Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/338/5675
Thatcherite Policies X 3
THE COUNTDOWN to the general election has begun. All three mainstream parties have begun to showcase the policies that they think will excite the voters. Strip aside the spin, however, and the policies revealed will not excite, but will horrify, most working class people.
Fifteen years after Thatcher was thrown from office we are being offered three sets of policy - all more Thatcherite than anything the iron lady herself implemented.
Even the Liberal Democrats, who previously portrayed themselves as slightly to the left of New Labour, have pledged to privatise anything they can find still in public hands, including the Royal Mint and the wholesale sell-off of the prison service.
The Tories, meanwhile, are in reality, proposing virtually the complete privatisation of what remains of the public sector, in particular of education and health. While New Labour's privatisation programme is continuing to accelerate, they have so far been too nervous of public opposition to openly abandon the principle that services should be free at the point of use, at least as far as schools and hospitals are concerned. If the Tories are re-elected they will have no such qualms.
Looking at the nightmare prospect of a new Tory government, many working-class people will feel they have no choice but to go out and vote for New Labour in the general election. It is this fear of the long, dark night of a new Tory government, that means, despite deep-seated disillusionment with New Labour, they are most likely to win a third term.
IT IS true that over the last three years New Labour have increased public spending on health, but it has failed to have a significant impact on our hospitals, precisely because it is increasingly tied to privatisation. Now John Reid's plans for privately run "diagnosis and treatment centres" (DTCs) in the NHS are a qualitative step towards outright privatisation. New Labour claim that they will provide value for money, but a leaked Department of Health memo has revealed that each cataract operation will cost £115 more than it does on the NHS, not least because the surgeons performing it will be paid £500,000 a year!
In a third term not only will attempts to privatise accelerate, they will be combined with drastic cuts. Just in order to meet New Labour's current miserly spending plans, Brown has allowed the budget deficit to balloon to an estimated £37 billion.
Both Blair and Brown are so utterly wedded to big business that they rule out even the most modest increases in corporation tax as a means to cut the budget deficit. Instead they will try and balance the books purely by slashing public spending and increasing taxes on working and middle- class people.
Desperate to delay cuts until after the election, Brown is likely to reveal as little as possible in Wednesday's budget. Nonetheless, a few pointers have already been given about what the future under New Labour holds, even before the economy enters recession. Government spending is currently growing at 4.8% a year, but from 2005 growth will be cut to 2.7%. In education and housing this will mean vicious cuts at a time when greater investment is desperately needed.
It is also clear that the government intends to destroy what little is left of the state pension. They propose that by 2050, pensions should cost 5% of GDP. This compares to the governments of Germany and France's (who are also attacking pension rights) plans to cut pension spending to 15% of GDP.
However, it would be wrong to conclude that these cuts are inevitable. The major three parties all act in the interests of British capitalism. Whichever of them rule they will attempt to drive down the living conditions of working people. They must be met with an equally determined struggle to defend the living conditions of working people. At local level there have been a number of successful attempts to stop cuts and privatisation.
Under the next government, if not before, local campaigns will have to be developed into a determined national struggle of the trade unions, drawing in community campaigns and others, to stop New Labour's attacks in their tracks.
The Socialist Party will fight to build such a struggle, whilst at the same time explaining the need for a socialist alternative, because, as long as capitalism remains, workers will face this never ending onslaught on our right to live a decent life.
In The Socialist 13 March 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party women
International socialist news and analysis