by Robert Griffiths
Britain is becoming one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. Multimillionaires flourish as grinning government ministers cut the ribbon to open yet another food bank.
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 wealth-poverty gap has widened.
The installation of the unelected Con-Dem coalition in 2010 marked a new stage in the ruling class counter-offensive. As former Bank of England governor Mervyn King pointed out, working class living standards in Britain have suffered their biggest decline since the 1920s.
In short, austerity IS working – for the super-rich and big business. It was never about eliminating the public spending deficit, or reducing the National Debt (which continues to grow).
Otherwise, every time Chancellor Osborne has missed his deficit reduction targets, the City of London should have sent interest rates through the roof or the price of government bonds through the floor.
It hasn’t, because the bankers and speculators know that their millionaire pals in the Cabinet are delivering the goods for them.
Public services are being privatised at knock-down prices, as the value of public sector wages and benefits are driven down. Taxes on the rich and big business have been cut and prices let rip. Trade unionism is being undermined and – the central aim of the capitalist offensive – big business profits are growing again.
The City spivs and chancers are back with a bang, gambling on the financial and commodities markets while refusing to invest in productive industry or affordable housing.
They have even been given £375 billion in public money to play with, courtesy of the Bank of England and ‘quantitative easing’, as part of the £1,300 billion bail out of British capitalism since the financial crash.
Now Britain’s ‘recovery’ is being built on sand – on inflated property values, consumer debt and public subsidies such as PFI – and will be washed away when the next tidal wave hits us.
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 on May 7 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.
Miliband, Balls and co. continue to peddle ‘austerity-lite’ policies such as the welfare cap and the freeze on public sector wages.
Disgracefully, the Labour leadership joins the Tories, LibDems and UKIP in the gutter, blaming young people, the unemployed, benefit claimants and migrants for government borrowing and under-staffed, under-invested public services.
Yet none of this – nor even posing like a ninny with anti-Labour, anti-working class newspapers – is going to ingratiate Ed Miliband with the crooks, tax dodgers and pornographers who own Britain’s right-wing press. They will be doing everything possible to secure a Tory victory next May.
At the same time, the conditions are ripe to grip the popular imagination with popular policies.
Instead of parroting the right-wing agenda of labour 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 our schools and extending workplace and trade union rights.
Advocating an independent foreign and defence policy for Britain – one not based on nuclear weapons or taking part in US-NATO military expansion and aggression – would be more popular now than at any time in the past 65 years.
Opposing the pro-big business, anti-democratic character of the EU – and promising people a say on EU membership – would hardly be a vote loser.
If Labour goes into the General Election on its current pro-austerity, pro-EU and pro-NATO programme, it will either lose to British imperialism’s first team – the Tories – or, after a demoralising 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 Labour manifesto for next May?
An upsurge in campaigning with the People’s Assembly against austerity and privatisation is essential. Today’s national demonstration should be the platform for a summer, autumn and winter of days of action, marches, lobbies and meetings at local and regional levels.
It will also be vital to support and win public opinion to the side of coordinated trade union action on July 10. Up to two millions public sector workers will be striking to defend living standards, jobs and public services. They deserve our active solidarity on the day.
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 after 1997.
Whether or not that can still be done after Labour’s special spring conference on March 1, the debate should be opened up about how to ensure that there is a mass party of labour. The workers and peoples of England, Scotland and Wales desperately need such a party, one capable of winning general elections and enacting far-reaching measures in the interests of the millions not the millionaires.
Whatever Labour’s future, a stronger and more influential Communist Party would help ensure that we have a labour movement and a popular mass movement which is militant, political and potentially revolutionary.
Why not join us to make that happen?
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
Unity! published for the People’s Assembly demonstration A3 download