A crisis General Election as the system unravels
A tired, outdated and unrepresentative political system is unravelling before our very eyes amidst a general election campaign that has degenerated into outright deception and desperation on the part of the mainstream parties.
The outcome after May 7 cannot possibly fulfil the hopes of an effectively disenfranchised electorate. Voters show little faith or confidence in a representative democracy which in practice represents corporate and financial interests above all others.
This is an election dominated by fear and loathing of the aspirations of Scottish voters on the one hand, and a blatant cover-up of plans of further public spending cuts on the other by virtually all the participants.
The general election is overshadowed by mounting global economic, social, political and ecological crises. UK debt has continued to rise throughout the “recovery” and is now almost £1.5 trillion in total. There is a distinct sense of panic in ruling circles of impending (for them) political chaos.
Analysts have warned of a “Lehman” moment if, as seems likely, the election proves inconclusive, with the value of sterling plummeting on financial markets.
The likelihood that neither Labour nor the Tories will be able to form a stable administration even raises the spectre of a national government, put together by the state “in the interests of the country”. This would aim to appease the financial markets and prevent a rise in interest payable on government borrowing – aka the deficit.
Remember, you read that here first!
The break-up of the two-party system is no small thing. Labour and the Tories have between them overseen the running of the British state for most of the last century. Their crisis is expressed most clearly in Scotland. Last year’s referendum campaign lit the touch paper of a democratic revolution that is still burning bright.
Labour is a casualty of this dramatic change and is facing a wipe-out of its MPs in Scotland. This would mark a dramatic turning-point for a party which is indebted to Scottish socialists who played a key role in the party’s formation at the end of the 19th century.
The narrowly-lost referendum revealed an overwhelming collective desire for a more democratic society and one that would move away from austerity and corporate power. These hopes are once more vested in the Scottish National Party, which has cashed in on a burning anti-establishment mood.
Labour’s crude demonisation of Scotland’s desire for self determination, following their abject collaboration with the Tories during the referendum, has finally shattered the illusion that they were first and foremost for the working people of Scotland.
If, as predicted, the SNP seize most of Labour’s seats in Scotland, then Labour, even if it is the largest party in Parliament, will be well short of an overall majority. Horror of horrors, the SNP would hold the balance of power at Westminster. What irony!
This prospect has produced electoral hysteria from the Tories aimed at Scotland and its voters. David Cameron’s outrageous attacks on the SNP are naked chauvinism – part of a desperate bid to drive right-wing voters back into the Tory camp because his party faces defeat on May 7. Suzanne Moore, writing in The Guardian, summed up the position well when she noted:
No one, Labour or Tory, seems to be able to accept that people in Scotland will vote for the party they want to represent them, and they continue to portray democracy in action as an actual threat to democracy. Tories and Lib Dems are preparing to challenge a Labour-SNP alliance as unconstitutional. That will be chaos. By claiming such a state of affairs to be illegitimate they are pushing Scotland to vote yes in any future referendum. This Tory panic, though, is real. The two parties are broken.
What worries the Establishment is that people can vote in large numbers for anything outside of the status quo. Does the SNP represent a "dangerous nationalism" as Cameron says? Well, the party does represent a brand of populist-nationalism, but also has become the vehicle whereby the people of Scotland express hatred for the austerity polities of the Coalition and a disgust with Westminster politics which is certainly not confined to Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon – who some have dubbed the Eva Perón of Scotland – cleverly called Ed Miliband’s bluff when she proposed an anti-Tory coalition. His explicit rejection on the grounds that the SNP want to “break up Britain”, demonstrated that Labour prefers to sleep with the enemy rather than defeat it.
Cameron [who plays his own nationalist card by way of English votes on English laws] and ex-prime minister John Major’s use of extreme language to denounce Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP is a symptom of their political anxiety. More than that. It is a fear of democracy itself, even in its limited electoral form. Basically they are saying that Scots have no right to choose their own leaders.
This is an increasingly common thing – at EU level we hear it about the Greek government. This shows a growing fear of the right to vote, even if it is for the SNP, a party of capitalism as it operates in Scotland, that believes in slightly higher taxation and a milder form of austerity whilst keeping the monarchy and staying in Nato.
From welfare state to market state
The disintegration of two-party politics and the emergence of a raft of challengers from the SNP to the Greens, is the outcome of a long process. Over more than three decades of corporate-financial-driven globalisation, the needs of capitalism have come to dominate both at home and through regional and global institutions like the EU and the IMF.
The transformation of the British state – like so many others – from a welfare state to a neo-liberal, market state has reduced the role of government to enthusiastic advocates for the real power in society – the transnational corporations, investment banks, hedge funds, the lobbyists and arms dealers who call the shots.
Governments have either stood aside or directly paved the way for the privatisation of public services, the lowering of corporate tax rates, the abandonment of tough planning laws and a light-touch self-regulation that is all but meaningless.
New Labour governments from 1997 built on the Thatcherite counter-revolution. They are responsible for the massive “Public Finance Initiative” debts that hang like a millstone around the necks of the NHS, for business-led Academy Schools, foreign wars of intervention and for gross inequality. The ConDems have to a large extent carried on where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown left off.
The result is a hollowed-out democracy in which markets rule and people feel more powerless than ever before. No wonder a recent poll indicated that less than a quarter of voters expected Labour or the Tories to keep their promises after the election. Hardly a ringing vote of confidence in our political system.
In this growing crisis of representative democracy, all the mainstream parties are caught like rabbits in the headlights. Their precious capitalist system refuses to grow except through massive injections of credit (leading to more debt). The government’s own deficit is larger than when the ConDems came to power in 2010.
