Archive for January, 2013

The UK and Europe: an itch the Tories can’t scratch

25 Jan

Part of Europe or not?

The sight of the Conservative Party at war with itself over Europe is amusing but deeply puzzling.

Why does one of the world’s most successful political parties insist on ripping itself apart over something very few British people outside the Westminster bubble care about?

It’s the itch they cannot scratch.

The answer can be found, partly, in one of the traits which makes the Tories a successful electoral machine: the ruthless search for perpetual power.

Cameron has looked over his shoulder at the rise in UKIP’s popularity, correctly assessed that it could for the first time ever split the core Right wing vote (about a third of the UK population vote Tory regardless) and has stuck a road-block in place.

Little Englanders, xenophobes and Daily Mail readers can now be assured that they’ll get their in/out referendum if they stick with the Conservatives. Job done.

Well…….not quite.

The European Union is, in reality, a neo-liberal coalition of states acting as a trading bloc. The UK exports most of its manufactured goods to other EU countries, gains a comparative commercial advantage due to our shameless Maastricht exemption from implementing progressive laws on employment and social policy, and is quietly cherished by most UK business owners and leaders.

Since these are the people who fund the Conservatives and in whose interests the Party usually governs, this gives the racist and ultra-nationalist Right a bit of an internal problem.

It takes no imagination to guess what hard-nosed profiteers like Phillip Green, Digby Jones and Adair Turner think of Victorian pantomime buffoons like Bill Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg ranting about Johnny Foreigner putting us in prison if we don’t eat straight bananas and daily garlic.

The bosses view the 21st Century global economy as a fluid, fast-paced cut-throat arena where the relentless search for profit reigns eternal and where China, Brazil, India and Russia now provide genuine competition to America and the EU for dwindling resources and growing markets.

The idea peddled by the Tory hard Right and their cheerleaders at the Express, Telegraph and Daily Mail is that Britain can painlessly exit the EU and become some sort of light-footed, stand-alone global economic powerhouse.

It is, when exposed to the cold light of day, ridiculous to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex.

However, the Parliamentary Conservative Party has a lemming-like taste for suicidal stupidity, having pushed the last 3 Tory Prime Ministers under a bus over Europe.

Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major can all put their demise down at least partly to relationships with Europe and since most Tory MPs grew up as so-called Eurosceptics, they’re simply incapable of learning.

We now face five years of internal, pointless squabbling which will at best reduce, and at worst kill of, inward investment from EU and non-EU countries who would be mad to set up in a country which has one foot out of Europe.

We’ll see the political wing-nuts quietly rave about bureaucrats, interference and foreigners. We’ll see utter Lib Dem impotence exposed in all it’s splendour, and Cameron will plough on with his ‘we’ll stay in but only if you give us everything we want’ fallacy.

Hopefully we’ll see the Labour Party arguing for reform of the European Union to make it more accountable, democratic, less bureaucratic and more people-centred, because make no mistake, the EU is inefficient, bloated and sclerotic. No one with pretentions of being on the left should be defending what is essentially a bosses’ club occasionally throwing scraps to the workers.

Yet I fear the UK will largely be having a conversation of ‘people talking without listening’.

And for that we can thank a power-hungry invertebrate Prime Minister who told us only 15 months ago he didn’t want an in/out referendum.

Nice one Dave.

An Alternative To Austerity: Look South…

11 Jan

This seemingly endless economic crisis and the consequent social unrest ought to provide conditions where the political left makes headway. Ought to.

Capitalism is still in the throes of a seizure which rather than being some freakish one-off, is inevitable. Hardly surprising, given a global economic system based on deliberate inequality, unrestricted greed, structural injustice, semi-permanent conflict and needless  insecurity.

Those of us who believe there’s an alternative to this insanity look Left for solutions – and right now it is Latin America not Europe where progressive forces are gaining traction.

The vitriol aimed at Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, for example, is highly instructive. A man who has secured more legitimate democratic mandates than almost any other head of state is vilified for nothing more than being a radical redistributive socialist, willing to face down powerful elites and reactionary forces at home and in Washington.

Brazil and Argentina have left-led governments and radicals Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafe Correa in Ecuador have been re-elected as their nation’s Presidents.

The broad reaction to the crisis south of the Equator has been investment in public services, protecting rather than destroying the rights of working people, and being honest and transparent about public finances and raising taxes when necessary.

Contrast this to either the knee-jerk ideological cuts and regression pursued by the Right, or the austerity-lite on offer from social democrats still wielding undue influence on Left leaning European parties and organisations like the French Socialist Party or PASOK in Greece – both haemorrhaging support instead of opposing austerity and fulfilling their mandates.

Closer to home, 2013 will be the year which defines what Labour will do if it returns to office in the next two and a half years.

Having used its last two years in Government shoring up the UK economy against a tsunami of bad debts and economic meltdown, the Party left office being blamed, dishonestly but seductively, for running up unsustainable debt.

Having (rightly) refused to accept the rap for events outwith their control, Labour’s economic policy has now drifted along for 2 years without being able to fix position other than austerity-lite.

This prevarication reeks of a residual New Labour obsession with being ‘responsible’, by which they mean ‘not so radical that Rupert Murdoch will be upset’. And it simply won’t do.

Relying on the Coalition to continually screw up has one major flaw: you have no control over their actions. Instead, a viable alternative must be developed.

Opposition to the latest benefit cuts is, at least, a start.

These cuts won’t hit the ‘skivers’, as suggested by multi-millionaire poverty expert Ian Duncan Smith. It will hit the working poor, 60% of those affected.

Labour have hit the target in their big picture take on these benefit cuts, pointing out that taxpayers are effectively subsidising a low-wage economy. I hope Labour continues to avoid being drawn into a ‘who can hit the poor the hardest’ competition because they’ll never trump the Tories in that game..

Labour’s task for 2013 is to develop a credible economic narrative. This has to major on job creation and tackling gross economic equalities, encouraging long and medium term investment, delivering justice and dignity at the workplace, and active spending on improving housing, health, rail and schools by infrastructural improvement and tackling institutional tax avoidance.

That package, if costed and credible, offers a real choice to the ‘no alternative to cuts’ neo-liberal insanity.

It also helps Labour reach out to the millions of voters who loathe this Coalition, but don’t think a slightly less severe version of it is worth campaigning or voting for.

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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