Sunday, 3 May 2009

Budget Blues

Last week’s budget did little to rally support for Labour where it counts. The new 50 per cent income tax band on the rich and an equally modest allocation of new money for council housing has done nothing to rally working people behind Labour’s banner. The latest opinion polls show the Tories widening their lead over Labour and Cameron looks set for a landslide victory at the next general election.
Harold Wilson always stressed that nothing is certain in politics. Wilson, a Labour leader far greater than Gordon Brown, famously said that a week is a long time in politics and that goes for opinion poll projections as well. Wilson confounded the pollsters who had predicted big Tory victories in the two “who governs Britain?” elections of 1974. Wilson, of course, could rely on the enthusiastic support of the unions and workers fighting for higher wages and a stake in the direction of the economy. Gordon Brown on the other hand seems to hope that he can still scrape by with the support of significant sections of the bourgeoisie.
There’s no doubt that the ruling class is deeply divided over Europe and the economic crisis. The bourgeoisie as a whole are not too bothered by the income-tax hike despite all the wails in the Tory media about a new “class war” and a return to the “politics of envy”. Those who can will avoid it. Those who can’t can easily afford it. Someone’s got to pay for the crisis and in any case the bill for bailing out the banks is going to be largely paid by working people in tax, job losses and cuts in services.
The bourgeoisie themselves have difficult choices. They approved of Brown’s decisive switch to social-Keynesianism to stave off the complete collapse of the British banking system. Many of them doubt whether the Tories could do the same given that so many of Cameron’s cohorts are still wedded to the failed Thatcherite monetarist policies that were once so eagerly embraced by New Labour as well.
There’s still no consensus amongst the ruling class over Europe either. The Neanderthals and those who still believe British imperialism’s best hopes lie in close partnership with US imperialism have been undermined by the slump which exposed the underlying weakness of the American economy and finished off the neo-cons in the US elections last November. But their views still hold sway in the Cameron leadership while those who favour greater co-operation between British imperialism and the rest of Europe cannot fully rely on Labour to do their bidding.
The Tories are implacably opposed to the single European currency. Labour is more amenable towards European integration and the Government has clearly shifted more towards Franco-German imperialism but the biggest obstacle to joining the euro is Gordon Brown himself.
Brown, like Blair before him, has turned his back on the unions though he occasionally goes through the motions of “consultation” to ensure the continuous flow of the money chain that keeps the Labour Party afloat. But Labour’s only hope of a fourth term is by mobilising the grass-roots around policies that clearly benefit working people.
Some Ministers are already talking about scrapping the odious identity card project to save money. But Labour will have to come up with much more than this to win back the millions of disillusioned voters.
The Labour Representation Committee and the unions have drawn up alternative programmes that could win back the workers to Labour. A massive council-house building programme; increases in social welfare and pensions; the restoration of the public sector and the abolition of the anti-union laws would make a good start. It can all be paid for by a return to the progressive taxation levels we had in the 1970s, pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and scrapping Trident.
If Brown & Co respond to the union demands Labour can certainly win the next election. If they don’t we will certainly be in Tory government for many years to come.