Fight the Tories now!

Submitted by AWL on 25 February, 2014 - 8:19

It is hard to imagine many people being taken in by Tory party chair Grant Shapps saying: “The Conservatives are the workers’ party and we are on your side”.

Or by Tory MP Robert Halfon proposing that the Tories change their official name to “The Workers’ Party”.

Five of the six people drawing up the 2015 Tory election manifesto went to Eton, and the sixth went to an almost equally posh school, St Paul’s.

The Tories have slashed benefits on which many low-paid workers depend. They have pushed down public-sector pay. Having started cuts because, they said, a debt crisis made them necessary, the Tories now propose to continue them indefinitely.

Inequality has soared as bankers cynically get round a weak EU restriction on their bonuses by paying out similar amounts and calling it “allowances”.

That the Tories even try such a tack shows two things.

First, that they know there is a clash between those who live from labour and those who live off property and wealth, and that working-class people are angry about the increasing gap between us and the wealthy.

Second, that the Labour leaders’ offering to working-class people is so weak that even the Tories’ bizarre new pitch might rally a few voters.

On Saturday 1 March the Labour Party holds a special conference. Not, sadly, to plan campaigns to defend the Health Service. Or to win a Living Wage for all. Or to take the banks and high finance under public ownership and democratic control.

Rather, Labour leaders will ram through the conference plans to reduce trade-union weight in the party by “opting-out” all individual members of affiliated trade unions who do not in addition tick a box to say they want to “opt in”.

Little time at the conference is scheduled for debate. Much will be given to a speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Probably he will repeat some of the themes of a talk he gave on 10 February.

“Tackling inequality is the new centre ground of politics... The lesson of the New Labour years is that you can’t tackle inequality without changing our economy... promoting a living wage... helping create good jobs with decent wages”.

But in the same talk on 10 February Ed Miliband said: “The next Labour government will face massive fiscal challenges, including having to cut spending”.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls followed up on 18 February by stressing that Labour would be “pro-business”, and would be “cutting public spending in the next parliament — that is very different from past Labour governments coming to power”.

The Blair government started by limiting itself to Tory spending plans for the first two years. Eventually it did increase public spending, to the benefit of hospitals and schools, though a diminished benefit because the spending was accompanied by marketisation, privatisation, PFI, box-ticking “targets” management, and bloated administration.

But a Miliband-Balls government would underspend Blair? It would continue on the path set by the Tories? More libraries and hospitals would close? More low-paid workers would be driven to reliance on food banks?

This approach leaves the wealthy comfortable in their spiralling wealth, offers the working class nothing, and makes talk of “tackling inequality” just empty.

Union and community activists should fight the Tory cuts now, not wait and hope that a Labour government will save us.

And we should step up pressure on Labour for more policy commitments like the meagre few won so far — to repeal the bedroom tax and the Health and Social Care Act.

In a welcome move, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have responded to suggestions from Nick Clegg of a Labour/Liberal-Democrat coalition after the 2015 general election.

Clegg, with a view to the 2015 election, is anxious to get some distance from the Tories.

In a TV interview on 17 February, he claimed that: “The Conservative party has changed quite dramatically since we entered into coalition with them. They have become much more ideological”.

In fact the Tories were just as ideological, and with the same ideology, in 2010.

Clegg proposed the Lib-Dems as a safe conservative influence in a Labour/ Lib-Dem coalition after 2015.

“I think there’s nothing like the prospect of reality in an election to get politicians to think again, and the Labour party, which is a party unused to sharing power with others, is realising that it might have to... If there were a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, we the Liberal Democrats would absolutely insist that government would not break the bank.”

Ed Miliband responded the same day: “What I’m looking for is a majority Labour government. There are such big issues that the country faces... Nick Clegg should be worried about the Liberal Democrats.”

The next day the right-wing Labour journal Progress published an interview with Ed Balls: “None of us want to be in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, partly because it’s hard to know what’s more unpopular at the moment — the Liberal Democrats or the idea of a coalition government.”

However, advocates of Lib-Lab coalition remain prominent around Miliband. Shadow minister Andrew Adonis reckons that: “We should prepare for coalition... Preparing for coalition negotiations properly, part and parcel of being serious about power, this is not defeatism at all.” (Guardian, 10 May 2013).

And Balls’s rejection of coalition was not on the grounds of wanting to do something radical in the working-class interest which the Lib-Dems would block.

He stressed that Labour would be “pro-business”, and would be “cutting public spending in the next parliament — that is very different from past Labour governments coming to power”.

Worse even than the Blair government, which started by limiting itself to Tory spending plans for the first two years?

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