Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A one-party state for the rich

Shocked or surprised at Ed Miliband equating those struggling on benefits in the absence of jobs at decent wages with bankers and executives whose salaries resemble telephone numbers? You shouldn’t be.

Miliband’s speech on “responsibility” yesterday was only the latest in a long line of pronouncements and actions that marked the definitive end of Labour as a party dedicated to defending workers’ interests and reforming capitalism.

Even so, it was sickening to hear Miliband declaim: “To those entrepreneurs and business people who generate wealth, create jobs and deserve their top salaries, I’m not just relaxed about you getting rich, I applaud you.”

Joining in the open season on welfare claimants, Miliband couldn’t help himself and added: “We will be a party that rewards contribution, not worklessness.” People had to take work if it was on offer rather than claim benefits. And, in future, social housing should only go to those who “contribute” to society.

In over 3,000 words of his speech, he never once referred to unemployment as an issue at a time when the dole queue is heading for 10%. And, of course, he declined to use those two “C” words – class and capitalism. He did, however, find time to quote Blair on patriotism.

Worse, he invoked the wartime service of his father, Ralph, to whip up patriotic and nationalist sentiments about “community”. This is shockingly dishonest too because Ralph Miliband was regarded as a Marxist and wrote critiques of Labour and reformism in books like Parliamentary socialism. No doubt Ralph is turning in his proverbial grave this morning.

Ed Miliband is the latest in a long line of leaders of a party that made its unconditional peace with capitalism a long time ago. The die was cast as far back as the Callaghan government in the late 1970s, when the government went cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund. The attacks on wages that followed led to mass industrial action and the end of Old Labour as we knew it.

The context for parliamentary politics that enabled post-war Labour governments to create the health service and the welfare state changed in a qualitative way in this period. After prolonged class struggles, deregulated, free market globalisation emerged. This demanded flexible, cheap labour and shifting production from advanced to developing economies.

The basis for old-style reformist politics disappeared almost overnight. And out of this train crash came New Labour. The rise of Blairism was not therefore, as is often mistakenly assumed, simply a rightward move or a policy decision aimed at winning elections by capturing the “middle ground”.

More than that, it was a recognition and an acceptance that capitalism had changed and that the best could hoped for in future was for wealth to “trickle down” from the top to the bottom. Instead, cheap credit fuelled unsustainable consumption that globalisation called for. The rest, as we know, is history.

The Miliband speech was hailed by the miserable Fabian Society, whose research director Tim Horton said “some on the left may feel queasy about this. But they should understand its logic and cheer it.” Frank Field, the right-wing Labour MP who favours the break-up of the benefits system also hailed Miliband’s speech.

As one comment on Horton’s article, put it: “We now have a one party state, a political class which acts as an administrator of corporate excess, to facilitate resources from poor to rich.” A one-party state is a dictatorship in anyone’s language and that is what we have in a coalition of Tories, Lib Dems and Labourites. Overthrowing dictatorships, of course, is an entirely legitimate social activity.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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