Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/388/4396
Liberal Democrats: Phoney radicals - no different to the rest
UNDER THE slogan The Real Alternative the Liberal Democrats have launched their biggest, most expensive advertising campaign for 20 years. They're spending £100,000 just on full-page adverts in the daily papers listing their ten-point election programme.
With deep distrust of Blair and lingering hostility towards the Tories, the Lib Dems hope to achieve their best result for 90 years, aiming to win 70 seats.
Decades of languishing in third-place opposition have allowed the Lib Dems to adopt the pretence of radicalism. But do the Lib Dems really offer a radical alternative to New Labour and Tory big business policies of war, cuts and privatisation?
Even before Iraq was invaded, the Lib Dems' opposition to war was limited; they'd already backed the brutal invasion of Afghanistan and their only quibble with the planned assault on Iraq was that it had no blessing from the United Nations. But once conflict started, they supported the war where coalition forces slaughtered thousands of Iraqis.
Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy calls for troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2005, but like the other party leaders, argues the troops should stay until the occupying forces have put down the insurgency.
Abolition of tuition fees:
Socialists campaign against tuition fees and would welcome their abolition, but the Lib Dems' pledge to introduce a grant of up to £2,000 a year, no more than £50 a week, will do little to alleviate student poverty. It falls well short of the Socialist Party's demand for a living grant.
Massive rises in council tax, including by Lib Dem-controlled councils, have led to growing opposition to this tax. The Lib Dems propose to replace council tax with a local income tax. Without adequate government funding and an end to privatisation however, local taxes - whatever form they take - will keep rising while local services deteriorate.
New Labour plans cuts of £22 billion, with over 100,000 civil service jobs lost. The Tories want £35 billion cuts with 235,000 jobs going. But the Lib Dems are no better. They plan to cut £5 billion on top of New Labour's £22 billion.
All the main parties say they'll spend more on health and education. Millions of pounds which Labour poured into the NHS have gone straight to private companies in PFI deals. Now Labour want to contract out 15% of NHS operations to the private sector.
The Lib Dems won't reverse this. They want to give foundation hospitals, which already have the 'freedom' to get into debt, sell assets and treat more private patients, more autonomy. This paves the way for privatisation and the NHS' break-up.
The Lib Dems were the first to plan privatisation of local services when they controlled Liverpool city council in the early 1980s! In that city in 1998 they carried out mass privatisation of council housing and services, and boasted of a £300 million deal with Jarvis, subsequently infamous for the Potters Bar rail disaster.
In 1999, while controlling Sheffield city council the Lib Dems went privatisation-mad, selling off sports and leisure facilities, elderly people's homes and refuse services.
The 'Liberal' Democrats propose a 'last-resort' ban on strikes in essential services and parts of the private sector!
Kennedy claims the Lib Dems won't go into coalition with other parties if there's a hung parliament, but the Lib Dems share control of many town halls with either New Labour or the Tories. In Waltham Forest they helped New Labour privatise elderly care and housing services and plan to close special needs schools.
Nationally the Lib Dems voiced opposition to academies, yet in Waltham Forest moves to hand McEntee School over to millionaire Jasper Conran were only thwarted by a community campaign involving Socialist Party members (see centre pages).
Workers don't need the Lib Dems' phoney radicalism. We need a new mass workers' party to represent our interests.
In The Socialist 14 April 2005: