Political pressures on the Coalition as economy nosedives

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In April, in exchanges in the House of Commons Prime Minister David Cameron advised Labour’s Angela Eagle to “Calm down, dear.” He told Tory MP Nadine Dorries she was “frustrated”. There was the usual debate between the ‘outraged’ and those who thought it was ‘just a bit of fun’, but it wasn’t until October that Cameron felt compelled to apologise. This appeared to stem from the Coalition’s concern about women’s lack of appreciation of its activities.

In September, a leaked government memo outlined a ‘secret plan’ to ‘win back women’ in the face of a collapse in female support, especially in the working class. The polling evidence behind this concern was unsurprising as there are plenty of ways in which women are hit disproportionately by government cuts. According to the Women’s Budget Group report in November 2010 “the cuts represent an immense reduction in the standard of living and financial independence of millions of women, and a reversal in progress made towards gender equality”[1].

Furthermore, “the WBG’s analysis shows that:

·        the groups that will suffer the greatest reduction in their standard of living due to cuts in public services are lone parents and single pensioners, the majority of whom are women;

·        lone parents will lose services worth 18.5% and female singles pensioners services worth 12% of their respective incomes;

·        overall single women will lose services worth 60% more than single men will lose as proportions of their respective incomes, and nearly three times those lost by couples;

·        the cuts will lead to hundreds of thousands of women losing their job. 53% of the jobs in the public sector services that have not been protected from the cuts are held by women and the pay and conditions of employment of all public sector workers, 65% of whom are women, are likely to deteriorate;

·        cuts in welfare spending fall disproportionately on the finances of women. Child Benefit is paid almost 100% to women; while 53% of Housing Benefit claimants are single women. Both benefits have been cut significantly in real terms and eligibility has been tightened.”[2]

Moreover, women often have the responsibility for family budgets and day-to-day household spending and are arguably directly confronted with the continuing rise in the cost of living. They are also more likely to be direct carers for children, the elderly and the infirm and see the impact in terms of cuts to health and social services.

In October the leader of the Women’s Institute said the Coalition wasn’t listening to women: “she criticised Mr Cameron’s male-dominated Cabinet, the Coalition’s ‘chilling’ decision to cut legal aid in divorce cases and to scrap an organisation that represents women in Whitehall”[3].

So, it’s clear why the government has experienced a desertion of female support. Its overall polling position is holding up surprisingly well, but the bourgeoisie wants to be confident that it can manipulate election results according to its requirements.

Credit where credit’s due

During this year’s Conservative Party conference, the Coalition’s economic policy came under scrutiny. Osborne’s speeches were raked over for any sign of a ‘Plan B’ to deal with the slowdown in the economy. In particular, the proposal for the Treasury to buy bonds issued by private companies, referred to as ‘credit easing’ by Osborne, was seen as a tacit admission that the current economic policy mix is not working as it should.

If ‘credit easing’ was given a ‘let’s wait and see’ response by the press, the same could not be said of David Cameron’s pre-released speech where he said that responding to the debt crisis needed “households - all of us - paying off the credit card and store card bills”. Critics ranging from the British Retail Consortium to the Institute for Public Policy Research lined up to ridicule the idea, saying that it would lead to a reduction in consumer spending and exacerbate the drag on growth.

The phone hacking scandal

In the WR 348 we presented a detailed analysis of the scandal around the issue of phone hacking in News International. It is worth recalling the pressure that was put on Cameron over his links with the Murdoch empire and the factional struggles behind the scandal. We described Cameron as “being one of the slowest to recognise Murdoch’s increasingly destabilising and divisive role, which is why, to bring him to heel, his links to Murdoch were highlighted more than any other politician’s”[4]. We concluded by saying that the campaign had succeeded in its primary objective: “Murdoch’s spell over UK political life is broken and rifts in the British bourgeoisie temporarily papered-over with PM Cameron finally disciplined”[5].

Downfall of Fox

In October Liam Fox finally resigned his position as Secretary of State for Defence after a brutal media campaign focussing on his relationship with Adam Werrity. It has emerged that Werrity and Fox were the primary forces behind the Atlantic Bridge, a charity promoting close co-operation between the UK and America. This ‘charity’ had already been criticised by the Charity Commission and had been wound up in September 2011. Senior members of the current cabinet (including Hague, Osborne and Gove) had also been involved with this organisation although none seem to have had the tangle between their political and personal lives that Fox had with Werrity.

Fox’s downfall is officially attributed to the blurred nature of Werrity’s role and the inappropriate access he was given. The web of business and political connections was complex, but the most significant aspect of his activity seems to be his connections with the Eurosceptic right-wing in Britain, and also conservative forces in the US.

Revolting backbenchers

On 24 October there was the largest ever Conservative Party rebellion on Europe. The Commons was voting on the question of whether there should be a referendum on Britain’s role in Europe. The official position of all the major political parties was ‘No’ but this didn’t prevent 81 Tory rebels from voting ‘Yes’. Junior members of the government either resigned or were sacked. 19 Labour MPs joined the revolt and even one LibDem MP joined in.

Most of the MPs obeyed the diktat issued by their parties and the No vote was carried comfortably but it was clear that, particularly among the Tories, obedience was reluctant at best.

No escape from the crisis

We can see from this survey that some elements of the ruling class have differences with the current administration. On one question, the economic crisis, the whole ruling class is united. The need to reduce the state’s debt, slash the welfare budget and push through a sustained attack on working class living conditions is agreed by all.

The Murdoch, Fox and Eurorebellion episodes are the public face of the battle within the British ruling class over foreign policy that has been going on for decades. The elimination of Fox and the implicit threat to expose even more of Cameron’s dealings with the Murdoch empire can be seen as a warning to the Cameron clique. However, one of the benefits of the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats is that it means that Cameron can’t be held hostage by the right wing in the way John Major’s government was.

Most of the bourgeoisie still has confidence in current political arrangements. It recognises that an attempt to unseat the Coalition is unnecessary and would unleash instability at a dangerous juncture for the economy. The most important pressure on the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie comes from the deepening economic crisis, and there is nothing it can do to avoid that.  

Ishamael 29/10/11

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