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.

The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.

CUiSL looks at the life and work of Ralph Miliband

On 5 November Dr Peter Latham gave a paper to the Communist University in South London on the life and work of Ralph Miliband. Peter drew on his experience as a former student of Ralph Miliband at the LSE in the 1960s and on his research for his book The State and Local Government (Manifesto Press – £14.95 – available at www.communist-party.org.uk). Go to http://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/ to read the paper.