For the first time in a quarter of a century, the British electorate has an opportunity to make a clean break with the banker-friendly neoliberal policies which have dominated politics since the era of Margaret Thatcher and which have led to a major redistribution of wealth away from the majority to the super-rich.
Well, we can’t say we haven’t got a choice.
Labour’s manifesto, while still being nowhere as left-wing as the ones the pipe-puffing Harold Wilson won two elections on in 1974, nevertheless returns the party emphatically to the territory it occupied before the grinning faux-progressive Tony Blair came along in the mid-90s and turned Labour into a more socially liberal version of the Tories. There’s pledges to renationalize Britain’s railways — easily the most expensive in Europe — set up a publicly owned energy supplier and take water in England back into public ownership.
The rich will pay more tax, zero hours contracts will be outlawed and tuition fees will be scrapped. If it’s an exaggeration to call the manifesto socialist, then its certainly social democratic and offers hope of a better future for millions of ordinary Britons who have seen their living standards fall dramatically in recent years. By contrast the Tories have lurched still further to the hard right and their elite-friendly agenda could not be clearer.
There’s money a plenty to bomb Syria-and continue with the neocon policies of endless war — but not enough to provide pensioners with winter fuel payments or all infants with free school lunches. The desire of the elderly to pass on their property to their children will be hit by what has been labeled a new “Dementia Tax” to pay for social care. Pensioners will also be hit by replacing the “triple lock” on their state pensions with only a “double lock.” Meanwhile, corporation tax will fall to 17% by 2020 — the lowest rate of any developed economy.
On the railways, water and energy, the Tories only promise a continuation of the current privatized system which enriches a few and leaves the vast majority paying over the odds. The Tories are billing their manifesto as one for “mainstream Britain,” but the regressive policies in it would have old “One Nation” Tories from the 60s and 70s like Sir Ian Gilmour turning in their graves.
Labour — if it hadn’t been for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader in 2015, would be offering only a slightly milder variation of the policies the Tories are putting forward now. That’s how our politics has worked since the 1990s. By narrowing the parameters of what was/wasn’t “politically acceptable” neoliberalism destroyed choice and by doing so destroyed democracy.
Evidence of this can be seen the huge increase in the numbers not bothering to vote at election time. 78.8% turned out in February 1974 — when a wide range of policies was on the menu- but in 2001, just 59.4% went along to the polling booth. Who can blame the absentees when the “choice” was between a neoliberal pro-war Labour party led by Tony Blair and a neoliberal pro-war Tory party led by William Hague?
Now though there’s policies on offer that we haven’t seen on election “menus” for many years. The howls of anguish from elite media pundits that the Labour party has abandoned the ludicrously misnamed “center ground” — and is actually campaigning on a program that puts the interests of ordinary people first — have been highly revealing. Commentators who believe in bombing Middle East countries to “spread democracy” are having a collective nervous breakdown now that democracy is breaking out at home. One pro-Iraq war commentator described Labour’s abandonment of Blairism as “bad news for democracy.”
Yes, that’s right- Jeremy Corbyn and his team offering genuinely popular policies which voters are calling for, such as renationalization of the railways — is “bad news for democracy.” You really couldn’t make it up, could you? For the anti-democratic democrats who dominate the UK commentariat “democracy” means that our leading parties have to offer more or less the same program.
They’ve all got to genuflect to the City of London, support privatization, cuts in corporation tax and the policies of “liberal interventionism,: aka Endless War, in the Middle East. In this Orwellian political landscape, to “provide a proper opposition” to the Tories, Labour has to offer what is fundamentally a Tory program. The parties must of course appear to have disagreements — but only about things that won’t affect the interests of the 1%.The Establishment must not only control the government but the “opposition” too. That’s all changed with Jeremy Corbyn. As I wrote here two years ago, at the time of the Labour leadership election:
“The attacks on Corbyn have been many, but in essence what these establishment commentators are saying is this: it’s outrageous that a man who doesn’t support neoconservatism or neoliberalism and who is implacably opposed to imperialism and endless war is standing for the leadership of one of Britain’s major parties.”
What the hysterical reaction to Labour’s manifesto demonstrates is that people having a real choice at election time is the last thing the fake democrats who pose as “progressives” want.
Their ideal scenario would be for the Tories to be “opposed” by a Labour party led by the ultra-Blairite David Miliband — meaning that whatever the election result nothing would change.
Corbyn’s program is far from revolutionary, but it does offer the majority of Britons the prospect of a new and much fairer economic settlement than the one which has imposed since the late 1970s. And the anti-democratic democrats in our midst are absolutely terrified that the people finally have an opposition which opposes.
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