The state of British politics is almost a joke. But it’s gone beyond satire. There’s something rotten in Britain. It’s the whiff of fascism, and it’s coming from the state…
In many unions, we were exhorted to vote to keep out the BNP. Stop fascism, they said. But though the BNP is many things – vile, bigoted, Nazi, thuggish – it is not where fascism in Britain is coming from. Instead of joining the patronising rush to leaflet Barking and Dagenham, we should have been looking closer at the state of Britain.
We are the most watched people in the world. There are upwards of 4 million CCTV cameras in Britain. There are around 7,500 CCTV cameras in London. Wandsworth alone has more CCTV cameras than Boston in the USA, Johannesburg and Dublin – combined. Corby has more than San Francisco. Yet for every 1,000 CCTV cameras in London, just one crime is solved per year. At a cost of £500 million spent over the 10 years to 2006. So what are they being used for?
Spying on us
You don’t need to be paranoid to work out that they are spying on us. Along with the 10,500 automatic number plate recognition cameras the police have installed in secret locations. They hold data on where your car has been for five years.
We used to look aghast at the United States with its gun-toting police and overflowing jails. But look at Britain. In thirteen years, the Labour government passed into law no fewer than 3,600 new criminal offences. No wonder the prison population has more than doubled in 17 years.
We lock up proportionately more children than any country in Western Europe. In England and Wales alone we have more people in prison on indeterminate life sentences than any other country in Europe, including Russia – combined.
No wonder Labour was building new prisons at such a rate. In the last two years of its rule there were more new prison places than new council houses.
The police are using Section 44 of the Terrorism Act to arrest photographers, professionals and members of the public, simply for taking photographs in public places. Or the Police Reform Act: just define taking photographs as anti-social behaviour, and the police can, and do ,arrest press photographers for not giving them their details.
The right to strike is more tightly restricted after 13 years of Labour rule than it has been since the Combination Acts were repealed in 1824. With the BA cabin crew, even a majority of more than 90 per cent on a ballot of 85 per cent was ruled unlawful because a handful of people who shouldn’t have taken part did. And one of the grounds for ruling the ballot result unlawful was that industrial action would cause disruption. So another ballot took place. Same result. The only wonder is that BA didn’t try to get that declared unlawful.
The National Union of Journalists is re-balloting for industrial action among 550 journalists at Johnston Press in England and Wales. The employer secured an injunction against the first ballot because it said it doesn’t employ any journalists – they’re all employed by its subsidiaries. Never mind that it sent out announcements of pay freezes on its headed paper to go up on its subsidiaries’ notice boards.
So workers in their ingenuity have resorted to all sorts of ways of getting round this. The most common is to re-ballot. Some chapels in Johnston Press – the Yorkshire Post, for example, and journalists in Scarborough – conducted a separate ballot, on the same issue. But sooner or later capitalism will try to catch up. A judge, or a parliament, will make a new ruling or law, and British workers will again exercise their ingenuity.
Sooner or later, too, we will have to be not only ingenious but also simple and direct. Like the BA baggage handlers in 2005.
What kind of a democracy is it in which the police inquiry into the killing of Blair Peach is not published until 31 years after the event? And even then, the Cass report only appeared with the names of the police officers blacked out, “redacted” – a word we hadn’t heard until we saw the early version of the MPs’ expenses.
What kind of democracy is it where a year later no one has been charged for killing Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest in London? This is what we get for putting a cross on a piece of paper every four or five years?
Thatcher’s anti-strike laws were not touched by Labour. And Labour, in turn, laid the groundwork for new restrictions by the next government. With capitalism in crisis, a new government is just another turn of the screw. The ratchet of bourgeois democracy moves only in one direction if they get their way.
For decades now, any area of public life that had an element of democratic control has been attacked. Nationalised industries? Privatise them. Local councils? Take away their powers, privatise many of their services, subject them to diktats from government and the EU – like fortnightly rubbish collections.
And all the while, we see the creation of a top layer of administration paid massive salaries to put through government policy. In the midst of rampant unemployment, local authority and public sector bosses have seen their pay soar. The rate for the job? More like blood money. They are being paid to manage decline, and you can see them in services all over Britain.
There have been successes, too. But where they have occurred – for instance in areas of the NHS such as the London Ambulance Service – they have come about because the workers in that service have exercised their collective will, their professionalism, their democracy, to improve things. Not because of parliament, but despite it.
And all the time, we have the darkening shadow of the European Union. From its judgments on labour law to its encouragement of mass migration, it is the opposite of democracy. It claims to have sole jurisdiction over our fisheries, it interferes in policies big and small, from whether we can build power stations (and we have to build power stations) to fortnightly rubbish collections. It has been the driving force for the privatisation of rail, steel, coal, post, telecommunications, and airlines. It wants to make criticism of itself illegal. It wants its own army.
In the depth of the dark days of Thatcher, the President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, came to the TUC Congress and promised the helping hand of Europe. Some fell for it. Others jumped for it.
Now we can see the result of British membership. Instead of getting progress without struggle – the vain dream of social democracy down the years – we have allowed Thatcher and Labour reaction to be exported to Europe, then re-imported in even more vicious form. The europhiles said the EU would not damage national sovereignty. Tell that to the Greeks.
There’s nothing inherently democratic about putting a cross on a ballot paper. It depends what the context is: whether it is part of a process that empowers the people, or not. Voting in an election where the people you elect have no obligation to carry out your wishes is not inherently democratic. What would have been democratic would have been a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But to get that we need to demand it, as parliament will never grant it.
Disaster for Britain
Whoever won the election, it would have been a disaster for Britain. The Financial Times had already given the next government its agenda. Any government seeking to halve the budget deficit will have – among other things – to cut public sector pay by 5 per cent; axe winter fuel payments, axe free TV licences for the over 80s, axe bus passes for pensioners; freeze benefits; means-test child benefit; halve road building; stop building schools. The list went on. The actual budget (to be announced shortly after Workers goes to press) will be even worse.
Governments get worse as capitalism declines. Heath’s 1970 election manifesto reads like rabid leftism now. Blair and Brown’s Labour government was by any objective standards, in terms of what they actually did, the most reactionary for over a century. Had Labour won again in May, they too would have been even worse. There is no choice of evils. Just the one: capitalism, a system that is transforming itself into fascism before our eyes, all the while talking of respect for human dignity.
There is an alternative. But it’s not about finding a new “left” party to take over from the Labour Party and drain funds from union coffers. It will start when workers realise that they cannot delegate the job to anyone: they have to do it themselves. Politics cannot be a spectator sport. The state and all its organs, including parliament, are not neutral. They are not above class. Yet throughout its history the working class has tried to avoid this truth.
Forty-two years ago, the working class created our Party, because it did not want to live with capitalism. To win socialism in our country, the class must reject all diversions, all scares, all ideas that human dignity or justice or equality are compatible with capitalism. We can only become the rulers of society when we know our enemy.
We need to rise again. Active, not passive. Democracy, not parliament.