by Nick Wright writing in the Morning Star
This looks at the problems that will face a left-led Labour government
SO SAID the Sunday Telegraph last week. The Sunday Telegraph is more the weekend reading of the average Conservative voter than it is the authoritative voice of our ruling class.
It said: “Jeremy Corbyn is on course to sweep into No 10 after Theresa May failed to deliver on her promise to take the UK out of the EU by March 29.”
This scary analysis — designed to galvanise Tory opinion — is that Conservatives “would lose 59 seats in the event of a general election, making Labour the largest party in the Commons.”
The Sunday Telegraph panicked: “Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, and Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, would be at ‘high risk’ of being voted out.”
Cheering though this news is, a Tory rout is not yet a done deal.
The prospect of a general election frightens more than the most unpopular Tory figures like Rudd and Duncan Smith.
Tory terror goes beyond the scores of Conservative MPs heading for electoral oblivion.
The handful of Liberal Democrats in Parliament, who split three ways over Brexit, have failed to compete effectively for the Remain vote, and are set to remain outside of government even if they retain much of a parliamentary toehold.
Many SNP seats are held by small majorities and are vulnerable to an effective Labour campaign.
The Green vote leaks both ways —losing people to Change/Tinge to the right and on the left to Labour’s enhanced credibility as a party of radical government. None of these people want an election.
But the most substantial opposition to an early general election lies more with the decisive sectors of the ruling class who understand, better than do electors in general, that a left-led Labour government is a real threat to ruling class hegemony and the wealth and power on which this rests.
This is why — despite a government unable to command a Commons majority, one beset by irreconcilable divisions and with its approval ratings dropping through the floor — the powers that be are determined to prevent an election.
It is axiomatic that oppositional parties like Labour get a chance at government most usually when capitalism is undergoing one of its cyclical crises.
Equally axiomatic is the forlorn experience of left-wing governments abandoning their radical policies under pressure from the class power and institutional reach of capital.
Our most recent example is Greece, where Syriza captured the anti-austerity sentiments of millions, where a very wide coalition of political and social movements invested their hopes in its promise of change.
The disastrous opportunism of Syriza’s leadership, in arousing people’s expectations of a rupture with EU economic orthodoxy, in assembling a huge national movement to repudiate the demands of the troika and then capitulating, serves as a warning.
The inevitable price of such a betrayal lies not just in the misery and impoverishment which inevitably accompanies the brutal imposition of EU austerity but in demoralisation, demobilisation and growth of far-right forces which follows it.
When push came to shove the Syriza leadership chose accommodation with the power of capital and its institutions — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EU Commission and with domestic reaction, local capital and, in government, with a right-wing nationalist formation to which they awarded the defence ministry.
The Syriza “coalition of the left” has ended up administering the most damaging austerity regime in Europe, tied more tightly into Nato’s war machine than even earlier Pasok governments and is cuddling up to the Israeli regime.
Of course, Greece is a smaller economy and a weaker capitalist entity than Britain and the failure of Syriza to challenge the illusions many Greeks retained in the country’s membership of the eurozone meant that the troika held even stronger cards in the negotiations.
In a European Union which itself serves to both institutionalise and intensify some of the contradictions that inevitably exist between competing capitalist states the relatively smaller Greek economy could be easily robbed of its socially owned assets in order to service debts held by German and French banks.
The coteries of troika officials parachuted into Greek ministries with dictatorial powers reinforced the reality that locked into the euro there is little that any government can do.
We have our own experience of the pressures that can destabilise a government.
From springtime in 1990 Britain — then holding the presidency of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) — was part of the so-called exchange rate mechanism.
This was the instrument which laid the ground to more closely align European currencies in preparation for monetary union and the substitution of the euro for francs, marks, etc.
On Wednesday, September 16, 1992, I was in the White Hart — on the edge of the City — with a crowd of trade union activists and full-timers. In the same bar was a bunch of bankers and currency traders.
