by Robert Griffiths
Multimillionaires flourish as grinning ministers cut the ribbon to open yet another food bank. Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.
Through much of the 20th century, disparities in income and wealth were shrinking until shortly before Thatcher and the Tories took office in 1979. Since then, the poverty gap has widened.
Moreover, the installation of the unelected Con-Dem coalition in 2010 marked a new stage in the ruling class counter-offensive. In this they have been assisted by Labour’s agreement that austerity is necessary.
Since the election, ex Bank of England governor Mervyn King said, working class living standards have suffered their biggest decline since the 20s.
Taxes on the rich and big business have been cut and prices let rip, as the value of wages and benefits are driven down. Trade unionism is being undermined and – the central aim of the capitalist offensive – big business profits are growing again.
The City bankers and speculators are back with a bang, gambling on the financial and commodities markets while refusing to invest in productive industry or affordable housing.
Britain’s ‘recovery’ is being built on sand – on inflated property values, consumer debt and public subsidies (including through quantitative easing and PFI) – and will be washed away when the next tidal wave hits us.
Already, the EU Commission and former CBI chief Adair Turner are sounding the alarm, even urging an increase in the top band of council tax to burst the ‘housing bubble’.
Once again, capital values based on financial and property instruments are growing faster than the real value of desirable goods and services being produced in the real economy.
Thus the seeds of a new financial crisis are being sown. At the same time, with two-thirds of the austerity cuts still to come, a cyclical downturn in the economy is likely to arrive sooner rather than later, unless artificially postponed by further extensions of credit which store up even bigger problems for the future.
Add in the housing, energy and climate change crises and the future is far from rosy. Workers and families across Britain desperately need not only a change of government but a change of policy, too.
At the moment, next year’s General Election promises neither. As the local and EU elections last month indicated, the Labour Party leadership is failing to enthuse electors that a Labour victory would deliver economic growth, social justice and environmental security.
Yet the conditions are ripe to grip the popular imagination with popular policies. Appeasing the right-wing press is not going to deflect the Murdochs, Dacre, Desmond or the Barclay brothers from doing everything to return a government which protects the tax-dodging super rich.
Instead of parroting the right-wing agenda on immigration, welfare ‘scroungers’, market flexibility, ‘choice’ and public sector ‘reform’, Labour should stiffen public opinion in favour of renationalising the energy and transport industries, taxing the rich and big business, controlling the City, building affordable housing, scrapping the PFI rip-off, reversing privatisation of the NHS and schools and extending workplace and trade union rights.
Allowing the people a say on EU membership would hardly be a vote loser. In fact, an independent foreign and defence policy for Britain, not based on nuclear weapons or taking part in US military expansion and aggression, would be more popular now than at any time in the past 65 years.
If Labour goes into the General Election on its current uncritically pro-big business, pro-EU and pro-NATO programme, it will either lose to British imperialism’s first eleven or – after a dispiriting period in office – pave the way for an even more reactionary regime than the current one.
How can the conditions be created to produce a winning manifesto for the election next May?
An upsurge in campaigning with the People’s Assembly against austerity and privatisation is essential. Public opinion also needs to be won to support coordinated trade union action to defend living standards, jobs and public services.
Above all, the labour movement must try to step up the fight to reclaim the Labour Party from the opportunists, careerists, elitists and big business apologists who threw away the biggest parliamentary majority in British history.
Whether that can any longer be done after the special spring conference, the debate should spread throughout the trade unions about how to secure a mass party of labour, one capable of winning general elections and enacting far-reaching measures in the interests of the workers and peoples of England, Scotland and Wales.
A stronger, more influential Communist Party would help ensure that the wider labour movement makes a militant, thoughtful and strategic response to these challenges.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
This piece also appears in the Communist Party paper Unity! published for trade union conferences and mass mobilisations