British elections: old versus new Tories

Issue 

By Lisa Macdonald

LONDON — On April 21, Londons four airports, five major railway stations and the A40 freeway into the city were closed after coded bomb threats were phoned in, apparently by the Irish Republican army (IRA). The bomb threats, later revealed to be hoaxes, were part of an IRA campaign to put pressure on the major parties to change British government policy on Ireland.

These events were big news in an otherwise tedious election campaign fought between John Majors old Tories and Tony Blairs new Tories. Neither party has much to say on major policy issues and the difference between them is almost indistinguishable.

The Conservative Partys main thrust has been "better the devil you know than the devil you dont", with huge billboards plastering London proclaiming "Britain is booming. Dont let Labour blow it". The party is racked by internal divisions, in particular over the European union, and most establishment media commentators are predicting a major split to the right if Labour wins.

The Tories' proclamation that "Britain is booming" is far from the reality for the British working class. More than 14 million people now live in poverty. Almost 4 million are unemployed, including 660,000 16-18-year-olds who cannot claim the dole, 27% of black people and 36% Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

The number of working poor is growing rapidly. Four million women workers earn less than £4 per hour, and one in three 18- to 24-year-olds earn less than £100 per week — this in a society in which the cost of accommodation, food and transport are higher than in Australias most expensive cities.

During the last 18 years of Tory rule, the poorest 10% became poorer by 18% while the richest 10% got richer by 61%!

Despite this, Blairs New labour is falling over itself to assure the ruling class that it will continue the Tories neo-liberal economic policies and the ideological offensive against people on welfare, migrants, single parents, the unemployed and trade unions.

Labour is campaigning for the further privatisation of publicly owned utilities, against "crime" on a reactionary law and order program, and has promised no new taxes or tax increases (i.e., more cuts). On industrial relations, New Labour has said that the trade unions will get "fairness not favour" from a Blair government.

While Labour announces its planned attacks on the working class, the so-called Labour left (including Tony Benn) and the entire trade union leadership remains utterly silent. This is "justified" by them as needing to do nothing that would jeopardise the defeat of the Tories. But the consequences of this betrayal are already being felt.

In Essex last week firefighters struck in an attempt to stop a £1.3 million cut which will force stations to close and jobs to go. The Labour opposition has condemned the strike and supported the governments use of the army to break it.

It appears that the only thing the trade union leadership have demanded in return for unqualified support for Labour is a promise of recognition under a Blair government; that is, if 51% of workers in any workplace say they wont join a union and workers go on strike, they cannot then be legally sacked as they can at the moment.

The far right is also contesting these elections, with both the National Front and the Pro-Life Alliance standing more than 50 candidates each, thereby entitling each to a free party political broadcast on television.

Only Channel 4 has refused to broadcast the National Front statement, and on April 22, the BBC announced that Pro-Life must edit out more than three minutes of its planned broadcast which contained explicit footage of a foetus being surgically removed, something the BBC deemed "extremely offensive".

There are approximately 150 candidates from the left and green parties in England and Wales. These include 65 from Arthur Scargills Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and 19 from the Socialist Party (formerly Militant labour).

The SP, campaigning under the slogan "A real voice for working-class people", is calling on people to vote socialist or green, and is advocating a vote for Labour before Conservative, arguing that there are no real differences between the two.

While the SP is calling for a vote for the SLP where there is no SP candidate, the SLP is advocating a vote for the Labour Party where the SLP is not standing, including those where there are other socialist candidates. In five seats, both the SP and SLP are standing.

The Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialists in Australia) is predicably advocating a vote for Labour, although the absurdity of its position is revealed in its rather contradictory campaign slogan: "Kick the Tories out. Dont trust Blair. Vote Labour or socialist."

Socialist Outlook (an affiliate to the Fourth International) is also calling for a vote for and actively campaigning for the Labour Party.

While it still looks like Labour will win these elections (conducted on a first-past-the-post electoral system), it is estimated that up to 40% of people wont bother to vote. (The figure is 60% among black youth.) All the polls and the canvassing of socialists during this campaign reveal massive disillusionment with the major parties and elections. Whichever party wins, working people in Britain are in for even more pain until a genuine socialist party or alliance is built that can represent their interests.