After less than 6 months the Brown government is on the rack. Its leader's reputation for competence and efficiency has plummeted, its ministers have been caught up in a series of cock-ups, and the Labour Party is under fire for sleaze and corruption. Obviously, you'd expect the opposition to take every advantage of each slip made by the government, but what's the truth about the problems facing Brown and Co?
The fuss over Labour fundraising and the various ways that donors found to get money into the party coffers is pretty modest in comparison to the record of John Major's Tory government. It also implies that dodgy financial dealing is somehow out of the ordinary for bourgeois political parties. Corruption is not exceptional but the rule. Lloyd George sold peerages, Tories under Major took cash for questions, Tony Blair's Labour took money for honours, and clearly every donor expects to get something for their investment. Why would Brown's regime be any different?
Discs containing 25 million personal records go missing and there are complaints about inefficiency. No one seems to care about the permanent inefficiency that's faced by workers when they're being dealt with by Job Centres, other government departments and local councils. As for confidential information getting into ‘the wrong hands', the hypocritical Labour government has broken all records for surveillance and intelligence-gathering. But evidently the state needs such material for its own purposes, not for the benefit of the population.
The British government does indeed have very real problems. These are not questions of efficiency or corruption, but stem from the international economic crisis, the position in which British imperialism finds itself and the threat of workers' struggles developing.
Economic outlook "uncomfortable"
The run on Northern Rock was just one sign of the fragility of the economy, at a national and international level. According to the latest quarterly economic forecast from the British Chambers of Commerce the global credit crisis and the threats facing the international banking system mean that prospects for the British economy have to be significantly downgraded. A leading economist at Deutsche Bank is anticipating British growth rates to be at a rate lower than any since 1992.
The Bank of England's chief economist has warned of further problems for banks and other finance bodies in the aftermath of the credit crunch. He thought that the report of recent losses by banks could be just the tip of the iceberg and that financial markets will continue to be volatile for some time.
When the governor of the Bank of England spoke to the Treasury Select Committee he said that the economic outlook was "uncomfortable" and that the economic environment is "less benign". After he had given evidence that "The most likely outcome is for output growth to slow and inflation to rise" a BBC business editor said of his report that it was "enough to make grown men weep".
Problems for British imperialism
Despite the British bourgeoisie being the most skilful and intelligent in the world it has found itself dragged into the dead-end adventure of Iraq. A reduction in troops or a complete disengagement is only going to be seen as a humiliating retreat for British imperialism. Not only is it bogged down in Iraq, it is facing increasing difficulties in Afghanistan.
Gordon Brown is shifting from the blatantly pro-US policy of his predecessor (which was Blair's downfall) to a more independent position between Europe and the US. This doesn't mean an improvement in the position of British imperialism, as it only emphasises the fundamental contradictions of its position. In reality it can't operate independently; that's an opportunity only open to the American superpower. So the main prospect for the British bourgeoisie at the imperialist level is a loss of credibility and a worsening of the situation.
The threat of class struggle
As far as the struggle of the working class goes, the economic situation in which workers find themselves is the basis for future struggles. Recently we've seen the defeat of the postal workers by the combined forces of the CWU and Royal Mail. But further back we've seen struggles in other sectors that show the working class's capacity to mount a united struggle and demonstrate the solidarity that is central to the development of workers' struggles. The threat of the working class is not immediate, but the British bourgeoisie's preparations at the ideological level and in building its apparatus of repression show that it is not blind to the potential of its class enemy.
The ruling class in Britain does face serious problems. However, the Labour government is broadly following the policies required by British capitalism, and the Tories are not offering anything markedly different. At present Cameron and his party are not being groomed for government, although it's only through an attention to the unfolding of the situation that it will be possible to identify when this changes.
The working class in Britain also faces serious problems - that of living in decaying capitalism and having to resist the attacks on its living and working standards. The more effectively it struggles, the bigger the real problems facing the British bourgeoisie.