When the wave of revolutions and resistance reaches Europe from North Africa and the Middle East, as it surely will, what happens in Britain depends on how we prepare for the eventuality.
The Coalition government is clearly in some disarray and its longevity is unpredictable. A crisis government from the off, and one without a mandate for most of its policies, it is even incapable of organising the repatriation of its citizens from Libya in a timely fashion.
Prime minister Cameron was too busy boosting arms sales to sheikdoms while foreign secretary Hague was preening himself for his trip to Washington (now cancelled). They are self-evidently political lightweights in an increasingly heavy situation, with Nick Clegg more like a tailor’s dummy than a deputy prime minister.
Now the economic crisis has taken a turn for the worse, with the release of figures today showing that the contraction in the economy in the fourth quarter of 2010 was sharper than at first thought.
It can only get worse as public spending cuts made in a desperate attempt deal with the gargantuan budget deficit take their toll. Councils all over Britain are reducing their workforces and services, led in the cities by Labour-controlled authorities.
Households are on living on a knife edge. Families' disposable income dived by a record £9 a week during January as inflation continued to outstrip wage growth, research by supermarket giant Asda shows.
The average family had £174 a week left to spend after meeting all of their essential outgoings, down from £183 a week in January last year. It was the 13th consecutive month during which people suffered a year-on-year fall in their disposable income, well before the last election.
Rising prices outstripped wage increases and it’s only the start. The research does not take account of last month’s VAT rise, while gas, electricity and petrol prices will continue to rise, driven in part by the revolts in the Middle East. The Bank of England is considering interest rate rises that could prove the final straw for people with mortgages.
With a million young people are out of work, record numbers of people working part-time and, according to the TUC, doing unpaid overtime to keep their jobs – 5.26 million workers are missing out on almost £5,500 a year – the conditions for a social explosion are rapidly maturing.
At that point, the obvious political options are extremely limited (and even dangerous).
Labour is committed to the same market capitalism that led to the present crisis, while its own policies on tuition fees, business involvement in the NHS and academy schools led to a Cameron-Clegg government. Green MP Caroline Lucas today described Coalition policies are the “logical conclusion” of Labour’s. It’s hard to disagree with her.
Add in a parliamentary system which is a sham and a façade behind which corporate power is exercised, you can see there is a problem. It’s not free speech or the right to vote that is the issue, either in Britain (and now not in countries like Egypt either). It’s about who owns and controls the country’s resources and for what purpose.
The global economic crisis is so deep that one-off taxes on the banks and attacks on corporate tax-dodgers, the TUC’s policies for the March 26 anti-government demonstration, come nowhere near a solution.
Capitalism isn’t working and it isn’t sustainable. Trying to fix it or make the banks and corporations change their spots is futile. The preparation we need to make can be not limited to simply challenging existing economic and political power but directed towards actually taking it out of their hands altogether. And that will require leadership, organisation and a revolutionary strategy.