The governing team coming out of this election knows exactly what it has to do for the British ruling class: defend the capitalist economy, chiefly by attacking workers' jobs and living conditions; and defend Britain's imperialist interests in the deadly struggles on the world arena.
Forward... to new redundancies and more austerity
While the Labour Party has been trumpeting its success in the economy, promising prosperity and employment, the failure of Rover, right in the middle of the election campaign, is a clear illustration of the future capitalism has in store. The initial 5,000 job losses have been followed by another 421 at the end of April. And after Rover, Marconi is now desperately seeking a foreign buyer.
The new government has the job of defending the national capital's competitiveness in a world market which has been in crisis for 35 years. British manufacturing is in decline, absolutely and in relation to its competitors, with low productivity, and low investment in research, development and training. "The health of the British economy rests on a regression to the early days of capitalism when growth was achieved through the increase in the absolute rate of exploitation. This situation is the result of a quarter of a century of gradual covert attacks by the British bourgeoisie, to create a 'flexible' labour market and reduce restrictions on business; and it reveals once again its intelligence and ruthlessness" ('Resolution on the British situation' WR 281). The 'prosperity' promised by the ruling class is based on nothing but the increasing austerity facing the working class: long hours, insecure jobs, cuts in social benefits.
We are promised high employment, but we did not need Rover's collapse to show us that this is nothing but a dishonest manipulation of statistics. Unemployment may have fallen but "since 1990 there has been virtually no fall in the trend inactivity rate" (OECD report quoted in WR 283). In other words there are just as many people without jobs, either counted as on incapacity benefit or pushed off benefit and into destitution.
Britain already has a high rate of poverty relative to other European countries. The new government has the task of bringing in attacks that will increase poverty. One of these is the continued attack on pensions (underway since 1980 - see page 2), with the rise in pension age and the increase in the amount workers will have to pay in contributions. With high household debt, the inevitable interest rate rises will be devastating.
Forward... to more imperialist conflict
The last weeks of the election campaign have been filled with attacks on Tony Blair for his dishonesty in taking Britain to war in Iraq, for leaning on the Attorney General to give legal advice in favour of launching the invasion. This has undoubtedly been a message to the PM that an election victory should not be seen as a reason to stay in office personally. It has absolutely nothing to do with any real criticisms of Britain's role as an imperialist power. Michael Howard remains clear that he agreed with the war and the Lib Dems supported 'our troops' as soon as hostilities began.
Imperialist states do not go to war because they have dishonest leaders, neither was the Iraq war the only war based on a lie. On the contrary, all imperialist wars are fought under lying pretexts, including the century's so-called 'good war', World War Two, which Britain did not enter to save democratic freedoms or Hitler's victims, but to save the Empire (see the article on Churchill on p4).
In a world of cut-throat imperialist competition, Britain, like every other capitalist state, has to use any means at its disposal to survive. No longer a leading world power, Britain's strategy today is to defend its national interests by playing off Europe and America - supporting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, but opposing it over Iran alongside France and Germany. This strategy will force any governing party into new adventures in an increasingly unstable situation. "The increasing tensions between the great powers can only make it harder for any policy that situates itself between them and that attempts to play one against the other. The US will continue to assert itself and, recognising the position of the British bourgeoisie, will put pressure on it without mercy. The danger of the tack towards the US lies in the fact that it makes the British ruling class more vulnerable, not just to pressure from the US but to reciprocal pressure from its European rivals" (WR 281).
In short, Britain's rulers will play their patriotic part in dragging the world further into war and chaos.
Forward... to more repression
Britain's participation in the 'war against terrorism' has made terrorist attacks against British targets more likely, increasing the climate of fear and insecurity among the population. And the state has not hesitated to take cynical advantage of this. Most recently, it encouraged the media to invent an al-Qaida cell around a 'ricin plot' dreamed up by one disturbed individual. The aim of this particular trick was to add legitimacy to the invasion of Iraq. But the current government is bringing in a whole panoply of measures against terrorism and against crime and anti-social behaviour which are wide-ranging enough to be used not only against real terrorists and criminals but also against all who question the present social order (see the article on p3). This trend will certainly be continued by the new government because the ruling class knows that the crisis of its system is sowing the seeds of social revolt.
Forward... to more racism
The growth in the number of imperialist wars around the world, and the economic devastation of huge areas, is forcing more and more people to flee towards the more developed countries. The various spokesmen of the ruling class are using this to whip up a campaign to scapegoat immigrants for all the problems of their system. If the Labour Party has been less voluble in this campaign recently, we should not forget how Labour politicians have attacked refugees as 'bogus', how they force them to live every day under the threat of being thrown on the streets or deported to some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The new government will certainly maintain this enlightened approach: sweating all the surplus value it can from cheap immigrant labour while simultaneously using the immigration issue to divide workers and divert them from seeing the real causes of their poverty.
The electoral circus
At the time of writing it appears that the Labour government will be returned again - indeed we have been promised this since the start of the campaign - although the British ruling class is solid enough to have leading factions in both the main contending parties who understand exactly what is required of the new government.
However, this has left the whole of the British bourgeoisie with one other major concern in this election - how to get sufficient of the electorate to the polls and how to keep alive the myth of democracy. Alongside all the impossible promises we have been given there is one other that has been put forward by the Liberal Democrats and the extreme left of the ruling class - that of the protest vote. If you can't bring yourself to vote for one of the two main parties, vote Lib Dem, vote Respect, vote anyone, but vote. In other words, give up on all the lying politicians if you like, but don't give up on the bourgeois state, on the vote itself. Even the notion of the Socialist Party (SPGB) that you can participate by writing 'socialism' on a ballot paper cannot distinguish itself from this circus.
But a ruling class that can only take us forward into crisis, austerity, unemployment and war, has no legitimacy. The growing scepticism about elections is connected to a wider and deeper concern about the future that this society is offering us, especially among the young. So-called apathy can give way to conscious antipathy - to active opposition to this system of wage slavery. That is the real fear of the ruling class and the real hope for the future.