General election: ruling class remains in power

david cameron and nick cleggAfter five days’ negotiations, the Liberal Democrats have finally agreed to form a neo-liberal coalition with the Tories. The ruling class was never bothered about the political complexion of any incoming government so long as it was committed to axe public spending and make the working class pay for the crisis. The Liberal Democrats had always stated that such cuts should not start this year, but then conceded this to its Tory partners. Socialists however should have no regrets about the defeat of the Labour Party, sealed by the resignation of Gordon Brown as party leader. Its warmongering, its attacks on civil liberties, on asylum seekers and on immigrants made it no better than the Tories (see FRFI 214: General Election – General fraud). Had it been elected, it would have attacked public sector workers as viciously as the incoming coalition.

Overall turnout at the election at 65% was 4% higher than in 2005. However, the Tories failed to secure the absolute parliamentary majority that seemed likely after Labour’s electoral meltdown in 2007-09. Tory support amongst the AB social groups (higher and immediate managerial, administrative and professional) fell by 1% while that for Labour rose by the same amount. These groups include many who are employed within the public sector or depend on public sector outputs. Turnout in inner-city and predominantly working class constituencies in many cases went up by 10% or more so that in some places people were unable to vote because of a shortage of staff, equipment or even ballot papers. This increase in turnout compensated for a small swing away from Labour amongst DE social groups (semi and unskilled manual workers, pensioners and the poorest sections of the working class); 44% voted Labour compared to 28% for the Tories. Amongst the C2 social group – skilled workers – support for Labour fell by nearly half, from 40% to 22%. With limited increases in support from the C2 group (6%) and from the C1 lower middle class, the Tories were able to pick up 89 marginal seats from Labour and become the largest party in Parliament. In Scotland, Labour support rose overall by 2.5%, and it won back two seats it had lost in by-elections.

The BNP did poorly, polling only 14.6% in Barking where its leader Nick Griffin was standing, and 7.7% in its second target seat, Stoke-on-Trent Central. Elsewhere it averaged less than 5%. Its performance confirmed the point that the BNP are not a significant threat: Labour had given sufficient demonstration of its racist credentials with its attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers.

The real losers were the opportunist left. Most urged us to support Labour despite its record, claiming that the Tories would be worse. Where they stood candidates in the general election, they gave legitimacy to a completely fraudulent process. Overall their performance was abysmal especially given that we are living through the worst imperialist crisis for 80 years. Respect lost the single seat it had won in 2005. Elsewhere most left candidates received 1% of the vote or less. Voters regarded them as an irrelevance.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has constantly argued that there has to be a clear and uncompromising break with Labour to forge a new socialist movement. This task will become more and more urgent as working class resistance develops against the forthcoming attacks on the state sector. Join us in building it.

How the left failed in Birmingham / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

During and after the events of 8 August in Birmingham, it was apparent that certain groups on the left and so-called Muslim leaders had no appetite to build a counter-demonstration against the English Defence League (EDL), as ASSED BAIG of Birmingham UAF reports. They let down the Muslim community. When the EDL demonstrated in Birmingham with a police escort, what was our response? The only group to call for a counter demo was the SWP and some independent, non-affiliated Muslims.

Groups on the left were content to pay lip service to fighting fascism and standing up for the Muslim community, but failed to support Muslims as they prepared once more to defend their streets from the fascists. What this displays is the bureaucratic quagmire the left have got themselves into, where they are more concerned with electoral politics than actually standing on the streets, shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community. They roll out Muslims when they wish to display their ‘diversity’ and talk about defending multiculturalism, but these individuals are nothing more than token Muslims, used to gain support from the Muslim community.

The lack of left support for a counter demonstration in Birmingham indicates a deep-rooted fear of the Muslim community. Even our Muslim ‘community leaders’ are scared of Muslims taking matters into their own hands when the fascists are on the streets, because it is at critical times like these that people stop listening to fluffy sell-out politics and realise there is a fight to be had. Certain left groups only seem happy to engage the Muslim community if it serves electoral and recruitment purposes. They have no interest in engaging the Muslim youth, who are fed up with increased Islamophobia, racism and lack of support from other sections of society, and have no other choice but to come out on the streets. The left’s efforts concentrated on getting the EDL demo banned, but when this failed they seemed to fizzle away, unable and unwilling to take other action.

Muslims turned out on Saturday 5 September regardless, but the very fact that a counter demonstration was not called undermined the leadership of those of us who have attempted to get the Muslim community engaged in left politics. The youth will see no difference between their sell-out Muslim Labour councillors and MPs and the leaders on the left who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

I can fully understand that there are two battles taking place. The first is to fight fascism on the streets and the second is to win hearts and minds around the country. The Muslim community has the will and the numbers to beat fascism on the streets, but we need support of the diverse groups on the left to win over hearts and minds.

