David Cameron has yet to get his hands on the keys to No 10. Despite a deeply unpopular Labour government the Tories could not persuade enough voters to give his Eton-led party an outright majority.
Now the horse-trading and back room deals will decide what the ballot box could not – who will govern Britain?
As soon as the very first results were announced Labour’s big guns went on air to woo the Lib Dems with talk of a coalition government. Gordon Brown, prevented by Blair for so long from becoming prime minister, is desperate to cling onto the post, despite Labour barely getting 28% of the vote, not much above its historic low of 1983.
The coming days will be dominated by wrangling over constitutional arguments about Labour’s right to try and stitch together a government, despite not being the largest party. But the real issue is not the arithmetic of power, but what the incoming government, whoever forms it, intends to do with this power – launch a massive attack on the public sector.
Timings and targets may vary but the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all agree that the working class must pay for the financial vandalism inflicted on the country and the world by the bankers, bloated by bonuses and addled by arrogance.
According to Robert Chote of the Institute of Fiscal Studies:
“Over the four years starting next year, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would need to deliver the deepest sustained cuts to spending on public services since the late 1970s. While, starting this year, the Conservatives would need to deliver cuts to spending on public services that have not been delivered over any five-year period since the Second World War.”
While the rate of deficit reduction varies little between the three parties there are important differences how they plan to undertake that reduction.
The Tory-led government will cut more and tax less – or at least tax the rich less. A Lib-Lab government would raise taxes more, including VAT, which hits the poorest hardest. But all the parties are determined to make the working class pay for the mistakes of the banks, banks that were bailed out with public money and are now turning a tidy profit while restricting lending to those who need it.
Workers need to fight to force the incoming government into the simple alternative to public sector cuts: cancel all the debts without compensation. Why on earth should we pay back the architects of the banking crisis for the collapse of their edifice? As Philip Beresford the compiler of the Sunday Times Rich List put it:
“The rich have come through the recession with flying colours. The stock market is up, the hedge funds are coining it. The rich are doing very nicely… The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts, but it has little effect on the rich because they don’t consume public services.
They say cut back, we say fight back!
Whoever gets to deliver the Queen’s Speech to parliament later this month the main purpose of it will be to appease the banks and ratings agencies, to prevent the bond markets from “doing a Greece” on the UK. The main thrust of the new parliament’s timetable will be a budget that slash and burns its way through spending, pensions, and public sector pay. The fight has to start now to stop them implementing it.
The ability of the unions to stop government cuts packages is much reduced since the heavy defeats of the 1980s. Union density across the workforce as a whole is approximately half (54% back then, 28%now) what it was at the start of Thatcher’s first term in 1979. The miners can no longer paralyse British-based industries and no section of workers has filled the strategic vacuum left by their defeat.
New Labour has left largely intact the most restrictive framework of anti-union laws in Europe with employers obtaining more than 13 injunctions against strike action after “yes” votes in a postal ballot in the past year including the notorious decision issued in December 2009 against Unite members at British Airways.
With the partial exceptions of the PCS’s Mark Serwotka and the RMT’s Bob Crow, the hopes invested in the so-called awkward squad of trade union tops have proved illusory. Though strike figures have risen since plunging to historic lows in the last decade – not least because of national strike action at Royal Mail in autumn 2009 – the number of days lost through action to employers remains a tiny fraction of the figures for the late 1970s/early 1980s. In February 2010 there were 3,000 days lost compared to February 1974 when there were 4,084,000: a difference of over 1,350 fold.
Behind the figures there are three key factors working against us as we prepare to face the hordes of Mordor as they lay siege to every citadel the working class has won and managed to preserve.
The organised networks of militants that play a key role in sustaining action, mobilising solidarity and organising independently of the hesitant and cautious officials are nothing like on the scale that existed in the 1970s. They barely exist.
There is no substantial left inside the Labour Party capable of mounting an effective challenge to the New Labour leadership, no equivalent of the Bennite movement that was able to challenge the right wing and almost defeat it in the early 1980s. This means that New Labour will be under much less pressure from within its own ranks to adopt a change of course. It is more likely to listen to the bargaining gambits of Nick Clegg than those of John McDonnell.
Socialism and class consciousness were part of the furniture in the 1970s. Never mind the hair cuts and flares – people cared about the public sector and fought to defend it because they believed it was part of the struggle for socialism. Not only Thatcher’s victories against the working class but also the decay of the left – Trotskyist, Stalinist and Anarchist – and the collapse of the Soviet Union have all pushed socialist ideology to the margins of society.
These three factors, combined with the organisational and numerical shrinkage of the unions mean that whatever the final shape of the government negotiated over the coming days and weeks, the working class is not well equipped to stop the carnage.
There are two ways of dealing with this. Either you reconcile yourself to a long period of defeat and reaction and roll up your map of socialism or you recognise that one struggle can turn everything around in a short space of time and the tasks of decades get crammed into days.
We know what we prefer. Rank and file networks, a left political movement and a rebirth of socialist ideology can be discussed in small rooms by a dedicated by quite small and quite old clientele or they can be built by socialists burying their archaic differences, raising the banner of resistance to the oncoming assault and putting every single bit of effort into speaking Greek: taking and stopping the capitalist axe-men.
One decisive struggle in defence of one key service, by the workers who provide it, the community who use it, the socialists who believe in it and the children to whom it should belong in the future: all of these people coming together to fight, to say no to the Old Etonian, the Radio Face and the would be King Maker and their mantra of “we must cut” can turn the tide of resistance. We can rebuild in months what it took years for them destroy. And we can achieve through weeks of struggle what years of negotiations could never deliver – victory.
All the talk of the election has been of hung parliaments, of personalities, of gaffes and of TV debates. All the talk after the election has to be of the battles we need to wage, the war we are about to face and the victories that we can win.
Of course we don’t want a Tory government. Of course we say that Labour should not do any dirty deals with the Liberal Democrats. Of course we say that the Labour affiliated unions must call the party to account and demand it acts in their interests.
But more important than any of that is our call to the working people of Britain to get to the parapets now and defeat the armies of darkness that are gathering at the gates of every publicly owned building in the country. Get ready for war.