Friday, 30 May 2008

Will Mr. Brown Be Sent off to the Coast?

Being Prime Minister has become a bit like being a football Manager - as long as the team is winning your great, when the team starts losing its all your fault. That's partly the fault of the British political system where the PM has such a powerful position. Most people don't understand the British political system, even those journalists whose job it is to understand it. They think Britain already has a Presidential System where the Prime Minister, like the President, is elected in a General Election - though actually the President is elected by an electoral college -hence the hullabaloo when Brown was annointed PM last year. But, partly, that attitude to politics is a part of the dumbing down of society and political life in general. No one thinks there is anything wrong with the idea that politicians should be elected because the people "like" them, find them attractive, or whatever. Its the whole cult of celebrity that pervades British culture, though the thankful demise of "Hello" magazine might signal a crack in that mentality.

To listen to all the pundits in the media who have pounced on Brown as though he were an England Football manager - though they haven't pictured him with his head as a swede yet - you would think that the fact of his manner, and unsuitability for the job was a given, that everyone knew in advance, and why should we be surprised. Yet, the fact is that when Brown was appointed last year his opinion ratings WENT UP. Not just Brown's ratings but the Labour Parties ratings too. Brown improved on Blair's position, a fact that all the pundits now seem to forget in praising the media savvy Blair. Its rather like what happened with Michael Foot - some allusion to which was made by know-nothing pundits on last night's Newsnight - who similarly raised Labour's standings, in fact to over 50% at one point when Foot was leading marches against Unemployment etc., but who is now only remembered for the duffel coat at the cenotaph. What a pathetic indictment of the level of political culture in Britain this is, and what an indictment of the chattering classes who ferement this nonsense it is.

Of course, that's not to say that the criticism of Labour isn't without justification, though not the criticism that the media are interested in. John McDonnell is right, this is not now about Brown, getting rid of Brown isn't the answer - especially when the candidates being put forward on behalf of LP members, by the media, are people like Miliband, and other right-wing careerists. What is at issue is the fate of the LP, or at the very least its direction over the next few years. And, as the recent elections showed, the fate of the LP is the fate of the British Labour Movement, becuase none of the other alternatives are in any way credible.

If The Government had any political nouse, there are some simple measures they could undertake. Having been forced to do a U-Turn over the 10p Tax Rate, and grant further concessions, on the basis that the current problems faced by the poor, of high food and energy bills, needed immediate treatment, the Government had a ready made course to follow. Using the same argument, about the problems for the poor and elderly, caused by rising food and energy prices, the Government could have announced emergency measures. They could have announced an immediate mid year Fuel Payment for Pensioners of £200, with the promise of an extra £300 as a Winter Fuel allowance. They could have announced similarly a £500 Pensioners Christmas Bonus. To deal with the problems of younger people, they could announce an immediate increase in the Minimum Wage to £7.50 an hour for all.

Instead, the Government, today, has announced that, to deal with fuel poverty, they are going to give the details of thousands of people to the Energy Companies! The idea is that these companies will then use the information to ensure that people get put on to the lowest available tarriff. Yeah like that's going to happen. What it actually means is that, in addition to all the nuisance calls you get now from shysters trying to get you to switch supplier, and bamboozle you with numbers, you will get ten times more! I listened to the Government announcement on, Channel 4 News tonight, and thought who the fuck is going to understand this. Just give people the money in their pockets, they understand that, they can see it, touch it, spend it.

All of these things, and more, would be undertaken by a Workers Government, but that is exactly why these measures or anything close to them won't be undertaken by the Government, even though it could be the only sort of Programme that could rescuse it. They won't do it, because from Day 1 Blair and Brown have been committed to running capitalism efficiently, and that means running it in the interests of Capital not the working class. Its like Labour Councillors who end up running their local Council not for the benefit of the people they are elected to serve, but for the benefit of the overpaid bureaucrats that actually control the Council, and whose decisions the Councillors rubber stamp,and those bureaucrats, like their counterparts in the central State apparatus, are tied by a thousand strings to the Capitalist class.

Compared to the problem of actually mounting a serious challenge to the power of Capital, losing an election is not a daunting prospect for politicians with such a mentality. After all, there will always be another election along in a while. In a way we shouldn't blame such politicians too much, certainly I think the Left takes far too harsh a view towards Labour Councillors in this respect, most of whom are genuine working class people who want to improve workers lives, but who simply have no idea how to do it, and can see no alternative to the way the LP has always done things. The fact is that the persistence of such ideas, the continued role of such politicians as the dominant leaders of the Labour Movement - because the same approach and set of ideas pervades the Trade Unions too - is the fault of Marxists, who have had a far too sectarian attitude to the Labour Party, and to the necessary routine work that is necessary to forge a close link with ordinary workers and working class communities, and thereby to convince them that an alternative route exists.