The demonstration was a success with the EDL pinned down in a pub, loaded onto buses, flagged by more than 20 police vehicles and taken out of town and chased out by Asian youth in their cars lobbing bricks and other projectiles at the convoy until they were out of Birmingham. The EDL have announced that they will not be returning to Birmingham in the near future, a victory for the real anti-fascist campaigners and a defeat for the EDL and those who wish to restrict organising and campaigning to Facebook and writing letters.

BRITISH DEMOCRACY THE STENCH OF CORRUPTION / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

BRITISH DEMOCRACY THE STENCH OF CORRUPTION

It is a truth acknowledged by working class people all over the world that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Three weeks of daily exposure of the corruption of the British Parliament by the Daily Telegraph newspaper has driven home the point. So far the Telegraph has examined the expense accounts of fewer than half of the current 646 Members of Parliament. As we go to press, ten of the worst offenders have announced that they will not stand at the next election. Many more will face the wrath of their constituents and are trembling in their (hand-made) boots at what is to come. The European elections are imminent and a general election is looming.

As you would expect of this Mother of all Parliaments, buried up to its neck in capitalist exploitation, imperialist plunder and priding itself on purveying democracy and self-righteousness, the British Parliament has always been a den of thieves, iniquity and corruption. From the rotten boroughs of the 18th and 19th centuries to the rotten parties of the 20th and 21st, the MPs have nodded through an extraordinary list of vicious measures to torment the working class and poor and to reward the rich and privileged.

Feathering nests
There are 646 MPs (2005 general election) who are paid £64,766 a year. Despite the fact that this is around three times the average wage, most MPs don’t think it is enough. In December 2006, before corporate greed became unpopular, backbench MPs were demanding a salary of £100,000 ‘in line with GPs and council executives’. On top of their salaries, all MPs can feather their nests with expenses: staffing allowance £100,205; incidental expenses £22,193; communications allowance £10,400 and several more. With the exception of MPs for inner London constituencies, they are also allowed to claim £24,006 a year tax-free ‘additional allowances’ for second homes, and it is the operation of these expenses as a slush fund that has caused the scandal.

The Green Book, which stipulates how these expenses are to be claimed, warns: ‘claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed’. Furthermore, ‘the requirement of ensuring value for money is central in claiming for accommodation, goods or services – members should avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious.’ Clearly it is called a Green Book rather than a rule book because, in fact, there are no rules. Up to now the details of the expenses have been secret and Parliament has devoted time to trying to avoid publication. But the cat is now out of the bag.

As has become clear from the Telegraph’s revelations, the claims range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Many MPs have used this ‘allowance’ to gentrify their homes and embark on property speculation costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds. The extraordinary claims of Tory grandees fall into a particular category: restoring the moat (Hogg, Sleaford); building the servants’ quarters (Butterfill, Bournmouth West); gardening fees and a duck island (Viggers, Gosport). Labour’s John Prescott (Hull) reclad his home in mock Tudor timbers and Margaret Moran (Luton) notoriously repaired the dry rot (£22,000) in her partner’s home, 100 miles from her constituency.

Some MPs have cleverly made ‘flipping’ an art form: swapping the designations of their homes from ‘main’ to ‘second’ in order to double their money. Star prize goes to Conservatives Andrew Mackay and his wife, Julie Kirkbride, who separately designated their main home and constituency homes differently to reap extra rewards. Both are standing down at the next election. Others have made fortunes selling their newly-improved properties, and then started again.

Luckily for the MPs who are being forced to stand down, if they manage to hang on until the next election their efforts will be rewarded by further tax free allowances, worth tens of thousands of pounds, for ‘winding up’ and ‘resettling’, so that their return to ‘normal’ life is as untraumatic as possible.

In an analysis of MPs’ previous occupations at the 2005 election, 242 MPs came from professional backgrounds (72 barristers/solicitors; 44 university lecturers) and 118 from business backgrounds. 75% were university graduates (25% from Oxford and Cambridge). Only 38 of the total had been manual workers. The vast majority of MPs are middle class and schooled from birth to calculate every asset minutely. Yet an extraordinary number claimed to have ‘made a mistake’ by claiming for mortgage interest on mortgages they did not have, for properties they did not occupy and for expenditure they did not make. Much of this is undoubtedly fraud for which, unlike their working class counterparts who ‘make mistakes’, they are unlikely to go to prison.

The revelations are just the tip of the iceberg. This greedy lot are not satisfied with a large income and practically unaudited expenses, many of them also have second jobs, paid directorships and shareholdings. MPs think, like bankers, that they work harder than other people and therefore deserve vastly inflated pay packets. The reality is that their holidays are long and working days short. Proof of this is that many MPs have second jobs, continue practising as barristers, solicitors, doctors and dentists, or act as company directors. In 2007, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague sat on two boards, earned up to £100,000 as a consultant for three further companies, earned £120,000 as an after dinner speaker and made up to £245,000 in advances for a book. It is not only the Tories who make extra money this way: David Blunkett listed more than £150,000 ‘other remuneration’ and Charles Clarke three consultancies and up to £50,000 worth of other ventures in the Register of Members’ Interests.

