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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Oh no - Election 2009!!

I really fear the apathy which will sweep the country when the next general election comes along. Well it least it won't be the Tony & Michael show next time. It looks like it might be Gordon v Dave. I expect there will be a lot of blood curdling rhetoric, as there seems to be as the main parties come closer together. For all you cynics out there, here's two jaundiced assessments of Messrs Brown & Cameron.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Gordon Brown plays the ’10 per cent game’
By unofficially positioning himself just a few degrees to the left of Tony Blair on issues of controversy, Gordon Brown is playing what Blair’s aides call his ‘10 per cent game’. How much difference would that 10 per cent make? By Reg Terror, Red Pepper (, November 2005

As Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rose through Labour’s ranks in the 1980s, they were seen as a tight double act, vanguard ‘modernisers’ with Peter Mandelson their shared consigliere. In the 1990s, while Blair shredded Labour’s commitments to trade union and employment rights and experimented with social authoritarianism, Brown was forcing the party’s economic programme into alignment with the requirements of the City and global finance.

As the architect of New Labour’s new political economy, Brown can be held responsible for both its achievements and limitations. The chancellor has been credited for a period of steady growth and rising employment, at the same time as raising funds for redistributive benefit reforms and investment in public services. But progress on these fronts has been limited ultimately by the fundamental premise that the wealth of the richest must not be touched, and that social objectives can be advanced only by ensuring generous profits for private capital.

Thus growth and employment has been sustained not by expanding demand or investment in productive capacity, but by encouraging the growth of a deregulated and under-unionised private services sector. Since 1997, a million manufacturing jobs have been lost, while new jobs have tended to be low paid, low skilled, long-hour and insecure. Brown has consistently celebrated the virtues of ‘labour flexibility’ while blocking interventionist industrial policies.

The poor terms and conditions of much of the new employment have been partly tempered (some would say subsidised) by increased spending on ‘in-work’ benefits. And real reductions in relative child and pensioner poverty have been achieved. But any ‘redistribution’ of income has come from the middle classes – roughly, those on ?30,000 to ?40,000 a year, who were most affected by the 2003 rise in national insurance – while the rich have escaped unscathed. Brown suppressed debate on a new top rate of income tax, abandoned plans for a serious wealth tax, and even cut capital gains tax to the lowest level of any major economy today. The result, as even the mainstream IPPR think-tank has acknowledged, has been that the concentration of income and wealth in the hands of the top 1 per cent has increased markedly since Labour came to power.

Those with money to invest have also been able to benefit from Labour’s expansion of public services such as health, education, transport and housing. All these sectors have seen significant and sustained increases in spending that have begun to repair the damage wreaked by the years of Tory austerity.

The preferred means of delivery, however, has been private corporations (or a debt-financed voluntary sector). It has been estimated that by 2007 almost a fifth of public services will have been outsourced in this way, an increase of almost 80 per cent over just three years. At the Treasury’s insistence, 90 per cent of new schools and hospitals have been built under the Private Finance Initiative, notorious for delivering guaranteed returns for private contractors and sub-standard facilities for public service users and workers.

Similar contradictions afflict Brown’s other main claim to Labour’s progressive mantle, his supposed championing of debt cancellation and fairer trade for developing countries. As well as falling prey to the usual practices of spin, exaggeration and announcement recycling, Brown’s recipe for the world’s poor – imposed under World Bank and IMF conditions, and supported by the UK aid budget – has been monotonously focused on deregulation, private finance, and trade liberalisation.

So what about ‘real Labour’ Gordon? As his impatience for succession grows, Brown is playing what Blair’s aides cynically call his ‘10 per cent game’ – unofficially associating himself with positions just a few degrees to the left of Blair on issues of controversy in the party. Thus Brown is thought to be against unlimited borrowing by foundation hospitals, though happy with the new NHS internal market. He agrees that universities cannot be funded out of general taxation, but favours a graduate levy over repayable tuition fees. He is committed to PFI schools, but sceptical about city academies. And he has developed a distinctive rhetoric of citizenship, equality and public service to counteract the Blairite emphasis on individual consumer choice.