The pound had been under extreme pressure from currency speculators and in order to shore it up and keep it with the limits of the ERM the government raised the interest rate to 10 per cent.
Treasury orthodoxy grounded in a ruling-class terror of inflation — was to avoid devaluation at all costs.
The pressure was intensified by George Soros’s Quantum hedge fund empire based in New York, London and the tax havens of Curacao and the Cayman Islands which, the day before, had begun to offload its stash of sterling.
Black Wednesday, as it came to be called, demonstrated just how an avaricious pack of speculators could bring pressure to bear on a government.
Interest rates rose to 12 per cent and then 15 per cent. By the time we were sinking our after-work pints the pound was sinking precipitously.
That evening chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont pulled Britain out of the exchange rate mechanism.
The episode cost the Exchequer more than £6 billion. Soros, however, found his speculative adventure highly profitable and trousered a cool £1bn, which was estimated to cost each person in Britain more than a tenner.
That is how Soros came to be known as the “Man who broke the Bank of England.”
Very instructive were the reactions of the two groups of White Hart drinkers. The bankers, heavily invested in the market myths of finance capitalism, were sunk in despair and, it emerged in the lively arguments which followed, quite unsystematic in their thinking, highly focused on technical aspects of currency trading and both ignorant of and unengaged with problems of the wider productive economy and of human and social needs.
The trade unionists were exuberant. Some had a good grasp of the processes and a political and moral aversion to the parasitic nature of speculative capitalism, but all of us were delighted to see the strategies of the Tory regime, Thatcher’s successors, confounded.
The episode cemented in the public mind both the idea that the “casino economy” was inherently unstable and that the Tories were spectacularly incompetent.
Britain, of course, is not a member of the eurozone. Instead, our central bank is truly independent. Really, truly independent. Even of the government. Especially the government, which has little power over the bank’s “independent” decision-making.
This is Gordon Brown’s tribute to the idea that the main instrument of fiscal and monetary policy should be unassailable by popular power or democratic oversight but instead, control should be invested in a group of top civil servants and mainstream bourgeois economists.
The independence of central banks from “government interference” is a foundational tenet of neoliberal economic thought.
Located in the heart of the largely autonomous city-state that is the City of London and tied to it by 1,000 human and professional links, the Bank of England exercises enormous power over the direction of the British economy and serves to buttress the global reach of capital.
Notwithstanding any tensions which inevitably arise between these two competing instruments of power, the domination by neoliberal economic orthodoxies over both central bank and the Treasury functionaries means that both entities sing from the same song sheet whichever party is in office.
The Bank of England has the power to change interest rates. Its monetary policy committee periodically meets to consider this question and the course taken by its deliberations surface in the press in the form of carefully coded disputes about the utility, to the smooth functioning of the economy, of this or that rise or fall in interest rates.
A precipitous rise in interest rates, imposed independently of any government decision, has the capacity to seriously derail a government programme.
In a British economy, in which millions of working people are up to their necks in debt and saddled with mortgages, a rise in interest rates is potentially disastrous and a powerful weapon in the hands of our class enemy.
The underlying rationale for the idea that a bunch of central bank officials and orthodox economists should have the power to independently control the monetary policy of a country of 60-odd million people might strike the innocent observer as wanting a rational explanation.
The conventional answer to this question is that politicians cannot be trusted with these matters.
The democratic response to such a suggestion is that, hitherto, the wrong kind of politicians have been in government. And the wrong kind of economists are working at the bank and sitting on its monetary policy committee.
All this is, of course, just part of the armoury at the disposal of big capital. Controlling the export of capital, corralling capital for productive investment, bringing the rich into an equitable tax system are very big tasks for which Labour’s recent history in government does not give much guidance.
Beyond these directly economic tasks are a very challenging set of political tasks which will turn on whether our working class and working people as a whole and the labour movement understands the forces at play, is conscious of the many ways in which capital will manoeuvre to protect itself and is organised to defend a government which is for the many and not the few.