Readers should not imagine that this luxurious living is confined to the House of Commons. The Lords do not receive a salary, but do get attendance allowances. Anyone in receipt of unemployment or other state benefits, calculated on what a person needs to survive, should take note. Overnight accommodation allowance: £174.00; day subsistence: £86.50; office costs: £75.00 – all tax free. Most of the Lords have pensions, directorships and other sources of income. Understandably the MPs threatened with eviction from the Commons are queueing up to be considered for peerages.
When the Commons MPs were looking for a scapegoat for the scandal they fortunately happened upon the Speaker, Michael Martin, who notionally controlled the oversight of the expenses, persistently blocked any reform of the system and more importantly, perhaps, was originally from the Glasgow working class. For the first time in more than 300 years a Speaker was forced to resign. Normally the Speaker is automatically elevated to the House of Lords but, ironically, a cabal of ex-Thatcherite ministers led by Lords Lawson and Lamont have decided that Martin does not come up to scratch even in a pit of dubious sleaze-ridden peers.

‘It’s the economy, stupid’
These are extraordinary times. Waging war on Iraq, justified on the basis of a tissue of lies, detention without trial and torture of opponents, systematic inroads into civil rights, have barely caused a ripple among the present cohort of MPs and the electorate. It has been clear for years that MPs have been rewarding themselves with high salaries and pensions, supposedly in line with other fat cats who benefited from the years of debt-stoked economic boom. What has changed? Why is there now such a furore?

With the onset of the current deep capitalist crisis in 2008, the bankers faced public opprobrium and shareholder rage over the bonus systems which rewarded incompetence and greed. When things seemed to be going well, nobody cared. These men were the entrepreneurs, the money-spinners, the good guys. But now that the system has crashed, while Sir Fred Goodwin of RBS bank and the departing director of BT’s IT operation, Francois Barrault, to name but two, have been able to walk away with millions, the MPs are more vulnerable. What is more, the next Parliament will have the job of ensuring that not only the working class but also large sections of the middle class pay for this crisis. To do so, Parliament will have to appear to be above reproach.

The sudden, unprecedented interest in parliamentary reform among leading Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians stems from this alone. All of them knew about the expenses fraud, most of them personally participated. They have only started to criticise parliamentary procedures because they want to continue to rule in the interests of their class. Their wealth and privileges depend on the survival of British imperialism. If it is necessary to sacrifice the careers of a few (or even many) backbenchers, or sack their most favoured advisers, they will do it. If it is necessary to talk about the constitution, proportional representation, fixed-length parliaments, more devolution, it will be done. Just don’t be deluded into thinking this has anything to do with real democracy.

One of the conditions for a revolutionary period has been met: the ruling class cannot go on ruling in the old way. Desperately it has to find a new means to maintain its rule. What is required to stop them is not constitutional reform but a working class movement determined to oppose imperialism and seize control for itself and its allies.

Carol Brickley

Failure for Respect – the European elections

The outcome of the 10 June European and Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections was a major setback for the political strategy of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Its Respect coalition failed to get any candidate elected to either the GLA or European parliament. Out of the ten European constituencies Respect stood in, it only broke the 1.5% barrier in three, and only in London did Respect poll more than the British National Party (BNP). BOB SHEPHERD reports.

In the GLA elections Respect failed to win a seat from the party list; its best showing by far was in City and East London where they got 19,675 votes, 15.0%. The City and East constituency covers Tower Hamlets and areas with a large Muslim community. Within a few days, George Galloway had announced he would stand as a Respect candidate in a local constituency at the next general election – a move that used to be known as carpet-bagging.

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Pitching for the top job

Chancellor Brown’s tenth budget is designed to be his last one. ‘The British economy is strong and strengthening’, he declares at the beginning of the budget speech, rattling off reams of statistics to drive his point home. This ‘new economic stability’, the result of his stewardship, makes Britain ‘better placed than ever to be one of the global economy’s success stories’. Surely he now must move on to replace an increasingly discredited prime minister Tony Blair before any further damage can be done. That is what he wanted us to believe as he delivered what the Financial Times called ‘not so much a budget, more a lengthy application for the job of prime minister.’

As with all Brown’s budgets the form and presentation are everything. The substance is often very different. What the budget speech leaves out is invariably more revealing than what it contains. There was no mention of health because the NHS faces a severe crisis despite the massive rise in spending. His predictions are always far too optimistic. The projected level of public borrowing over the next five years – £152.1bn from 2005-06 to 2009-10 – is already some £19bn above that predicted in his 2005 budget, and it will almost certainly rise further in future budgets, threatening to break his self-imposed ‘prudent’ limit of a 40% public debt to GDP ratio. Even the claim that ‘the UK economy is experiencing its longest unbroken expansion since quarterly records began’ (Red Book) of 54 consecutive quarters (over 13 years) is formulated to disguise the fact that on an annual basis the post-war boom from 1949 saw 25 years of successive growth.

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