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
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
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.