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Weekly Worker December 4 1997

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Communist Party of Great Britain

Weekly Worker

December 4 1997

Labour promises more attacks

‘New Labour, new politics, new Britain, new presentation’. Gordon Brown put this Blairite axiom into practice last week when he presented his “pre-budget report”, or mini-budget. He did away with the battered old bag chancellors normally hold up to the cameras, did not sip from a glass of whisky (definitely not) while he delivered his speech, and even walked to the House of Commons. Guided by the spirit of inclusiveness, Brown even invited the public to contact him on a web site, where they can quiz him on the finer points of his fiscal strategy. Away with the old.

Radical stuff all right – at least on the plane of imagery and symbolism. But when it came to substance, to reality, what we actually saw was, ‘The king is dead: long live the king’. Our prudent, fiscally stern iron chancellor delivered – as the pro-Labour left loves to put it – an essentially ‘Tory budget’.

Not that this bothered the ‘anti-Tory’ Guardian. It praised the mini-budget, “which combines radical measures to get people back to work with a redefinition of the parameters of the welfare state”. This was a “thoroughly welcome initiative” – even if it did have some liberal reservations about the “government’s squeeze on poor families” (November 26).

We should not be surprised about the nature of the mini-budget – particular the further attacks on single parents and public sector workers, previously the objects of Tory venom. Though the left will scream ‘betrayal’ and moan about Labour’s ‘broken promises’, they are only getting what they voted for – they urged the working class to vote Labour, knowing full well what to expect. To give New Labour its fair dues, they are delivering, already, exactly what they said they would do – further attacks on the working class and a ruthless defence of the capitalist system.

There were a few sweeteners of course. Brown suddenly discovered a pot of EU gold and now pensioners will be getting an extra heating allowance for winter. He also promised to create 30,000 new out-of-school clubs with one million extra places.

However, what we saw last Tuesday was a further shift from the social democratic welfare consensus of the post-war years to a lean and mean, US-style welfare-to-work system. As part of this process, he announced his intention to introduce by the year 2000 an American-style tax credit scheme, the ‘working family tax credit’, based on the US ‘earned income tax credit’ scheme. In conjunction with a ‘minimum’ (ie, minimal) wage, Brown aims to stigmatise welfare altogether, making it culturally unacceptable. Instead of the family credit giro cheque, low paid families would receive a tax credit, either in the pay packet, or as a lump sum paid annually. Interestingly enough, in the US this has led to fraud on a massive scale, with estimates that nearly one claim in three relates to non-existent children.

Wage restraint, naturally, is the central plank of Brown’s strategy – if you are a worker, that is. But not if you are, say, Sam Chisholm, chief executive of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, who was paid a total of £6.8 million last year. The pay package – over £18,000 a day – was £3 million more than he received a year earlier. Brown insisted, however, that nurses and chief executives must forget their differences and fight the good fight together: “We must all be long-termists now. It is no one’s interest if today’s pay rise threatens to become tomorrow’s mortgage rise.”

Brown’s mini-budget follows on hotly from the attacks on single parents announced the other week by Harriet Harman. There are 1.1 million lone parent families in Britain, with a £10 billion total cost. No wonder New Labour is gunning for them. Keeping faithfully to the Tory ‘reforms’, Labour is going to cut single parent benefits by an average of £6 per week. Like the student fees, this nasty and petty measure will be directed only against new applicants – a classic case of divide and rule.

Once again, we are obliged to point out that Harman’s cuts proposals are not an example of broken promises. When in opposition, Harman merely said that she disagreed with the Tory plans because they had no welfare-to-work element. This may baffle the likes of the SWP, but it should not be too difficult to understand. Ironically, the Tory-led attacks on Harman on Monday were based purely on the grounds that Harman, and New Labour, had broken election “promises” – not that the policies themselves were wrong. Coming from the Tories, of course, such huff and puff is transparently disingenuous. Unlike the ideologically deluded SWP, the Tories know for a fact that New Labour never made any such “promises”.

But then again, what else could the Tories say – damn New Labour for behaving like good, fiscally responsible conservatives? All Peter Lilley could say was that he was “sceptical” about New Labour’s commitment – to implementing anti-working class legislation. The Tories should have more faith in New Labour.

