Winter of Discontent: Labour isn’t working

Dominic Turner

Image © Murdo Macleod

As we enter 2012, we have a Government perceived as out of touch and elitist, ramming through a failing, unpopular, and treacherous economic agenda. The government has been mired in phone hacking scandals, rising unemployment, outbreaks of riots in the capital, and the likely prospect of another recession in the new year. The very least that one expects in the midst of such a storm is that the sails of the opposition might be filled. But as we enter 2012, the Tory Party has once again regained the lead in most opinion polls. Because of the media’s pathetic obsession with the intrigues of party political gamesmanship, this coalition is not judged by the ideal but by the alternative and the established alternative, the Labour Party, is proving woefully feeble at standing up to coalition.

The public remember that 13 years of Labour weren’t substantially different than what came before or after it. People remember Peter Mandelson proclaiming that Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” They remember Blair and Brown praying at the altar of Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the right wing, corporatist ilk that is laughably called the ‘free press.’ They remember the butchery of Basra, the folly of Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister of this country following a neo-con cowboy into wars of oil and treasure. The killing abroad was coupled with the repression of civil liberties at home, with the government attempting to impose mandatory ID cards on the population, and the eradication of ‘habeas corpus.’ They remember PFI, tuition fees, the introduction of the profit motive into the NHS, all of which lay the groundwork for the Coalition’s malevolent schemes. But most of all, they remember it was a Labour government who increased the gap between the rich and poor and instituted the biggest transfer of wealth from the needy to the greedy with the bank bailout, to be paid off by cuts to public services.

And what do Labour now propose as the alternative to this Coalition’s callous agenda? To merely half the dosage of the Tory tonic, but proscribe the medicine for twice as long? Will the party’s political salvation be found by heartlessly pushing the unemployed, the most needy, to the back of the social housing queue? By fighting the politics of the gutter and blaming immigrants for Labour’s disastrous result in May 2010? Demonising those on benefits as scroungers is not just morally reprehensible, its politically inept, playing into the Tory trap of blaming the unemployed for unemployment, rather than asking the pertinent question: Why is there such mass unemployment? Look to the issues and you will see that the general public is far to the left of the Labour mainstream. The public favour higher taxation of the rich, the renationalisation of the utilities and reject corporate interest in healthcare. Labour maintains a small fig leaf, to conceal its naked abandonment of socialism, in supposedly being the political representation of the trade union movement. But in this regard it has failed to even give tacit support to the biggest strike in a generation.

The real opposition to this coalition is taking place in the streets, in community centres, in the occupy movement, in groups such as UK Uncut, and in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been more strident in his opposition to the wasteland the Tories are creating than Ed Miliband can ever hope to be. Whilst many on the left have given up on Labour, if strike action were to bring this government down an incoming Labour administration could be forced to act radically for ordinary people and abandon the cuts agenda in its totality, if only through the sheer extent of organised discontent. If and when such a moment comes we must not squander the opportunity to fundamentally change the economic paradigm as we did in other moments of economic calamity, in the 1930’s, 1970’s and in 2008. The chaos we see before us today is not capitalism in crisis. The truth is, capitalism is crisis.


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