Regardless of delays in the date for the election, the campaign has already started, and it’s clear what’s in store.
The Labour Party’s mock horror movie posters, ‘Economic disaster II’ and ‘Son of Satan’, picturing Hague and other Tories, show that the strategy of making the campaign personal is no idle threat. “Even if we are criticised for being personal, we will be raising the profile of the election. We have got to give people a reason for voting and we will do that by stoking fear of the Conservatives” said a senior Labour spokesman (The Times 20.3.01). This follows on from Blair’s speech in Scotland in February condemning apathy, and Tony Benn’s farewell speech to parliament in which he said “The real danger to democracy is not that people will overrun Buckingham Palace and run up the Red Flag but that people won’t vote.” Academic studies have pointed to the possibility of the lowest electoral turn-out since 1918. The Socialist Alliance is trying to get workers interested in the democratic charade.
Labour is hardly mentioning its record on the economy and public services. It prefers to recreate the anti-Toryism that dominated the 97 election. The reasons for this are clear. Just look at the state of the economy and Labour’s management of it. It’s in perfect continuity with the government of John Major.
The capitalist economy in crisis
Capitalism has suffered 30 years of crisis. With the slowdown in the US, the world economy is heading for a further decline in the coming period. There is no likely candidate to play the role of locomotive and drag it out of the mire. Japan is still not able to crawl out of 10 years of economic problems. The Asian ‘tigers’ are clearly out of the picture, as is the ‘new economy’ whose speculative bubble has already burst.
“Gigantic debts at every level, ever increasing attacks on working class living conditions internationally, inability to integrate the growing masses of unemployed into capitalist relations of production, etc. these are the fundamental consequences of the capitalist economy. States, central banks, stock exchanges, the IMF, all the financial and banking institutions and all the ‘actors’ of world politics in general are trying to regulate the chaotic functioning of the casino economy, but facts are stubborn and capitalism’s laws always end up imposing their rule.” (International Review 104).
Here in Britain we are seeing the continuing decline of manufacturing industry with the 6,000 jobs due to go at Corus, the planned closure of Vauxhall, Luton as well as the cutback at Ford, Dagenham. Even that great British institution, Marks and Spencers, is announcing redundancies. Official unemployment has gone down to around 1 million - a level that was considered outrageous in 1970. But if those who want a job, but aren’t entitled to make a claim, and those on government training schemes etc, are added in, the true figure rises to 4 million. We could also mention the increase in temporary, insecure and part-time jobs.
The Labour government manages the capitalist crisis - by attacking the working class
Running the country means managing the national capital in the interests of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie. In the economic crisis this can only mean attacking working class living and working conditions, to make the country’s industry more competitive. The Labour government was always very clear about this. In 1997 they promised to keep to the spending limits set by the previous Tory government for the first two years.
One of Labour’s first achievements was to save money on benefit payments. The ‘New Deal’ combined an ideological attack (blaming the unemployed for not working), with measures to push people off benefits and into poverty. Together with increased means testing this has allowed the state to cut its social security spending in real terms. And, as the chancellor boasted in 1998, “we are cutting the costs to business of employing 13 million lower paid workers.”
The success of these policies can be measured in the increase in poverty, particularly among children, during the lifetime of the government. In particular there are now a million more people whose income is less than 40% of national average than in 1997 (see WR 242). The chancellor’s ‘war chest’ (from which he was able to make an electioneering ‘family friendly’ budget that was still ‘prudent’) is based on four years of attacks on the working class.
Workers are finding it very difficult to resist these attacks. Lacking self-confidence in their own strength as a class, having been battered by a whole series of ideological campaigns, they find it difficult to know how to respond to attacks such as redundancies. In particular there are no struggles on the scale of the mass strike in Poland in 1980 or the miners’ strike here in 1984-5 which give some idea of the real strength of the working class.
As the economic crisis continues to worsen all governments must attack the working class. Given the disorientation in the working class today Labour and left wing governments are in a very strong position to impose those attacks with a ‘caring’, or ‘third way’ ideology. It is for this reason that the Sun has thrown its weight behind Labour, as the best choice for the ruling class, in the next election.
However the working class, although disorientated, has not been defeated. There continue to be small but encouraging signs of the development of struggles that hold a promise for the future.