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Year 2001 No. 81, May 15, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

June 7 Election 2001

Whose Vision of Britain’s Economic Future?

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

June 7 Election 2001
Whose Vision of Britain’s Economic Future?

Local Government Workers and the Election

Campaigners Picket Fuel Depots

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June 7 Election 2001

Whose Vision of Britain’s Economic Future?

On Monday, May 14, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, made a key pre-election speech on the economy entitled Enterprise for all in which he set out the present government’s vision for the country’s economic future.

It was, he said, "a vision of opportunity and prosperity for all, founded on economic stability and ushering in a new age of enterprise in Britain". But what was very clear from Gordon Brown’s speech was that the Labour government’s vision is not based on building an economy that meets the needs of the people of Britain, for improved health care and education, for example. On the contrary the government’s vision is only concerned with what will make business competitive and successful in the global marketplace and how all the human and material resources of society can be placed at the disposal of the rich.

It is in this context that the Chancellor can boast of repaying £34 billion off the national debt, "more debt repaid by this government in one year than by all the governments of the last fifty years combined". Indeed the government continues to repay the national debt as a matter of priority and as a central economic strategy. But why should the financiers have first call on the country’s resources, why should there not be a moratorium on such debt repayments so that the interests and needs of the people come first? These questions are never even raised much less answered. At the same time the government is claiming to have amassed a current budget surplus of £23 billion last year. In total then more is being taken out of the economy than is being invested to meet the needs of the people.

According to Gordon Brown, in the "new economy" there is a new "third way" for government that "must leave behind the false choice between the heavy-handed interference of the old left and the hands-off laissez faire of the old right". For the government what is important is to maintain an economy that provides the conditions for big business to compete in the global market, everything must be geared to this one aim.

Thus Gordon Brown demands that schools must inculcate "the spirit of enterprise" in the classroom. He states, "I want every young person to learn about business and enterprise in school; every college student to know of the opportunities that are open to them in business; every teacher to be fluent in the language of enterprise and able to communicate the value and potential of British business." Education at all levels is to be increasingly placed at the disposal of business and further developed in the interests of business, to provide a workforce with the necessary skills, "flexibility" and necessary "shift in attitudes".

What Gordon Brown speaks of as "a vision of opportunity and prosperity for all" is a continuation and intensification of the "Third Way" programme that New Labour has pursued since the last election. A continuation of the anti-social offensive and neo-liberal globalisation that has already led to thousands of job losses, the increasing privatisation of public services and attacks on the rights and living standards of the most vulnerable. Moreover in the forthcoming election even greater attempts are being made to persuade the people to line up behind this neo-liberal agenda which only provides opportunity and prosperity for the big monopolies and the financial oligarchy.

New Labour’s vision must be rejected and opposition strengthened to the entire "Third Way" programme. To this end, the working class must advance its own programme and strengthen its own vision of a new socialist Britain where the people are empowered to decide the direction of the economy.

Article Index

Local Government Workers and the Election

Local Government employs 10% of the country’s workforce and currently accounts for approximately 25% of public expenditure. London boroughs and larger metropolitan local authorities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool are known as unitary authorities, which run all the public services that the national government does not run – refuse collection, street cleansing, housing provision, planning, traffic management, and recreational facilities, including sports and libraries and museums.

So many of the services provided by local government workers contribute to the well being of society – care for the elderly and vulnerable people, services to the young, to people with disabilities, and people with a wide range of needs and problems; education, housing, other social services and all those often unrecognised but vital tasks, often unseen and taken for granted, but which are vital to the society. For many years such vital services have been transformed into sources of rich pickings for the economically most powerful private companies and have been designed to allow successive governments to abandon any responsibility for looking after the people’s well being. "Private Finance Initiative" and "Best Value" and "Compulsory Competitive Tendering" are all euphemisms for privatisation to cut costs in providing services to ensure greater profits for the companies which run them. In real life this wrecking activity is destroying the economy and is destroying the fabric of society, harming the well being of the people and creating massive social problems of all types. It is also causing the jobs, the conditions and the livelihoods of thousands of local government workers to be threatened. Local government workers are doing more work, with less resources, and dealing with bigger problems, all as a result of this anti-social programme.

The social programmes provided by local authorities need to be protected and invested in to ensure people can look after themselves but are not forced to fend for themselves. This is a crucial distinction. The logic of the "Third Way" programme of Tony Blair is for people and communities to fend for themselves – "civic society" in "partnership" with government. Local government workers are aware that society should care for the people and that the people should be the decision-makers in how this is carried out.

