As the countdown to the general election gets under way with New Labour’s conference at Brighton, there is a danger that politics in Britain will become so narrowly focussed that the real issues and challenges are consumed by a debate about which party to vote for.
Some political organisations on the Left, led by the rail union RMT, are even in a race to put together a new electoral coalition in time for the election, which is likely to be held in early May 2010. This would be a kind of “No2EU – Yes to Democracy” Mark II, which produced a nationalist programme for the recent European elections.
The election and what comes afterwards was also uppermost in the minds of most speakers at the Convention of the Left over the weekend, where there were repeated calls for “unity” alongside a reluctance to consider more fundamental issues.
But the impending disintegration of New Labour has far greater implications than those connected with mere voting intentions.
The emergence of New Labour was driven by the capitalist globalisation process and its demise is determined by the crisis now affecting the world economic and financial system.
Brown and Blair championed an economy subservient to the needs of the transnational corporations and banks.
Globalisation at the same time rendered Parliamentary democracy meaningless in an historic sense of being an arena where significant reforms could be established. Instead, the market has penetrated and undermined public services while MPs have been reduced to fiddling expenses.
The changed role of the capitalist state was underscored when no resources were spared by New Labour in propping up failed banks. Now the price for this is to be paid by ordinary working people, whoever wins the election.
However, we are not facing anything like a repeat of the early period of the 1979 Thatcher government, when public spending cuts roused fierce trade union opposition.
For one, the scale of the cuts now required is so immense that they would require a dictatorship of sorts to impose on the population. Whether the Tories or a coalition of the main parties is capable of this is another question.
But you can say with certainty that all the traditional parties are lying about the grave nature of the financial crisis and about the prospects for the economy, which is prevented from collapse only by pumping in increasing amounts of government debt.
Any hesitation on making savage cuts will produce a “strike” by international finance, which will refuse to fund further loans.
So what lies ahead goes far deeper than electoral considerations. Challenging the cuts will throw up the need not just for an alternative economic and financial set-up but bring on a challenge for power itself.
Under the threat of dictatorship, our aim is not the resurrection of a worn-out, limited and barely democratic political system but the total reconstruction of the state in a way that transfers essential power to ordinary people.
It would be a grave error, therefore, to waste time and resources just to focus on having something or someone to vote for without warning of the dangers ahead. If we don’t attend to the underlying processes at work, we will pay a heavy price.