There has been a subdued and sullen revolt against Harriet Harman’s plans, in the shape of a private protest letter signed by 120 Labour MPs, which included five aides to cabinet ministers. The letter was writen to Gordon Brown by Chris Mullen, the chairman of the home affairs select committee.

Yet when it came to the vote on Monday the government won by 336 to 131. There was a less than impressive boycott by nearly 90 out of the 101 Labour women backbenchers, who refused to leave their Commons rooms to back Harman in the chamber. It was left to the “unthinking Blairite clones”, as one of the boycotters put it, to back the benefit cuts. No Labour MP – not even Dennis Skinner, for all his loud objections – actually had the courage to vote against the government.

All this is just a tip of the New Labour iceberg. A favourite Labour jibe used to be that under the Tories you paid more and got less. Now it looks like we will be paying even more, and getting a lot less. It transpires that council tax will almost inevitably increase – probably by around seven percent – as the government permits a slight rise in town hall spending, but makes further cutbacks in its grants to councils. John Prescott claimed that this was an exercise in “re-invigorating local democracy”. It may or may not be good news for local government bureaucrats and careerists – all it means for the working class is increased hardship.

Be warned. There is a lot more in the pipeline.

Paul Greenaway


 

… and CPB lackeys stay loyal

Despite a noticeable presence of younger members at the so-called Communist Party of Britain’s ’44th Congress’ on the weekend of November 22-23, the only point of controversy reflected in theMorning Star was pressure from below on the part of militant old-age pensioners, imposing on a reluctant executive their call for “direct action” to win justice for the aged. The executive committee withdrew its objections after “clarification” that this only meant obstructing traffic to obtain publicity.

The six personnel changes on the group’s 30-strong executive committee appears to have left the Morning Star/Peoples Press Printing Society clique around Mike Hicks and Mary Rosser firmly in control. This does not mean the Morning Star is the paper of the CPB. On the contrary, from its (re)foundation, the CPB has been the ‘party’ of the paper. After all, it was born out of a factional struggle in support of the paper’s liquidationist unilateral declaration of independence from CPGB control in the early 80s.

The brief challenge to the Star clique at the 1995 congress seems to have subsided. When the 1995 executive elections did not go according to plan, the clique attempted to have its way through a special congress to re-run the elections. This was rejected by the new executive, which nevertheless succumbed to the setting up of a commission to investigate factionalism.

A challenge to the incumbent general secretary, bureaucratic dealer Mike Hicks, from the scrupulously clean Richard Maybin failed by only one vote at the first EC meeting, after which the clique secured its position by co-opting ‘official’ Marxist economist Ron Bellamy – guru of the ‘alternative economic and political strategy’, so central to the ‘revolutionary’ reformist British road to socialism. It was his defeat in the 1995 congress elections which caused the clique to cry foul. This time round he was safely re-elected.

So, with the BRS and AEPS entrenched, the organisation is programmatically tied to the coat-tails of Blair’s New Labour government. Consequently, those comrades who remain loyal to the CPB and the Star under these conditions – despite the best of intentions, despite all their complaints against Blair’s government – are destined to follow the Labour Party to their grave.

Far from striving to replace Labour, Hicks tries pathetically to save it from itself: “The Communist Party believes it is possible … to re-awaken the progressive spirit … of previous Labour governments”; and “to ensure that this Labour government does not end up failing the working class as so many have in the past” (Morning Star November 22).

The logic of the national socialism of the BRS programme, relying as it does on the British parliament to deliver human liberation, was reflected in the congress policy for “total withdrawal” from the European Union. But while Hicks seeks to “prevent” New Labour from “leading a cross-party coalition to drag us [sic] into the institutionalised monetarism of the single European currency”,Star journalist Brian Denny does not mind cross-party alliances, so long as they are British national chauvinist. “He argued against painting Tory MPs as the ‘nationalistic right’, urging “the broadest possible alliance of those opposed to European Union” (Morning Star November 22 and 24).

With politics like these, why call yourselves a communist party? The future is liquidation – but the money has not yet run out, and party wages may sustain this Labourite clique for quite a few more years beyond its use-by date.

Ian Farrell

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