General Election Blues

No one should be in any doubt that the outcome of the general election last month was anything other than a defeat for the Left and progressive forces in Britain. The SNP managed to obliterate Labour in Scotland by positioning itself to the left of Labour but, given our first-past-the-post voting system for parliamentary elections, it succeeded only in strengthening separatist tendencies in Scotland and entrenching the forces of reaction elsewhere. The Tories secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate but enough to give them a comfortable overall majority. We should, however, not cling to the illusion that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have been able to deliver the goal of greater equality – now identified by Miliband’s critics inside the Labour party as Labour’s mistaken dominant electoral message. How strange that we, the electorate, didn’t notice this at the time!

So where are we now? According to Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian today (Friday, 5 June), we should take Cameron’s claim to head a one-nation government supporting blue collar workers seriously. According to Kettle, even our concerns about the NHS under the Tories are unfounded. He says that Jeremy Hunt is not repeating the mistakes made by his predecessor, Andrew Lansley: according to Kettle, the NHS will “still be there in 2020”. Complacency? With more anti-trade union legislation promised in the Queen’s speech, if that’s not clinging to illusions, I don’t know what is.

Croydon TUC, supported by the communists on its Executive Committee, has long taken a more realistic view about what we could expect following the General Election whoever won. That is why it formed well in advance of the General Election the Croydon Assembly as a way for the trade unions to reach out to the wider community beyond the boundary of organised labour to raise awareness and to encourage people to organise against austerity, privatisation, growing inequality and cuts in public services. CTUC took the view that these would continue whoever won the election. Given the apparent inability of the left within the Labour Party to summon up a mere 30 Labour MP’s to nominate a left candidate to stand as Leader, who can argue that this assessment was incorrect?

The Croydon Assembly reconvenes tomorrow, 6 June, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm, at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD.  There is a stellar cast of speakers including Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philippa Harvey, President of the NUT, and John McDonnell MP but much of the day will be given over to discussion by those who attend. If you can get there, forget the General Election Blues, come along and join in.

That was not democracy

Whatever it is we have been experiencing over the last six weeks, it was not democracy. Democracy is rule by people. It requires the people to have free, unbiased and digestible information enabling them to engage in discussion and debate before reaching their decisions. What we have just experienced satisfies none of these criteria. It was nothing more than a quinquennial  circus, largely  paid for by big business and wealthy individuals with vested interests in the outcome. It fell well short of true democracy for the following reasons:

  1. Under our first-past-the post system, most voters are deprived of any influence over the outcome. In consequence, a significant proportion of voters have not registered to vote or, if they have, will not bother to vote.
  2. The winners will claim legitimacy even though the majority of the population have not have voted for them. This is in sharp contrast to Tory plans requiring workers to secure a majority of those who are entitled to vote in every workplace before industrial action can be taken.
  3. Voters will have no say in any deals stitched up after the election.
  4. Once elected, MPs will be insulated from and hence largely insensitive to the views of those who elected them.
  5. The reporting of the election has been dominated by privately owned mass media whose owners are neither UK voters nor UK taxpayers and by a BBC running scared of changes to its charter and license fee by the winners of the election. To make matters worse, most journalists in every media are unrepresentative of the nation to which they report, being predominately white, middle class and Oxbridge educated.
  6. The MPs we elect, whatever the result, will also be unrepresentative. Not only will they earn around three times the average wage, they will have more job security and much better pensions than most of those who elected them. They will be drawn predominately from professional and managerial backgrounds. Like journalists, they will be predominately men, privately educated, Oxbridge graduates. Many like the (hopefully outgoing) Prime Minister will come from wealthy backgrounds.
  7. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level unless it is underpinned by local government democracy. The latter has been gutted as Peter Latham describes in great detail in his excellent book[i].
  8. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level if it is denied us in the workplace. The anti-trade union legislation in place in the UK conflicts with international agreements freely entered into by previous governments. For more information on this illegality, refer to Union Rights…and Wrongs[ii]
  9. Power no longer lies with elected MPs. They are whipped into conformity by the political parties, and they can no longer legislate in a number of areas due the EU.
  10. The dominant political parties are financed by big business and wealthy individuals.

In the light of these shortcomings, don’t expect too much from the forthcoming election. Austerity must be opposed whoever wins, but this will be much harder if the Tories form the next government. A Labour government is a necessary but insufficient condition to oppose austerity. A vote for the Communists, when available, will help with this. But the real fight starts after the election. In Croydon this means building the Communist Party locally and supporting the Croydon TUC and its Croydon Assembly initiative on Saturday, 6 June.

[i] The State and Local Government by Peter Latham, Manifesto Press, 2011. £14.95 from the Communist Party

[ii] Union Rights…and Wrongs: the reform of Britain’s anti-union laws by John Hendy QC 2001. The Institute of Employment Rights.

LWA

Labour’s strategy for winning the forthcoming general election is to hold themselves out as the Least Worst Alternative (LWA). Given the policies of the Tories and UKIP and the revenge voters will inflict on the hapless Lib Dems for propping up the Tories for the last five years, this is a modest aim, but will it be sufficient for Labour, if not to win a majority in the next parliament, then at least to form a coalition government with their Scottish nemesis, the SNP? Given Miliband’s speech on Wednesday explaining Labour’s economic plans for the next five years and making his first election pledge, we doubt it.

In his keynote speech on Thursday, Miliband said a Labour government would cut the government’s current deficit year on year until it is in balance but said borrowing for capital investment would be exempt, albeit there would be no plans for extra capital spending beyond what is in the current government’s plans. While he appears to have grasped the fact that government borrowing won’t come down until the incomes of ordinary working people start to rise, he has, at most, only given a future Labour government some wriggle room. Overall, cuts in services and austerity will continue under Labour. If Labour is to be elected, we need a radical programme, not LWA.

What would a radical programme look like? It would include big tax increases on the pampered 1% and less tax paid by the rest of us, including the huge amounts paid in VAT and other indirect taxes that fall heaviest on those who can least afford them. It would include provision of good housing for our people, not taxpayer subsidy for landlords. It would include restoration of trade union rights so that ordinary working people can defend their own interests. It would include an end to cuts in the services and support given to the weakest in society. It would include not only an end to privatisation but a rolling back of this disastrous and expensive policy. It would certainly include cuts, but not on public services and the wages of those who work in them. They would be in the salaries of the top 1%, whether we pay for them directly in the state sector or indirectly through businesses which leech off tax revenue or, like the banks and the public schools, depend on the privileged position we afford them. There would be cuts in our offensive military capability and a total scrapping of our expensive and illegal nuclear arms. As for austerity, this would continue but not for ordinary working people. It would only be for the rich, and principally for the 1%.

If Miliband were to offer this programme as part of hi next four ‘pledges’, he would, of course, attract a hysterical response from our wonderful ‘free’ press which would be echoed by the supposedly independent BBC. But would this damage Labour electorally? Miliband is already being savaged while offering LWA. Try Googling ‘Milliband’ today. The first five hits will include “bacon sandwich” and “beggar”. This is the currency used by our mass media in its coverage of politics. It could hardly be more hostile if Labour were to offer a radical programme. The voters on the other hand, at least those not part of the 1%, could be won over in sufficient numbers to ensure the absolute majority that Labour so desperately desires.