Piecemeal attempts to end the worst excesses of this hapless Tory government's destructive agenda are useless; we need real solutions argues Lindsey German
No wonder the Tories aren’t popular at the moment. A bunch of reports last week gave us an insight into the state of the British economy – and it’s not good. While UK unemployment fell by 75,000 in the three months to July, bringing the jobless rate down to a 40 year low of 4.3 percent, and while employment is at a record high, the jobs created are often insecure, low-wage and part-time. Worker productivity remains low across the economy, with growth expected to slow in the coming years amid uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the European Union. And overall inflation crept up to 2.9 percent, yet again above the rise in wages of 2.1 percent. That means another fall in the value of real wages. Add in the depreciation of the pound since last year’s vote to leave the European Union, and many speculate that interest rates will have to rise soon.
The Sunday Mirror reports that 1 million public sector jobs have been lost in the 7 years since the Tories regained power in 2010. In a nod to the growing discontent over jobs and wages, the Tories have heralded the end to the public sector pay cap – at least for some. Police and prison officers are being offered 2% (still below inflation, so in reality a pay cut) but are expected to find this money by making ‘savings’ elsewhere. Meanwhile, for other public sector workers there’s not even this on the table, and groups of workers such as the Birmingham bin collectors are having to fight for their jobs and wages.
One big reason for the high levels of employment is also to do with older people keeping on working in paid employment, which is to do with raising the pension age in many cases. One report suggested there are 700,000 more over-65s working than there were 8 years ago. Now, while some people choose to do so, there are a hell of a lot who can’t afford to retire, meaning they work much longer than they originally planned - this is especially true of women.
Not many reasons to be cheerful then. When it comes to solutions, the government really hasn’t got a clue. The latest rumour is that it intends to halve student tuition fees in the autumn budget. But this still leaves students having to cough up £5000 a year on top of living expenses for a qualification which by no means guarantees them a job, let alone a secure one.
Brexit and this hobbled Tory government have coincided with the chickens coming home to roost after decades of Thatcherite neoliberalism. Privatised industry is costly and inefficient, its consumers at the mercy of greedy monopolies; school academies are exposed as a source of income and prestige for heads and governors, but unable to deliver the basic requirements of education, whole chunks of the public sector are run by inefficient private corporations. Nothing works properly, yet this inefficiency comes at ever greater cost to ordinary people.
There are only big solutions to these problems. Piecemeal attempts to end its worst excesses just are not going to work. There has to be renationalisation on a large scale, a serious channelling of resources into public services, an emergency house building programme, strict controls on the City of London and financial institutions, investment in jobs, especially in the old manufacturing areas, serious attempts to alleviate the effects of climate change, a restoration of trade union rights. Even to list these shows how threatening they would be to capital and its representatives. A Corbyn government would have to be prepared to take on the vested interests in Whitehall, the military, the judiciary, the City and the boardrooms, who – whatever their differences on tactics – are united against such a redistribution of power and wealth and will use everything at their disposal to prevent it.
As Labour’s conference approaches, it is vital that the discussion is not just how to get a Corbyn government, but how to maintain such a government in the course of attempting these changes. We saw during the TUC that left union leaders like Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka were attacked for arguing support for illegal strikes. But such support would be only part of the massive mobilisation of working-class power which would be necessary. Failure to do so would continue the present impasse of politics – with the danger that the vacuum presented there would soon be filled by very reactionary forces.
The Boris and Theresa show: time to hit them when they are divided
Labour needs to seize the initiative because the nominal government is staggering around dangerously, and its only instinct is to protect its rich and powerful base at our expense. A sign of the weakness of this Tory government is the fiasco around Boris Johnson. He has deliberately written a 4000-word article which challenges government policy on Brexit, just days before another feeble attempt by Theresa May to try and take the initiative over it. Her planned speech in Florence this week was never likely to pull this hapless government out of the quagmire of its own making. What lies behind Boris’s outburst is no doubt the sense of resentment he feels at being side-lined over Brexit and his isolation in the cabinet. He has been increasingly pushed out by the Philip Hammond and David Davis unholy alliance. He is also no doubt pitching for the leadership and hoping that he can push Theresa May out around the conference.
Two things strike me: one – and this is hardly a revelation – is that she is too weak to sack him, or indeed anyone else who challenges her; two, that the Tories’ failures on what to do about pretty much anything, are reflected in a paralysis over Brexit. They are divided, much of the population is divided, and the only way out of this would be to develop policies which could benefit the mass of working people. This they cannot do without themselves challenging everything that they stand for. Hence the state they’re in. I’m really looking forward to demonstrating at the Tory conference because everything we can do to deepen their divisions and bring them down really helps. And I hope very much that there will be the coordinated strikes against the public sector pay cap that we so badly need.
Terrorism: more of the same isn’t working
Another terrorist attack, this time on a tube train in Parsons Green, west London, which fortunately did not lead to any fatalities. It is 12 years since the devastating tube and bus suicide bombs in central London, which killed many people. I argued then that these attacks are horrific and indefensible, but they are connected to the failure of the ‘war on terror’ which began in 2001. Terrorism has increased massively worldwide since then, and the typical government response is to say, we won’t be defeated, we will increase security, we will raise the security threat level. Yet the attacks continue.
In such a situation, governments have a duty to make people as safe as they can, but this will always be limited given the random nature of the attacks and the many possibilities of carrying them out in a big city. Surely they also have a duty to examine why their strategy for stopping terrorism has not worked, has been accompanied by rising levels of terrorism, and considerable numbers of those carrying out these acts link them to foreign policy? Just a thought.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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