Voters ‘left in the dark’
The manifestos of the major parties are hardly worth the paper they are written on. They are dishonest documents that bury their real intentions, just as in 2010 when no party would spell out the scale of the spending cuts before the election took place.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says that voters are “left in the dark” by the political parties. The Tories would, said the IFS, have to cut deeper than they were admitting to carry through their plans, while Labour’s proposals were “vague” at best. As to the SNP, their “stated plans do not necessarily match their anti-austerity rhetoric," the IFS concluded.
So there you have it. Would you buy a used car from this lot? To ask the question is to answer it. The ConDems have built a Britain more unequal than ever, bringing the market deeper into the National Health Service and favouring their rich chums. The Lib Dems have been willing accomplices and no one with a progressive thought in their head should contemplate lending them their vote.
Is Labour a real, principled alternative to Toryism and neo-liberalism? The answer has to be a resounding no! So cautious is Miliband that his party is pledged to spend less on the NHS than the Tories. On welfare, Labour, like the Tories, favours sanctions against the young and the disabled and has no plans to scrap the business-led Academies and rebuild a comprehensive education system.
Although Miliband claims he is for working people and low earners, the rise in the minimum wage he is proposing – to £8 an hour by 2019 – is pathetic while public sector workers can expect the ConDem pay freeze to continue. Labour’s spending plans have been dubbed austerity-lite while Miliband’s continuing attacks on immigration are disgraceful and more like Ukip-lite than anything else.
On the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which gives corporations the right to sue governments if they block privatisation and outsourcing, Labour is only arguing for the exclusion of the NHS. The remainder, they are quite happy with it seems, even though it embodies the supremacy of the market.
So we could not recommend a vote for Labour (which clings to nuclear weapons in the shape of Trident renewal to demonstrate its loyalty to the British state). The best Labour is offering is a kind of regulated market capitalism. But as we have seen, global capitalism is essentially beyond regulation. All we will end up with is a series of bureaucratic but totally ineffective regulators.
Who to vote for?
There are, however, a handful of Labour MPs and candidates who do deserve your support if you live in their constituencies. John McDonnell in Hayes and Jeremy Corbyn in Islington obviously need your support. They have pledged to fight for a “Left Platform” which a small group of Labour candidates and MPs have signed.
A World to Win is supporting Steve Freeman, who is standing in Bermondsey and Old Southwark as a Republican Socialist candidate. His election address says: “Let’s close the Westminster system down altogether, start again and create a real democracy that serves ordinary working people.” Freeman calls for social justice through a democratic revolution and stands out as the only candidate raising these issues.
If you feel you should register a protest against austerity and the mainstream parties, you could vote for the Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (apart from Bermondsey where Steve Freeman is standing). TUSC is fielding 135 parliamentary candidates and is calling on voters to “protest against establishment politicians”. The National Health Action Party is campaigning to scrap the PFI debt mountain and for a properly-funded health service.
How to end austerity
The slow-motion break-up of the global capitalist economy means that there is no possibility of the current crop of election promises being fulfilled. The near unanimous pledges to “balance the books” and “eliminate the deficit” from the Tories, Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the rest, are code for transferring wealth from the majority to the 1%.
Instead, we oppose as illegitimate, debts that are the result of the actions of the financial system and corporations and not ordinary people. These debts have to be cancelled, repudiated or just scrapped altogether.
Transition to real democracy
Ending austerity as well as Toryism cannot be achieved through electing this or that government to preside over the status quo. We need a democratic transformation, making a transition from the present corporatocracy to one that is people-centred and delivers for the majority.
This would give us the means for restructuring the economy from a top down, profit-driven system to a social needs-based form of production. The requirements of people and the planet’s ecosystems must come first, including emergency measures to halt global warming.
Whereas in the past General Elections have been billed as resolutions to crisis and a fresh start with a new government, this time the crisis will definitely go on beyond, and be deepened by, the election itself. The political system is unravelling and this process is unstoppable.
In the end, the real corruption is a political system which has no democratic oversight, which we don’t control at all and where real power is hidden behind a kind of theatrical performance of democracy. We can only feel disgust at the phony war between tweedle-Dave and tweedle-Ed. We know they all stand for the same thing in the end – the continuation of business as usual.
People increasingly have a kind of horror at the whole process. They are desperate for an alternative, as we saw in the Scottish referendum. Public meetings with 500 people turning up were commonplace. People queuing round polling stations to cast their vote. Why? Because it seemed something fundamental could change – not just a shuffling of parties.
Seeing the anti-independence parties all lined up together to defend the Great British Union of austerity and inequality, really drove the message home in Scotland, and in the rest of the UK too.
There is a window of opportunity for us to start working on a plan to mobilise that disgust, and turn it into a positive for our communities, cities, regions and countries.
That’s why Assemblies for Democracy are so important, because they can become democratic spaces for planning and developing a movement to bring about a transition to a very different system.
The only thing we need to agree on is the need to transcend a form of governance that is entirely undemocratic, and where only corporations, financiers and landowners have any real clout. Apart from that we can hold many diverse views and ideas about the present and future.
Those who are getting involved in the Assemblies for Democracy are focused on things like community development, co-operatives, asset sharing, gift economies, environmental sustainability, against fracking and all kinds of injustice and environmental damage – and on democracy itself. Mostly they work in the sectors that are the opposite to the elite. Together we represent the living side of our society, not the dead side, and it is that living side that we need to set free to flourish.
The reality is that we can’t just find some trick to sever the links between the state and corporations. So what we need is a shift of power to a democratic, rights-based form of polity, including the right of workers to convert shareholding ownership into co-operative ownership.
That new form of power would enshrine the right of the people to come together in Assemblies to decide what happens in their communities and regions – and a new form of participative governance and law to put those decisions into practice.
Whatever the outcome after May 7, the case for building a real democracy along these lines can only gather strength.
A World to Win editors
27 April 2015