Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/349/5791
LibDems: Just another big business party
THE LIBERAL Democrats launched their Euro 2004 election bid on an anti-war ticket. What a rip-off! Polls show around half of voters oppose the war on Iraq. Support for Labour amongst Britain's Muslims has halved from 75% at the last general election to 38% now.
Most of these voters have turned to the Lib-Dems who are up from 10% to 36% amongst Muslims. So the Lib-Dems are appealing to voters to "punish Blair" over Iraq in the European elections.
The Lib-Dems are perceived as anti-war, an image enhanced by the Stop The War Coalition giving their leader Charles Kennedy a platform (in a personal capacity) at last year's 15 February demonstration of two million protesters.
But Kennedy did NOT oppose the war. He just wanted it covered by a second United Nations resolution. On their party web-site, he said the Lib-Dems were "not the all out anti-war party". When the bombing started, he said "now is the time for silence." Deafening opposition! One year on, they support the occupation, only calling for a parliamentary vote on whether more British troops should be deployed.
This opportunist pseudo-radicalism on Iraq belies a marked shift to the right by the Lib-Dems over the last two or three years.
Since giving up, for now, on the Lib-Lab coalition project, the Lib-Dems have sought to replace the Tories as the main opposition party to New Labour. 80% of their target seats for the next general election are Tory-held. So to refute "tax and spend" accusations and woo Tory voters the Lib-Dems have moved right.
Even according to one of their own peers, Lord Greaves, recently promoted MPs are "pseudo-Blairites". Vince Cable, now Treasury spokesperson, was former chief economist at Shell, and advisor David Laws is a millionaire former banker! They are another party of big business.
A recent party statement boasted that "Liberal Democrats start with a bias in favour of market solutions." This was reflected in their Alternative Budget proposals which included £5 billion 'savings' to be made through cuts and privatisation.
They backed the Gershon report which will lead to tens of thousands of public sector jobs being slashed. In one of the most de-regulated economies in the industrialised world, the Lib-Dems want to "cut red tape and set business free from unnecessary burdens."
They say above-inflation increases in the minimum wage are unaffordable and that there should be compulsory arbitration in industrial disputes in strategic sectors of the economy and essential public services. Bad news for the low-paid and trade unionists.
NOT TO be outdone by New Labour or the Tories, the Lib-Dems have gone privatisation-mad as well. With not much left to sell-off, they've identified the Royal Mint, the Defence Export Services Organisation, motorway service station assets and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre!
They're even back-tracking on their most popular policies. Scrapping tuition fees and the abolition of personal care charges for the elderly in long-term care were to be funded by a 50p top-rate tax on high income earners over £100,000 a year.
This 50% tax rate has now been 'refined' to include national insurance and local income tax (the Lib-Dems' replacement for council tax), so making very little difference to the current top tax rates and blunting its redistributive effect.
Even on the council tax which the Lib-Dems want to abolish, they've dropped their earlier promise to cut all bills by £100 a year. And this year, it was Lib-Dem controlled councils that put council tax up the most - on average 6.4%.
Launching their local election campaign the Lib-Dems did not present a national manifesto, claiming their support for 'localism'. This is just a cover for their electoral opportunism.
For example, Lib-Dems in Manchester supported a new runway at the Airport (jobs) while Lib-Dems in Stockport (under the flight path) opposed the same runway! Lib-Dems in Sheffield support a new bigger incinerator (in fact they privatised it!) whilst in Hull they campaigned against an incinerator.
Even on Europe, where the Lib-Dems have been distinctive in their support for the EU, integration and the Euro, their shadow chancellor Vince Cable recently argued that Brussels has got too big for its boots and that social and environmental policy should be repatriated to the member states. Clearly, the Lib-Dems will face both ways if they think there are votes in it!
Indeed, after their 29% swing by-election victory in Brent East last September, Charles Kennedy attacked "the lazy short-hand of the Left-Right slide-rule. The notion is a hangover from 20th century politics..." This echoed Blair's earlier laments about "tribal politics". Both their attempts to free themselves from the realities of the class struggle and be 'pragmatic' will end in failure.
The Lib-Dems are just another neo-liberal capitalist party. They have the luxury of "radicalism" that comes from being in opposition. They have no principles other than to get into power, and once there, as we've seen in Sheffield and other councils, they carry out the same Tory policies of cuts and privatisation as New Labour.
In The Socialist 29 May 2004:
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