Almost immediately after the general election Gordon Brown spoke at the Amicus union’s annual conference and made it clear that the Labour government would carry on in the way it had already established. He insisted on “wage discipline” and was blunt about the Labour government’s opposition to any attempt to impose limitations on the length of the working week. Don’t expect wages to go up, don’t think you’re going to work fewer hours and, with David Blunkett put in charge of pensions, expect the prospects of retirement to look even worse than they do already.
Capital supports Labour
Although, in the words of the Financial Times (3 May), “All the main parties support the policy framework … of the past decade”, the Labour Party has a proven record of excellent service to the ruling class over the last eight years. It was supported by not only the Daily Mirror and the Guardian, but also the Economist, Financial Times and Sun.
Having imposed a range of attacks on the living and working conditions of the working class, having strengthened many aspects of British state capitalism, having brought in a series of repressive measures in the name of ‘anti-terrorism’, and having defended the interests of British imperialism on the world stage, the Labour government is currently the chosen team of British capitalism.
The measures announced in the Queen’s Speech show that Labour is not going to let up. An Incapacity Benefit Bill will attack 2.7m claimants, there will be reductions in certain other social benefits. Apart from the introduction of ID cards, repressive legislation will include a Counter Terrorism Bill, adding further offences not included in the last Prevention of Terrorism Act. Asylum and immigration will not escape from Labour’s offensive.
During the election it was clear that Labour wasn’t going to save Rover. In the week immediately after the election, as statistics showed a further slump in manufacturing output to levels lower than when Labour came to power in 1997, and that personal debt and bankruptcies are soaring further out of control, it was clear that the working class will continue to pay for the further deterioration in the capitalist economy.
Blair’s a liability
Yet, while British capitalism has its chosen governmental team in place, Tony Blair is now seen as a liability. The Daily Mail said that he’d been given a “bloody nose” and Socialist Worker (21 May) headlined “A bitter blow for Blairism”.
Cast your mind back to the election campaign and you might recall the emphasis on the question of Iraq, the leaking of previously secret information (presumably from the state’s security services), and the revival of issues that Blair thought he had ‘drawn a line under’. Iraq is important to the ruling class because Blair’s past actions over intelligence sources, ‘weapons of mass destruction’, 45 minute warnings etc mean that it will be more difficult when it comes to selling any future military adventures. The bourgeoisie don’t want to get rid of a Labour government that has in most things proved thoroughly reliable, but Blair now has a reputation for being untrustworthy (and a tendency to get too close to the US) which British capitalism doesn’t need.
Gordon Brown would be an ideal replacement for Blair as he represents continuity in economic policy, his ‘Old Labour’ image would help in the imposition of attacks on the working class, and he is not tarnished with the same brush as Blair on imperialist policy.
Elections against the working class
With so much continuing concern about Iraq and previous military interventions by Labour against Afghanistan and Serbia, the recent elections showed how capitalist democracy is able to absorb hostility to war. A million more voters turned to the Liberal Democrats. George Galloway was elected when he stood against a pro-Blair Labour MP. Democracy means that people can protest without for a moment challenging the capitalist system that gives rise to imperialist war.
Much media discussion after the election focussed on the Labour government getting the support of only just over a fifth of the electorate. Once again voices are heard calling for a ‘fairer’ voting system, some sort of ‘proportional representation’. As the Financial Times and other commentators remarked, there was no basic difference between the main parties, so a re-allocation of parliamentary seats would make no difference in the policies pursued by a more ‘representative’ government. More fundamentally, all the main parties participating in capitalism’s elections only have policies for the capitalist state to adopt, and are an integral part of capitalism’s political apparatus. And those groups that use elections as a means for protest are equally a part of capitalism’s political circus, sowing illusions in the possibilities of democratic change.
The British ruling class is very attached to its current electoral arrangements which it has been able to rely on to produce a stable two-party system. The BNP, UKIP, Respect and other small parties all have their function for capitalism, but their intervention in the electoral arena, especially if enhanced by PR, would tend to undermine the established system. Campaigns for a ‘fairer’ democracy will no doubt continue, but the traditional view of the British bourgeoisie is that a situation with more parties is less easy to control. Workers observing any debate over electoral reform must remember that it is between its class enemies and is solely concerned with how best to use democracy in the service of a capitalist dictatorship.
The ruling class has the team it wants in government. The state of the economy will determine what measures it takes against the working class. Democracy is just one of the weapons that capitalism has at its disposal.