At least two papers carried the same joke as commentary on Wednesday’s budget. They captioned the ubiquitous picture of Alistair Darling and his wife having breakfast together before he heads off to make his budget speech. Mrs Darling says, ‘Toast, dear?‘. Our Al looks up from the Financial Times and replies, ‘Yes, we are’. It made me laugh – but only briefly.
The reality is that Labour is finished. ‘Snowball’s chance in hell’ is the phrase that springs to mind. Labour will get smashed at the next election for the simple reason it has betrayed its core voters, again and again and again. The UK’s biggest trade unions have allowed the Labour Party to betray workers (and pensioners, and children, and single parents, and the unemployed, and people who need affordable housing, and so on and so forth) on the basis that however bad the Labour Government gets, they’re not quite as bad as the Tories. By letting Blair and Brown off the hook, our union leaders may have effectively signed Labour’s death warrant.
The miserable political bankruptcy of Labour has been matched by the rising tide of sleaze. The last few months have been extraordinarily reminiscent of the dying days of John Major’s Tory Government, before Labour swept to victory in 1997.
A few days ago I warned of the likelihood of massive cuts in public spending lying just ahead. Analysis of the budget is starting to confirm this. Today’s Guardian carries genuinely frightening predictions, with two articles outlining the crisis into which our public services will plunge. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has picked up on a £45 billion gap in Darling’s plans, and predicts the deepest cuts since the 1970s. The IFS analysis is of an average 2.3% a year cut across government departments from 2011/12 onwards.
The second article reports on responses to the budget. The Lib Dems’ analysis is of a fall in NHS spending of £2.3 billion from 2010/11 onwards, with a further £600 million to be taken from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I don’t for one second trust the Lib Dems, but commentators with considerably more integrity make the same warnings. The Trade Union Co-ordinating Group, representing nine unions that are independent of Labour, believes that the Government intends disastrous public spending cuts that will dwarf anything ever attempted by Margaret Thatcher. John McDonnell MP says, ‘These cuts are catastrophic. People are worried by the combination of cuts and asset sales and privatisation… there will be massive cuts in public expenditure. If you combine the cuts with privatisation this is on a scale that has never been seen before’.
This is a warning that has to be taken seriously.
There are two ways forward. One is a descent into savage attacks on workers that are not met with resistance – and bitterness and despair can provide a fertile breeding ground for the Nazi BNP. The other way forward for us is that workers organise and fight back – black and white, gay and straight, women and men, public and private sector – all of us standing together and demanding that we do not pay the price for the bosses’ crisis.
There are obvious stepping stones towards this. The Visteon dispute shows that closures and redundancies can be fought. We have to do everything we can to ensure that this very winnable dispute ends in a clear victory for the workers. The key to winning this one is practical solidarity. We also have the Unite Demonstration for Jobs in Birmingham on 16th May – an opportunity for a massive show of strength by rank and file trade unionists. We should aim to have victorious Visteon workers heading up the march!
And crucially, we need to demand that trade union leaders do their job and lead. If we don’t have a serious, organised defence of jobs, pay and public services, the consequences for workers are close to unthinkable.