Monday, 20 October 2014

Post-democracy Britain

In terms of politics within a UK context, we are now living in the ‘post-democracy’ phase.

The decision by the Labour Party to support the Tory-led Government’s cap on social security benefits is a classic example of this reality.  Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrats, recent partners in opposition to Scottish independence, are now offering virtually indistinguishable social and economic policies.

Labour’s move to the right of the political spectrum, onto Tory ground, began long before Tony Blair ascended to power within the party.  Back in the 1980s, Labour led by Neil Kinnock rounded on Militant, a socialist platform within the party.  Militant, at that time, was fighting a losing battle to keep Labour on the left, advocating policies that put first the interests of the working class.  Kinnock and the party leadership were committed to ‘modernising’ Labour and moved to distance themselves from its socialist past.  Some members of Militant were expelled by the Labour Party, others left of their own accord.  A small number stayed as Labour members in the misguided belief they could take the party back to the left.

In Scotland, members of Militant were instrumental in forming the Scottish Socialist Alliance, which developed into the independence-supporting Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).  Advocating radical socialist policies, the SSP became one of western Europe’s most successful parties of the left, securing 6 MSPs at the Scottish Parliament Election in 2003 and introducing Bills that paved the way for nutritious free school meals and an end to the poindings and warrant sales that had been such a feature of the hated Poll Tax. 

Although non-political matters were to bring a shuddering halt to the initial progress and success of the SSP, the party is now in the process of rebuilding across the country and received a significant membership boost following the role it played in the pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign.  In addition, the moderate centre-left SNP Government has embraced policies first advocated by the Scottish Socialist Party, such as scrapping NHS prescription charges.

In England, however, the rightward movement of Labour, started under Kinnock, continued through the brief leadership of John Smith and accelerated at breakneck speed under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  Today, the Labour Party, with Ed Miliband at the helm, is happy to side with the Tories in acts that will savage the welfare state.  The forward-thinking and caring socialist members of the Labour Party that actually created the safety-net of social security will be spinning in their graves.

By voting for the Tory policy of imposing a cap on total welfare spending (excluding pensions and Jobseekers Allowance), Labour MPs will be complicit in making the poor even poorer.  The respected charity Save the Children has calculated that an extra 345,000 children in the UK will be plunged into poverty over the next four years because of the welfare cap.  That is an additional 345,000 children, on top of those already growing up in households without enough money to make ends meet.

Many families dependent on social security benefits have at least one adult in employment.  Their intense hardship is caused by poverty-level wages and employment practices such as zero-hours contracts, which do not guarantee any hours or pay.  By their actions in backing Tory policies, Labour MPs are prepared to make the lives of those people even harder.  Needless to say, the welfare cap will impact even more on the disabled and the unemployed.

In the House of Commons, asked if a future Labour Government would cap the same benefits and use the same financial numbers as appeared in the Tory Budget, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls replied, “Yes”.

Labour’s movement to the right, snuggling up beside the Tories, has moved the political centre-ground in England to such an extent that the racist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), formerly on the far-right, is now considered by many to be mainstream.  With Labour policy now geared to appeasing the right-wing press in England, there is no chance of the former People’s Party ditching its Tory clothes and re-embracing the principles that saw it established – to provide a parliamentary voice for the working class.

With all of the mainstream UK political parties – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, UKIP – now crowded onto a small space on the right of the political spectrum, advocating broadly similar right-wing policies, the pretence of democracy is at an end.  People will still vote to elect governments, but when all the parties represent the same Tory policies and values, with only marginal differences, then we have reached a post-democracy elected dictatorship.  If the people have little or no choice – just varying degrees of right-wing parties – then the free-market capitalists and their mouthpieces in the media have managed to undermine the democratic process.

Thankfully, here in Scotland, we do still have choices.  The SNP is a moderate, centre-left, social democratic party: we have the left-leaning Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party.  Even the Labour Party in Scotland could be saved if it embraced independence, seizing the opportunity to break-free from right-wing London control and establish itself as a real ‘Scottish’ Labour Party.

When we entered the polling booth on September 18th to cast our vote at the Independence Referendum, we were asked just one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”  However, what we were actually deciding was whether or not we wanted to put the interests of ordinary men, women and children before those of multi-national corporations, bankers and financial speculators.

Independence would have delivered all the powers we need to build a better, fairer Scotland.  Rejecting independence handed those powers to the right-wing, London-based parties that are united in imposing further hardship on those already struggling to survive in ‘post-democracy’ Britain.

* This is an updated version of an article originally published in March 2014.

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