New Labour’s programme is causing ruin for the people who rely on the services local authorities and councils provide and for people who work in local government. There is an alternative to the PFI, to privatisation, to cutbacks, to closure of hospitals, and health care facilities, to the selling off of elderly day care centres and educational and social services procession, to poor or non-existent nursery and school provision.

Local government workers and local people are best placed to assess the needs of the services to be provided and the way in which the human and financial resources, and whatever measures are available, can be organised to ensure the society is organised to meet the claims of the people on it. In such a society, everyone is guaranteed a livelihood and is enabled to contribute to its development, and everyone is born to and relies on society to exist and live and flourish. Arrangements in such a modern society are in place so that the ever-increasing material and spiritual needs of the people are met.

The current political and electoral arrangements merely bring the big parties such as New Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to power. Under the party-dominated system of government, the people’s concerns are completely marginalised; their participation by merely casting a vote for one of these parties at election time underlines that suffrage and franchise have been usurped by these parties. There is currently no role for the people in the selection of candidates, in the drafting of manifestos, or the political programmes which the big parties impose on the society. The system has been perfected in which such parties come to power to advance the aims of a small proportion of the population – the economically most powerful financial oligarchies. Now is the time for the people, in local communities, in colleges and university campuses, from amongst the different collectives of workers, women and youth to begin to plant the alternative, the alternative whereby sovereignty is vested in the people. Local government workers are one such group of workers whose struggles embody the alternative to the current economic, social and political arrangements.

One of the issues in the renewal of the political process is that people should be represented by their peers in their workplaces, colleges, universities and communities, by representatives from their particular collectives. Such representation is the first step on the way to breaking the stranglehold of the party-dominated system of government where the big parties such as Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat control the political process locally, regionally and nationally.

Approximately 35,000 local government workers face an additional hurdle in this respect due to political restrictions legislation which prevents members and employees of the Civil Service and Local Government from participating in political activity such as writing, campaigning, standing for elections and similar activity such as speaking in public. In effect since the early 1990s the law attempts to impede and penalise those local government workers who are politically active and prevent them from being political and from the possibility of representing their peers. Local government workers are prevented from utilising their direct experience of the big issues facing the electorate by standing for election or even from having their say.

The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, which codifies the law on those who are prevented from being nominated as candidates for election, precludes civil servants but not local government workers from standing for Parliament. However, two further pieces of legislation have been passed since then restricting those who hold certain posts in local government from being politically active. These are the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and the Local Government Officers (Political Restrictions) Regulations 1990. The 1989 Act defines as "politically restricted" the highest categories of local government post and those above a certain salary. But it also includes those posts which "involve giving advice to the authority on a regular basis or speaking on a regular basis to journalists or broadcasters on behalf of the authority". Which local government workers are included in those posts is left to the approaches of the various local authorities, which differ widely. However, it has become the practice to include clauses in the contract of employment to impose blanket restrictions on local government workers whose salary is well below the listed thresholds. On these workers, there is a blanket ban on political activity at national and local level; they must not publicly announce/be announced as a (prospective) candidate for election to the House of Commons, European Parliament or a Local Authority; they must not act as an election agent, hold a general management position, canvass or act on behalf of a political party; and they must not speak or publish written work with intent to affect public support for a political party.

It is well understood that a key reason that local government workers have been subject to such restrictions is that they see on a daily basis the nature of the political system where an agenda inimical to the interests of the people is being imposed by representatives of the big parties who dominate political life, and have spoken out against it. These restrictions cannot be justified and are based on arbitrary criteria. They violate the right of a significant section of the population to participate in political life, to elect and be elected. They represent an attempt to prevent any opposition to the imposition of the interests of the big parties who represent the interests of the financial oligarchy on the local population.

Article Index

Campaigners Picket Fuel Depots

At the weekend, groups of protesters gathered at fuel depots across the country to signal the importance of the price of fuel as an election issue.

Demonstrations were held at two depots in Essex, as well as depots in Warwickshire and Bristol.

A total of 15 protesters picketed the Vapok distribution centre near Grays and a BP distribution depot at Coryton, near Basildon, Essex. In Avonmouth, around 25 protesters spoke to tanker drivers as they arrived and left from the Esso terminal. At the Kingsbury fuel depot in Warwickshire, which is a base for Esso, Total and Conoco among others, around 20 protesters were present.

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