Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A future unfair for most

Once upon a time in the 18th century, a Frenchman wrote “the style is the man”. Studying New Labour’s election manifesto published yesterday, it is wise to keep this in mind.

The garish-kitsch-retro design of the manifesto cover is a ham-fisted attempt to refer backwards to Old Labour with lashings of Stalinist Socialist Realism. The “vision” it presents is of a white family looking out over green fields towards a radiant sun emblazoned with the words “a future fair for all” (whatever that means).

From where most of us live in large or small cities and towns, this is not a Britain we would recognise, except when we might be on holiday. Likewise the bizarre fake cornfield projected behind Gordon Brown at the launch – has Britain suddenly turned into a rural idyll?

The appeal is directly to the middle classes, as confirmed by Brown: “We are the party of everybody of middle income and modest incomes in this country. We are the party appealing to middle class voters in every constituency.”

New Labour’s hope is that it can keep the real issues and its real plans in the shadows. Behind all the tinsel and promises of crumbs, the real strategy is “to encourage a culture of long-term commitment to company growth”. There is not an instant’s reflection on what has taken place since 2007, when the financial meltdown got under way.

New Labour’s corporate-friendly “high growth” policy of the last 13 years will continue if it is re-elected – as if there has been no evidence that the financial and economic crash was the direct result of giving free sway to the interests of the banks and global corporate capitalism.

That’s why Lord Mandelson said that “the spirit of Tony Blair smiles down on New Labour today” and described the manifesto as “Blair plus”. Helping the corporations to maintain their growth and profits will remain at the heart of New Labour, however great the suffering this will wreak on all but the super-rich.

New Labour intends to recover the staggering £900 billion national debt by huge cuts in public spending, including £20 billion-worth in the National Health Service and attacks on public sector pensions – punishing the very people who keep the country going – fire-fighters, NHS and council workers.

The manifesto boasts: “We will take a tough stance on public-sector pay, saving over £3 billion by capping public-sector pay rises at one per cent in 2011-12 and 2012-13. We have agreed tough reforms to public-sector pensions.”

Meanwhile, immigrant workers, young people and “problem families” are effectively blamed for social problems and crime. The manifesto proudly announces its primitive attitude: more punishment and medieval-style “shaming”: “We will ensure a total of 96,000 prison places by 2014. More EU and other foreign prisoners will be transferred abroad….For offenders not sentenced to prison we have brought in tough new ‘Community Payback’: hard work in public, wearing orange jackets.”

The database surveillance state will be breathing down our necks and prying into our lives. CCTV, DNA profiling and databases, biometric ID schemes (i.e. passports) will be “offered” at high prices. DNA data will be kept for six years for “serious” offenders.

A vision? New ideas? Quite the opposite. The manifesto is a tawdry and shameful attempt is to hoodwink the middle classes and whip up anti-immigration sentiments. Meanwhile, the need to pour money into the black hole of debt to pay for the banking bail-outs will consign lower-paid and public sector workers, the poor, the young, the disabled and pensioners to an impoverished and insecure fate.

And yet, you still meet people who tell us that you have to vote New Labour to keep the Tories out. Surely they are just joking?

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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