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British Perspectives 2015
British Perspectives 2015
9. These factors have undeniably delayed and made more complicated the struggle against austerity. It would be completely wrong, however, to suggest that they have prevented it. The working class has repeatedly shown its willingness to fight back against austerity when the trade union leaders have done their job and led. The current government has always been weak with a shallow base of popular support. The Tories, after all, only won the votes of 24% of the electorate in 2010. The coalition could have been defeated and forced to call a general election a number of times, such as the fight against tuition fees in 2010 and, in particular if the trade unions had built upon the 2011 public sector action and called a 24 hour general strike. Nonetheless, all of the class battles we have seen in the last five years were merely the overture to the struggle against austerity in Britain. Under the next government we will see huge class battles which will dwarf what has gone before. Beneath the surface of society, lessons are already being learnt about the real character of capitalism today. The idea that 'we are all in it together', believed initially by a section of the working class, is now universally seen as sick joke. It is widely understood that the rich are doing better than ever while the majority suffer. Ever-growing inequality is leading to a profound radicalisation and a growing anti-capitalist mood, particularly among young people. This does not yet have an organisational expression but the popularity of the activist and comedian Russell Brand, with his call for revolution, for all its inadequacies, is a reflection of this feeling, which will create important opportunities for the growth of socialist ideas.
10. The illusion that the crisis was temporary and things would return to normal before long is being destroyed by the character of the supposed 'recovery'. At the same time, the propaganda of 'recovery' can have the effect of increasing workers' anger at the lack of a recovery for them. This has undoubtedly been a factor in the magnificent uprising of the Irish working class against the iniquitous water charges. This struggle was prepared by years of austerity and the intervention of the Socialist Party, yet appeared to the capitalist press to have erupted from nowhere. Having previously written off the Irish working class as 'sheeple' (as passive as sheep) they are now decrying them as 'the mob'.
11. In Britain, at this stage, among a section of workers in the private sector, who can see that there is a recovery for their bosses, have felt more confident that they can 'demand their share'. This was shown by the HTC crane drivers' action called by UCATT, and also the threat of offensive strike action by the Jaguar car plant workers which succeeded in winning a 4.5% pay rise for next year, plus Christmas bonus. Ninety six percent of London bus workers have also voted in favour of taking strike action to raise and equalise their pay across the city. These workers, however, are still a small although significant minority. The majority are furious at the misery they are having to endure but can see no viable means to fight back. When their anger finds a viable expression, however, it will be ferocious. Examples of this have been in seen in other parts of Europe: in the Irish uprising, but also the gigantic Belgian general strike and, closer to home, in Scotland's Independence Referendum. The gigantic turnout - the highest since the introduction of universal suffrage - and the floods that have joined the 'Yes' parties since the referendum answer once and for all the lie that working-class people are not interested in politics. Once they had something to vote for which they saw as an effective means of fighting austerity, they turned out in their millions.
12. The bitter experience of the last five years of austerity will not only lead to new waves of struggle, but also to lessons being learnt about what is necessary to win against the capitalist class. As we will go onto explain, this can lead to a battle to transform the trade unions but also to the rapid development of new parties. In Spain, where the 'anti-party' mood has been particularly strong among workers and young people, a new left party - Podemos - has erupted onto the scene going from creation to topping the polls in the course of eight months. While there is an element of being an 'anti-party party' in Podemos, it represents in particular a layer of Spanish youth who have been through the experience of the Indignados movement and have now drawn the conclusion that a political expression of that movement is a prerequisite for victory. We could see similar developments in Britain.
13. At the same time, the weakening of the social base of the major parties, a process that has taken place over decades, is now reaching a tipping point. In the next period, faced with increased class struggle and social explosions, these parties - now little more than shells - can suffer serious splits or even be destroyed. The Liberal Democrats are facing electoral annihilation in the general election; current polls suggest they could be reduced to less than twenty seats. The Tory Party, once more than two million strong, now has less than 170,000 members, less than twice that of the SNP, amongst a population ten times the size. The Tories membership is bound to shrink further - their average age is 74!
14. It is staggering that this husk of a party is not guaranteed to go down to devastating defeat at the general election. Not only has it inflicted five years of misery on the majority of the population, its election campaign is based on a pledge to reduce the public sector to the size it was in the 1930s, proclaiming that five years of austerity was 'just the beginning'. These policies are profoundly unpopular. In opinion polls taken immediately after Osborne's Autumn Spending Review, two thirds of the population thought that his plans were 'wrong' and 'extreme'. As a result, Tory support fell by a few points in the opinion polls. However, the Tories were not appealing to the majority, but to their 'core' vote they have barely been able to reach beyond since they last won a majority government in 1992. The Tories brutal Autumn Spending Review was an opportunity for Labour to rally the support of the majority that opposed it. While they have crept up a couple of points in some polls, they have signally failed to do so.
15. The Labour leadership's endless 'me too' mantra is breathtaking in its relentlessness. When the Guardian describes Miliband's statement as 'the road to Wigan station' (i.e. almost indistinguishable from the Tories 'road to Wigan Pier' policies) and the Daily Telegraph's cartoonist sums up Labour's policy as being an axe of the same size and shape as the Tories, just decorated with pretty patterns instead of blood, it has become obvious to many that there is no fundamental difference between the Tories and Labour. As a result, both parties' support is oscillating at around 30% in the polls, which would give them no chance of forming a majority government. It is 13 years since any party won 40% of the vote, which used to be regarded as the benchmark for forming a government.