But, its likely the Left will make the same mistake it has made for the last 100 years. It will sit outside the Labour Party, during the whole of this process, when workers need more than ever that alternative route, and will gloat when Labour loses the next election, even though it will mean the return of Toryism, and all that means for the Labour Movement. In doing so it will make itself even less relevant to workers lives than it currently is.

The Government will not make a dramatic turn and do what is necessary, both to protect workers, from high food and energy prices, or to improve its own popularity. It may be saved by the current, new, long boom as growth picks up in the economy again towards the end of the year, and allows Brown to open the sluice gates a little. But, absent that, the Government as a Capitalist Government will remain trapped by the laws of Capitalist economics. For that reason, Marxists should not sow false illusions in the prospects of such measures from the Government. Even were they likely to happen, Marxists should not encourage workers into a view that their salvation can be delivered from on high by any Government, even a Workers Government. Workers should rely on themselves not politiicans, not top down statist solutions.

Workers should begin to develop a true measure of inflation rather than accept the phoney figures put out by the State. On CNBC today it was said that a true measure of inflation in the US is around 11% at the moment, and similar figures have been calculated for Britain. We need committees, to measure price increases for ourselves, and to then mount co-ordinated Trade Union action across the whole of industry for immediate corresponding pay increases. The Government will not legislate a decent Minimum Wage, so the Trade Unions through the TUC should again mount a campaign to enforce it, targetting employers paying below that level and organising industrial action against them to force them to increase wages. We should take a leaf out of Thatcher's book and draw up a strategy to take on the weakest employers first, mobiling whatever resources are needed to support the workers in those firms for as long as is necessary. But, as Marx pointed out, the fight for better wages is, in the end, the wrong fight for workers to be fighting. As long as Capitalism exists, the ball is always in the bosses court. A Capitalist can always choose to take their money and invest it elsewhere, or else to simply spend it on more luxuries. Part of the answer to that is for workers to build international, at least Europe wide, Trade Unions and political parties, to confront Capital wherever it tries to move. But, the very laws of capitalist competition will always work to divide workers, to force them to compete against each other.

Workers have to break that cycle, they have to begin to take Capital back into their own hands and begin, as Marx sets out in the Grundrisse, to confront Capital not as workers, but as Capital. Only on that basis can the monopoly of Capital be broken, only on that basis can workers set the stage in which, through the development of their own alternative co-operative economy, they can end the cycle of competition between themselves that gives the Capitalists the upper hand economically and socially. The example of Tower Colliery showed that workers can take over enterprises and run them profitably where the Capitalists and their State fail. As Marx illustrated, in Capital, co-operatives are far more efficient than Capitalist private enterprise. But, it requires that such co-operatives be set up on a large enough basis to be able to compete on a level playing field with large private companies. Workers have around £500 billion in their pension funds, enough to buy up, 100%, more than half the companies in the FTSE 100, but currently they are not allowed to control that money for themselves, its controlled by the same bankers and financiers that run the system on behalf of the Capitalists and against the interests of the workers. A basic democratic demand is that the TUC insist that these funds be put under the democratic, collective control of the working class.

But workers will not simply adopt such a perspective on their own. The whole way in which capitalism works reinforces the idea that the way things are is the way things have to be, the Capitalist on his Yacht the worker at the assembly line. It is up to Marxists to break that mentality by, as Marx said, in his Address to the First International, showing, in practice, that a credible alternative exists. It will require that Marxists through the Workers Party show workers that they can take back control of their lives through such Co-operative forms of organisation whether in the workplace or in the community. It will require a complete refocussing of not just the way Marxists think and act towards such routine day to day work, but of the way ordinary LP members think and work, away from the Council Chamber and Parliament and outwards to the workers communities, building whole new structures and with it rebuilding the Labour Movement, and workers class conscioussness. But, it is only the mass organisations, like the LP, that can fulfil that function enabling the Marxists to set them in motion, to act as the small force on the end of a long lever.

And, who knows, in the process, perhaps workers will learn, more than the bouregois journalists, that whether Gordon Brown smiles enough or not, is not really that important a question after all.

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