire such an outcome.

At most, they look for personal power, as does Miliband himself, but with not even the traces of radicalism, of social democratic parties and governments of the past.

The Miliband factor, therefore, will be for the more advanced layers, in the main, a very short-lived phenomenon. This does not mean that it will not meet with electoral success, as Oldham showed.

This signifies a reflex reaction on the part of the masses to the Tories, but with few real converts to the 'idea' of Labour or big illusions that Labour offers fundamental change.

The issue of a new mass workers' party, if anything, is posed more sharply in this situation. In particular TUSC assumes even greater importance as a first step in our struggle to build a large formation of this character.

The Green Party

85) Partly because of the increased importance of the environment as an issue but crucially because of the political vacuum on the left in Britain - which has not yet been filled by a serious workers or left force - the Green Party has emerged as a significant electoral and important force.

It stood 300 candidates at the last general election and succeeded in getting its most important public figure, Caroline Lucas (a former Member of the European Parliament), elected as MP for Brighton Pavilion.

The party claims 5,000 members, has two MEPs, seven Members of the Scottish Parliament, two Greater London Assembly members and nearly 100 councillors.

In some councils they hold the balance of power and have been in local coalitions - sometimes with Labour but also with the Tories in Kirklees in Yorkshire, for instance, where they voted for cuts.

Also in Lewisham they have repeatedly voted with right-wing New Labour for cuts and privatisation.

86) The Greens, their programme and membership, by their very nature, are 'cross-class', appealing to a disparate audience in a very 'broad church'. 'Green socialists' - organised as the 'Green Left' within the Green party - have a vague programme - in so far as they have one - which is not consistently anti-capitalist let alone standing for bold socialist policies.

In the class polarisation which now exists in Britain, the Greens will be faced with stark choices: to go with the mass revolt against the cuts or line up with the pro-cuts Lib Dems, New Labour councils and councillors who are prepared to do the dirty work of capitalism and the Tories.

87) All the experiences of the Greens' leaderships internationally - in Germany where they have shared power with the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, or in Ireland where they have worked in the calamitous coalition government with Fianna Fáil - as well as in Britain shows that they will ultimately accept a pro-capitalist policy.

Therefore, many workers and young people initially attracted to the Greens can be won to TUSC as the only consistently anti-capitalist, trade unionists and socialist force at present.

This will be the case if TUSC also energetically campaigns on socialist policies on the environment as well as on all the other social issues. We have outlined a clear, socialist environmental programme and perspectives elsewhere.

Conclusion

88) The period that is opening up in Britain - linked to what is happening internationally -promises to be the most convulsive and enthralling for decades.

It will not be 'easy' because of the increased hardship for working people arising from the crisis. But it will prepare, harden and steel a new generation of workers and youth who thirst for ideas on how to win the battle against capitalism.

It is a situation pregnant with huge possibilities for an organisation that knows how to read the mood of the working class, to intervene in good season and to establish a firm position within the organisations of the working class.

In the past year, we have qualitatively and quantitatively increased the strength of our party. This was fully manifested at Socialism and the tremendous interventions we made in the student struggles.

The battles within the NSSN are hardening and preparing a new generation who will be theoretically prepared as well as in the anti-cuts struggle. This is a precondition for us building our party in the next period.

Above all, the winning of new layers of youth represents a fundamentally encouraging and decisive situation for us in facing up to this situation. We must fully examine and discuss in detail all aspects of our work at the Congress, to use this document to reinforce the political and theoretical levels of our members and, in that way, through them, to prepare other workers for the titanic battles that impend in Britain.


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