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British Perspectives, March 2014 congress

Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives, March 2014 congress

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Prospects for the general election

61. The timing of the general election is not certain. One of David Cameron's first acts on coming to power was to institute undemocratic arrangements for five-year fixed parliamentary terms, providing some legal protection for a weak government. Under other circumstances Cameron would undoubtedly be toying with going to the electorate early, but the Tories are caught in a constitutional trap of their own making. Nonetheless, there are still several very difficult means - such as a vote of no confidence - by which an early election could be called and this cannot be totally excluded. The attempt of both coalition parties to distance themselves from each other prior to the general election increases the fragility of the coalition.

62. Nor can the outcome of the election be determined with any certainty. While Labour is concentrating on attacking the trade unions, benefit claimants and so on, its poll lead is decreasing. However, hatred of the Tories can carry Labour to power despite itself. A majority Labour government cannot be excluded, but a Liberal/Labour coalition is also a possibility. As the Balls/Clegg 'love in' indicates, both parties are preparing for this scenario. The working class does not have the same attitude to coalition government it had in the past, when a significant section had the experience of the 1931-40 national governments burned into their collective consciousness. Today, not least because of the change in the class character of the Labour Party, a section of the population could initially see a Liberal/Labour coalition as a positive development if it kept the Tories out of power.

63. The electoral arithmetic still favours Labour and, given the hatred of the Tories among large sections of the population, an outright Tory victory, or even a new Tory/Liberal coalition would be very difficult for the Tories to pull off. However, it cannot be absolutely excluded. If this was to happen it would not reflect the strength of the Tories, but mainly the extreme weakness of Labour. Given a choice between Tories and Tory-imitators, it is possible a section of the working class can choose the real McCoy. If this is combined with a low turnout, reflecting the deeply ingrained mood of a 'plague on all your houses', the Tories could scrape in. The basis for this would be the impression of some economic improvement for a section of workers, however small or temporary, plus continuing to whip up divisions within the working class against 'scroungers' and migrant workers. They have only been able to partially succeed in doing this because Labour has echoed their divisive propaganda all the way down the line. Had there been a mass party putting a clear socialist programme it would have been possible to largely cut across these divisions. Despite the propaganda suggesting that social attitudes have completely changed on the question of benefits, particularly among young people, opinion polls do not fully bear this out. A clear majority oppose government austerity in general - 58% in a ComRes poll for the Independent on 30 April 2013, for example. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 93% of people born after 1979 are opposed to cuts in health, education or social benefits. However, given the complete absence of a mass voice putting an alternative to the government's lies, they are bound to have had some effect. Even so, the brutal reality of benefit cuts is starting to shift the mood back on this issue, as the response to the bedroom tax has demonstrated. We have to campaign for the labour movement to counter all the misinformation spread by the government and right wing press, and to explain the need for workers' unity to effectively fight back against austerity.

64. In general, in this period of heightened class tensions, the Tory Party and the ruling class can be prepared to attempt more crudely to divide the working class than in the past. In recent years they have avoided crass attacks on the rights of women, ethnic minorities and other groups in response to changing social attitudes. However, the rights of minorities and women have been attacked indirectly through benefit "reforms" which disproportionately affect certain sections of society - eg people with disabilities and women; and legal aid cuts which make it more difficult to challenge race, age, sex, disability and sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. A fast track to kick asylum seekers out of the country without the right to go to court has been introduced.

65. These attacks could be stepped up in the future. Immigration, in particular, remains an issue which is used to increase the divisions in the working class. This issue was dealt with in some detail in the last two British Perspectives documents and we will not repeat the points here, which fully retain their validity. The laughable sight of capitalist politicians waiting at Luton airport to greet the sole worker arriving from Romania to seek work in the UK showed that there are probably not vast numbers of workers from Romania and Bulgaria flocking to Britain, not least because they have been put off by the government's nationalist propaganda, and also because they perceive better possibilities in other countries, such as Italy and Germany. Nonetheless, last year's census made clear the change in the makeup of Britain's population. Seven-and-a-half million people, 13% of the population, were born outside of the UK. Poland, in 2001 not even in the top ten countries of origin, is now second after India. When Labour was last in power it oversaw a major increase in immigration to Britain, mainly from other EU countries. This was welcomed by the majority of the capitalist class who saw increased immigration as a source of super-exploited, low-paid labour. Resentment against this policy is felt by wide sections of the working class. Labour has now tried to reverse the perception it was 'soft' on immigration by capitulating to the Tories' anti-immigrant propaganda. As a result it has the worst of both worlds!

66. We have to stand in defence of the most oppressed sections of the working class, including migrant workers and other immigrants. We staunchly oppose racism. We defend the right to asylum, and argue for the end of repressive measures like detention centres. However, we cannot make the mistake of dismissing workers who express concerns about immigration as 'racists'. While racism and nationalism are clearly elements in anti-immigrant feeling, there are many consciously anti-racist workers who are concerned about the scale of immigration. We have to put forward a programme which unites the working class in dealing with the consequences of immigration. Crucially, we argue for the rate for the job for all workers and union organisation, regardless of what corner of the world they originate from, explaining to workers born in Britain that this is the only effective way to counter 'the race to the bottom'.

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