There may be real differences of policy and aspiration here – this may be the 10 per cent within which many people live. The problem is that such manoeuvrings cannot possibly exhaust the demand of the left, and the needs of society, for a genuine alternative to Blairism. The best case for Brown may be that he has done as much as can be done to advance social justice within the parameters dictated by his own acceptance of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. That is something, but it is not enough; and that is why any discussion of a post-Blair future must be about questioning those fundamental parameters, and identifying the democratic forces that can challenge them. Brown’s accession may open the space for such a debate, but he should not be allowed to monopolise it.

Somehow I don't think Ken "Bilderberg" Clark, hammer of the teachers and ambulance drivers in his Thatcher/Major Cabinet days, would be much better than David Cameron, as Neil Clark asserts in the following article, but as Shakespeare once remarked, "small choice in rotting fruit"...

Cameron is no moderate: He supports the Iraq war and tax cuts, opposes EU social policies and has neocon associations
The Guardian,Monday October 24, 2005

What exactly is moderate about David Cameron? On taxation, the Tory leadership favourite has signalled his attraction to the flat-rate tax, a far-right wheeze that would leave, according to a Treasury report, up to 30 million Britons worse off and the super-rich even richer. Declaring his support for "flatter taxes", Cameron has enthusiastically backed the decision of his lieutenant, George Osborne, to set up a commission to investigate the idea and has signed up to a classic Thatcherite economic agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.

On Europe, he wants the Conservatives to break their long-standing link with centre-right Christian Democrat parties in the European parliament and talks of "fighting to end the EU's damaging social role". And in foreign policy, he is an unreconstructed hawk, his campaign masterminded by the neoconservative trio of Tory MPs Osborne, Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey, all enthusiastic cheerleaders for Pax Americana. Osborne hailed the "excellent neoconservative case" for action against Iraq in 2003 and denies that the invasion has radicalised Muslim opinion.
Gove and Vaizey are signatories to the statement of principles of the Henry Jackson Society, which has its UK launch next month. The society - named after the US Democratic senator who opposed detente with the Soviet Union - campaigns for a "forward strategy" to spread "liberal democracy across the world" through "the full spectrum of 'carrot' capacities, be they diplomatic, economic, cultural or political, but also, when necessary, those 'sticks' of the military domain". Calling for the "maintenance of a strong military with a global expeditionary reach", the society bemoans the fact that "too few of our leaders in Britain and Europe are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strengths and responsibilities".
The list of Henry Jackson patrons reads like a Who's Who of US foreign-policy hawks: including the former CIA director James Wolsey, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defence Policy Board and the man many see as the architect of the Iraq war.

Cameron himself voted for the Iraq war, believing that to vote no "would have been to break the US-UK alliance which has been the cornerstone of our peace and security". Saddam, according to the new Tory saviour, posed a threat not just to the Middle East region, but "to the world", and like all good neocons Cameron blamed the conflict on the French and their promise to veto any second UN security council resolution.

Cameron's meteoric rise from leadership no-hoper to frontrunner has taken many by surprise. But what has happened is that British neoconservatives, faced with the nightmarish possibility that in a straight fight between David Davis and Kenneth Clarke the more charismatic and anti-war former chancellor would prevail, sought to undermine support for the latter by reinventing Cameron, the pro-war Thatcherite, as the voice of Tory "moderation".

The strategy has worked. "The central job of a new Tory leader is to put the Conservative argument in a different way ... to be the change, not just to talk about it. Putting policy meat on the bones just isn't the point" - these are the views of the Tories' modernising guru Daniel Finkelstein. For him, the fact that Cameron looks moderate is all that matters. But those not enamoured by the prospect of a regressive tax system, a revival of 1980s economics, a hostile attitude to Europe or British participation in military invasions of Iran, Syria or any other country the US decides to attack in five or six years' time are well advised to read the small print.


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