WE CARRY on our series on what the main political parties are offering with an analysis of New Labour’s programme. JANE JAMES takes a look at Blair’s hollow ideas.
New Labour’s ‘ten year’ plans
NEW LABOUR announced many of their policies for their next term in office well before the election. Confident of serving another two terms, they call their policies on education, crime and transport “ten-year plans.”
Chancellor Gordon Brown told Labour’s spring conference that Labour’s “manifesto for the coming decade” had the goals of “full employment, prosperity for all, the majority of the young attending further or higher education, halving child poverty and delivering the best public services.”
The speech was designed to enthuse Labour’s troops so these ‘aims’ bore little resemblance to the party’s real policy intentions. To find those out, look at what they say behind the scenes and the effect of their policies enacted in the last four years.
Tony Blair recently reaffirmed his commitment to big business, telling Forbes magazine he wants to make Britain “the No. 1 place to do business in the world.” He boasts of Britain’s “flexible labour market,” and says: “I want to see far more emphasis on entrepreneurship in schools, far closer links between universities and business.”
Some people argue that Labour is now changing direction. With Mandelson gone, they say, Brown can now spend money on public services, more like previous “old” Labour governments.
They reason that Brown couldn’t spend too much on the working class in the first term because he was squeezing spending to show big business that they could trust this ‘prudent’ government.
Now he’s proved his thriftiness, the argument goes, he can release money for public services. The Sun even calls Brown “a socialist chancellor!” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Brown spent less in his first two years than the Tories would have spent had they remained in office after 1997. This severely damaged services. Public spending was cut by 0.6% in Labour’s first two years – the Tories spent more on the NHS.
New Labour haven’t ‘changed direction’. They’re committed to continuing policies that favour capitalism. These spending plans are linked in with further privatisation, ensuring rich pickings for big business and worse services for us.
Policies which would signal a left turn, such as renationalisation of the railways and abolition of tuition fees, are not on the agenda.
Labour had a budget surplus of £18 billion plus £22.5 billion from the auction of mobile phone licences. Very little of this is to be spent on public services, but £34 billion will be handed to the banks and moneylenders to pay off the national debt.
YOU CAN tell as much about Labour’s plans from what they don’t say as from their policy announcements. Imagine if Labour truthfully described their ambition to tie in public spending with more privatisation: “Labour will privatise your services which will result in deteriorating services and worse conditions for workers delivering them.
“This measure is to ensure that big business has the opportunity it always wanted to make fat profits out of the public sector at the expense of workers and users.”
New Labour also won’t tell you that they’ll carry on withholding money from local councils so forcing them to make cuts.
Labour make no commitment to returning the millions of pounds taken from local authorities such as the £14 million clawed back from Southampton council and the £50 million owed to Hackney, which resulted in savage cuts.
Privatisation of council services will continue, and so will Single Status and Best Value agreements which worsen workers’ pay and conditions. More councils will be run by cabinets, eroding local democracy.
Labour boast of unemployment dipping below one million – they aim for full employment. This takes no account of what’s left out of these figures. Many people have already been forced into low-paid temporary jobs owing to tighter rules for claiming unemployment benefit.
Labour plans to force the unemployed onto literacy and numeracy courses and to force single mothers of under-fives to attend training courses.
There’s high unemployment in certain areas. 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost over the past 12 months and the TUC believes that as many again will go in the next year. Over 70% of the manufacturing workforce is employed in industries where output was stagnant or falling by last September.
Even a Commons Select Committee criticised Labour’s harsh treatment of those who don’t comply with New Deal rules. They complain that cutting housing benefit, so making claimants homeless, is a penalty too far.
Labour will increase the minimum wage to £4.20 an hour but that’s still too low. They still give no minimum wage to under-18s and no increase for 18-21 year-olds. Of course millions will still earn below the minimum wage if there aren’t enough inspectors to enforce it.
LABOUR ALLOCATED £1 billion extra for education and health. This won’t solve the fundamental problems facing these services. Labour’s measures have contributed to the growing exodus of teachers from schools.
Performance-related pay, increased stress and no decent pay rise add to disillusionment and discourage students taking up teaching. Pupil-teacher ratios in secondary school are the worst for 25 years. Labour pledge to reduce secondary class sizes at a time when there are already huge teacher shortages.
Much of the money earmarked for education will go straight into the pockets of big business. Nord Anglia (a company already running some education services) say that “200 state schools will be wholly managed by private companies in five years.”
Labour have already announced that there will be more selective and religious schools. For them, comprehensive education is on its way out.
By 2010, Labour aims for half of all 30-year-olds to have been to university but exactly the opposite is happening. One in six students drop out of university – 36% in more working class universities!
More and more, higher education is becoming a privilege of the rich. Despite many poorer students not having to pay tuition fees, it is a real struggle having no grant. The only option is working long hours and getting into debt. Student debt has tripled.
Labour’s measures to boost the income of parents appear to be on the right track. Maternity pay is to increase; paid paternity leave is coming in; child tax credits take effect from April and Working Family Tax Credit (WFTC) is rising.
All these measures are aimed at working parents with minimal increases for those on benefits. Yet employers already complain that they cannot afford workers taking paternity leave while some employers are reportedly now sacking workers on WFTC as it’s time-consuming to administer.
PUBLIC SPENDING is supposedly to increase by 3.7% a year over the next three years, a total of £1.8 billion. However this starts from a very low level – the government itself reveals that last year money spent on capital projects had fallen by 32% on the previous year. Spending on Britain’s infrastructure had fallen to half the level of the last Tory government.
Larry Elliot in the Guardian talks of “a very real risk that the public sector is so enfeebled that the surge in spending now is simply too little too late, and that Britain is now so far adrift of standards of provision elsewhere in the developed world that it will never be able to catch up.”
Much of this public money will go directly to private companies. Most of the 29 new building projects for the NHS are privately financed. NHS use of private beds has trebled since last October.
Brown has enough money to build new hospitals and improve existing ones outright, but he’ll let private companies do the work, then lease them back for the next 30 years.
That’s far more expensive but it guarantees taxpayers’ money going to big business – a prime aim for New Labour.
Extra money may be spent over the next decade on railways and buses to encourage a 50% increase in those using public transport. They’re spending taxpayers’ money but the government will still have no control over the railways. There will still be privatisation, with safety a low priority and services worsening.
The best, most popular measure would be to re-nationalise the railways which the government won’t do as it’s unpopular with big business.
LABOUR DRESS up their promises in meaningless phrases. They promise “the best public services” but cannot realise this as long as services are privatised, workers’ pay and conditions are deteriorating and councils are starved of money.
And it will get worse. Unemployment, inflation and interest rates have all been low up to now, mainly due to the upwards cycle in the world economy not, as Labour claims, due to their ‘expertise’.
With the US economy now in trouble and threatening the British economy, many of Labour’s limited spending plans will be scuppered as rising unemployment forces tax receipts downwards and benefit payments up. We may then see more clearly the “£10 billion black hole” in Labour’s spending plans which the Tories are making a focus of their hopeless election campaign.
Meanwhile as many workers lose their jobs, they will find out that Labour’s benefit rules are extremely restrictive and more benefits than ever are now means-tested.
New Labour’s intentions, and its record over the last four years, clearly show that this party represents big business. Rather than listen to the views of millions who oppose privatisation, tuition fees and reduced disability benefits, they prefer to do the bidding of a few fat cat directors.
The Socialist Party supports the building of a new mass workers’ party. By standing candidates in this election, we’ll give a voice to many who are looking for a socialist alternative to Labour’s meaningless ‘grand’ plans.