As the coalition puts the finishing touches to next week’s budget cuts, which are certain to devastate services and jobs, you might wonder what the trade union leadership and the Labour Party are up to. Keeping their heads down, is the answer.
While French unions battle the Sarkozy government over pension cuts, our very own Trades Union Congress has called a lobby of Parliament for the day before the cuts are made public. Why then, you might ask? It’s because they don’t want loads of angry workers turning up outside of the Commons once they’ve heard the bad news.
As for a lobby, that is really going to frighten the Lib-Con government! Nothing like seeing your MP and asking him or her to oppose the cuts, to put the fear of God into elected representatives.
And that’s it as far as the TUC is concerned. Perhaps they’ll be a demonstration in March next year, probably on a Saturday to avoid workers having to strike to be there. For the main part, the most dramatic changes to public services and the role of the state will be implemented without official opposition.
When it comes to Labour under Ed Miliband – or should that be Millipede? – they might as well be part of the coalition. Miliband has already spoken out against holding strikes against the cuts and agrees that the budget deficit has to be reduced.
By blocking Ed Balls from becoming shadow chancellor, the job he coveted most, Miliband revealed his hand. Balls’ view is that the government is cutting too much of the deficit too quickly. His argument, essentially, is that the cuts are not really necessary. By giving the job to Alan Johnson, a man who on his own admission knows little about economics, Miliband moved closer to the coalition’s policy.
The reason for this is not hard to fathom. Miliband, Balls, Yvette Cooper and other senior members of the shadow cabinet, fully signed up to the New Labour project. At its heart, was the acceptance that market-driven, globalised capitalism is the only game in town. Whatever you do, don’t upset the bankers.
And, despite the collapse of the banks and the subsequent recession, this is what they still believe. That is their ideology, their world outlook. So when the Tories step up the creation of more Academy schools, raise tuition fees and introduce a market framework in the NHS, they are building on what Miliband and others did in government.
This is the political reality as Britain staggers on towards a further banking crisis and with a national debt that is eating up £70 billion a year in interest rates alone. The International Monetary Fund has revealed the startling prospect that US and European banks need to refinance around about £2.75 trillion in debt over 2011 and 2012. The IMF also repeated its claim that European banks were still hiding losses off their balance sheets, having written down only around a quarter of expected losses.
And guess which country is in the worst position? You’ve worked it out. Britain’s banks need to refinance to the tune of £800 billion over the next two years, nearly a third of the refinancing the IMF has identified. With state finances looking like a sea of red, the idea of another bailout – should the banks, as is almost certain, be unable to refinance on their own – looks highly improbable.
All sorts of political scenarios are possible in such an emergency, including a national government. One that can be safely ruled out is the idea of Miliband’s party doing anything other than rushing to the aid of the capitalist system, as they did in 2008. For them, resistance is futile. For the majority, it’s the only option.