Tweedledee and Tweedldum once again!
It seems we’re already experiencing the post-election blues before we know what the outcome is! The Local Government Association, dominated at present by the Tories is already talking of slashing 25,000 jobs nationally. Prof. Tony Travers of LSE is predicting that it could be even more. The BBC, after relentless pressure from the commercial sector, led by the Murdoch mammoth, is cutting its services with considerable job losses. We sure know what we are in for whoever wins.
The late Fenner Brockway records the widespread disappointment and even sense of betrayal when the first Labour governments in 1924 and 1929 under Ramsay MacDonald refused to challenge capitalism but decided to manage it instead. That position has characterised Labour governments ever since, despite Clause VI of its pre-Blair era constitution in which it stated unequivocally that the aim of the party would be: ‘To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.’
The men and women and trade unions which founded the Labour Party at the turn of the century saw it as a means of ‘furthering the cause of labour’ and of justice and equality to counter jungle capitalism. Those aims are as far away now as they ever were, despite the amelioration of conditions for many.
At the close of the Second World War, the electorate was avid for change and was determined to make a clear break with the past. If ever the Labour Party was given a virtual mandate to introduce socialism, 1945 was the year. The subsequently elected Labour government did nationalise vital sectors of the economy and bring in a national health service; this was the most far-reaching political and economic shift in power carried out by any government that century. However, since then successive Labour governments have retreated from those earlier laudable achievements until we now have a country in which finance capital rules our economy and calls the shots; social inequality in Britain is now higher under Gordon than at any time since modern records began in the early 1960s. The incomes of the poor fell while those of the rich rose in the three years after the 2005 general election. Both Blair and Brown were more than content to ‘manage capitalism’; they had complete faith in capitalism as the best system for delivering social justice and stability, even though the facts prove otherwise and their much vaunted financial system came crashing down around their ears.
Ministers in the Labour governments of Harold Wilson during the sixties and seventies were so convinced of capitalism’s potential for progress that they saw the increasing introduction of new technology as freeing workers from mundane work and giving everyone more leisure time. It saw the country’s future dilemma, not in terms of class struggle or a collapse of the system, but in terms of how we would be able to cope with the increased leisure time the success of capitalism would grant us. How ironic now that despite all that technological innovation, we are all now working longer hours with less leisure time than before and are more stressed and less happy in our jobs. In the post-war period, a considerable numbers of workers have of course enjoyed increased wealth, particularly during the seventies and eighties, but a social price has been paid for that. It is sometimes forgotten that many families before the war relied on one income – the man’s – now it is virtually impossible for a family to cope on one income alone. A family without two full-time incomes is hardly able to maintain a reasonable standard of living. A recent survey by Employment law firm Peninsula reveals that more of us are even having to take on two jobs in order to keep our heads financially above water. Many people have also gained in monetary terms, often immensely, simply by owning property and watching prices rocket. That bubble has now burst, and we are faced with the most acute housing shortage since just after the war.
In the wake of the world financial crisis, rising unemployment, shameful economic inequality and increasing social breakdown this coming election should be focussing on a discussion around a real choice of policies, however, that is hardly the case. Where is the vision, the bold ideas, the challenge to big business? Unlike in 1945, we have a widespread disengagement by many, a deep-rooted political apathy and a general uninterest in politics altogether. Instead we have the two main pro-capitalist parties slugging it out over who will make the deepest public spending cuts and who can best bandage-up the financial crash case. There is a total lack of visionary ideas, of political courage and of potential leaders. We have an army of colourless political clones, chosen from a middle class elite who are slaves to their respective party systems and as blindly-loyal as limpets to their chosen rock. We can only hope that the deepening recession and political paralysis within the major parties will galvanise grassroots struggles and that a new generation of leaders with a new vision and firm principles will emerge.