British Perspectives 2015
British Perspectives 2015
25. What would the differences be between a Labour minority government and a Tory one? Little of substance. Tony Blair has already started to publicly lay the blame for Labour losing the general election with Miliband's crime of being too 'left-wing'. In fact, Miliband had no choice but to distance Labour from Blairism and New Labour, indelibly associated with invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but also with the continuation of the Tories' complete deregulation of finance capitalism. No politician now - including the Tories - could get away with Mandelson's famous comment that Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". The depth of the crisis and the growing anger against inequality mean that even the Tories have to play lip service to clamping down on tax evasion and so on, while in reality doing all they can to assist it.
26. However, the programme Labour is contesting the election on is indistinguishable from Blairism. One or two small reforms have been promised, including increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020. This puny figure is about 25p an hour a year! New Labour's introduction of the minimum wage was a more significant reform than that! On education, there is no indication that a Labour government would do anything to reverse the academisation of Local Authority schooling, a fragmentation which began under Labour and then accelerated apace under the Coalition. Labour just hope to somehow manage this fragmented provision by introducing 'Directors of School Standards' to oversee provision. Unlike Local Authorities, the 'DoSSers' would be appointed, not elected. On tuition fees, Labour has refused as yet to make any concrete pledge to decrease tuition fees. On housing, the pledge to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020 is barely higher than the numbers currently being built and far short of what is necessary to solve the housing crisis. More importantly, there is no pledge to enable the building of council and genuinely social housing, the only way to secure an increased availability of affordable housing. Such is the severity of the housing crisis, however, that it is not excluded that a mass movement for affordable housing could force Labour down the road of large scale council house building.
27. Labour has refused to commit to the renationalisation of any of the privatised utilities, not even City Link or Royal Mail - sold off by the current government at a bargain basement price, making an instant £1.5 billion for the Tories' friends in the City. Only on the NHS has Labour promised anything, pledging that they will repeal the Health and Social Care Act. It has not, however, agreed to reverse the privatisation which underpins it. The centrepiece of Miliband's conference speech was an increase of £2.5 billion a year in NHS spending, far less than is needed even to avert the immediate crisis developing in the NHS. Hospital A&E units have now missed the target for dealing with 95% of admissions within four hours every week for well over a year. Patients waiting on trolleys in corridors for hours or a day, which did become rarer under the previous Labour governments, is now once again the norm. Labour's insistence it will stick with Tory spending plans, however, means that it has since had to admit that it will not implement this minor pledge before halfway through its term of office! The pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months while certainly popular, is no more radical than Brown's 1997 one-off windfall tax on the energy companies. Renationalisation of the energy companies, consistently supported by over 70% of the population, has been completely ruled out by Miliband.
28. On some issues Labour would be less vicious in its approach than a Tory-led government. It is possible it will pull back on a few of the anti-trade union measures implemented by this government - for example ending the check off in large parts of the civil service - which would not cost money or require legislation - but they have not even pledged to do this, and may well refuse to do so in fear of being accused of being in hock to the 'union barons'. They will also not be unduly concerned by blows being struck against the unions, in particular PCS. The central issue is that Labour will continue with public spending cuts until, they claim, the deficit is eliminated. Already £35 billion has been cut, pushing even basic services close to collapse. The savage cuts to benefits, the abolition of the Independent Living Fund and a litany of other crimes mean that the safety net that previously existed has already been badly undermined.
29. Next year's local authority budgets, set just weeks before the general election, will be cut by an average of a further 13%, and will be apocalyptic in some councils. Labour-led Coventry council, for example, has announced that it will close almost every children and family centre, community centre, play centre, adult education centre, library and suburban office in the city. In Liverpool, 23 of 26 Sure Start centres are threatened with closure this Spring. The further cuts in spending Labour will try and implement will come on top of this carnage. There will inevitably be mass resistance which even some right-wing Labour councillors can be forced to respond to. Until now, Labour councils have loyally implemented the Tory cuts, although there is a small but growing band of councillors who have been unwilling to do so. But faced with a Labour government trying to take public services back to the 1930s, there will be more councillors who reach breaking point and refuse to implement the cuts. This has been seen in Greece where twenty councils that had loyally implemented misery for years reached a tipping point and, albeit hesitatingly, took a stand against implementing further cuts.
30. A Labour-led government would be entirely different to the Labour governments of the nineties and noughties - not in its politics - but in the depth of the crisis of the capitalist system it would defend, and its extreme weakness and inability to do so effectively. We have made the point many times, but it is not an exaggeration to predict that Labour could be virtually destroyed - like PASOK in Greece - by its attempts to implement austerity. This process could be intensified if, as is likely, a new stage of the economic crisis develops under a Labour government.
31. On the other side, if Labour loses the election Miliband will be finished, but there is no strong candidate to replace him. What is clear, however, is that there would be no shift left. It is more likely that Labour losing the election will be blamed by the ultra-Blairites on Labour being too left wing, and that on that basis someone to the right of Miliband would take the leadership, possibly the Blairite Chuka Umuna. The chosen candidate of the affiliated trade union leaders would probably be Andy Burnham, who has appeared to lean left as shadow health minister. In fact, however, his record is no more left wing than other figures in the shadow cabinet. The Tories have the same problem. Losing the election would be the end for Cameron but it would be difficult for Osborne to replace him, tainted as he is with being chancellor for the last five years. Boris Johnson is standing as an MP in the election with the aim of becoming the next leader of the Tory Party. This is a possible - even a likely - outcome, but it is a real condemnation of what was once the most successful capitalist party in the world that a demagogue like Johnson could be its next leader.