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The Coalition’s Agenda for the Next Parliamentary Session:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
The Coalition’s Agenda for the Next Parliamentary Session:
A Refusal to Address the Problems of the Polity
Government’s Human Rights and Democracy Report:
A Further Justification for Interference and Intervention throughout the World
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The Coalition’s Agenda for the Next Parliamentary Session:
The Queen’s Speech of May 9 showed a deep-seated contempt for the problems facing the polity and the all-round crises facing society.
This coming session of Parliament covers the year until May 2013. It follows the extremely long parliamentary session since the Coalition assumed power.
During this time, the Coalition has attempted to remove itself from accountability to the electorate through the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. It has pushed through an agenda of capital-centred measures aimed at ensuring the interests of the monopolies are held sacrosanct. In this period, the watchword of the working class and people has become, There Is An Alternative! However, the present legislative programme shows no indication that the Coalition has acknowledged that this banner has been raised.
It follows that the movement to build the Workers’ Opposition to the Coalition’s agenda must be intensified. The government is not even recognising that the interests of society are paramount, and continued to ignore the problems of the polity. Instead there is an emphasis on the interests of business, on attacking social programmes and unloading all the burdens of the crisis onto the people. This is the context of the 2012-13 legislative programme.
It is worth remembering that the Coalition’s first legislative programme was based on the notion of “freedom, fairness and responsibility” because this programme has exposed in very practical terms what these notions represented. “Freedom” has meant the dismantling of public services and social programmes. “Fairness” has meant that “we are all in this together” and therefore the working class and people must continue to shoulder the burden of society paying the rich. “Responsibility” has meant that there would be no alternative to “austerity” measures, cuts to social programmes and “reducing the deficit”.
The programme has been anti-worker, anti-social, as well as pro-war. The agenda of the coming programme is based on taking this programme further and consolidating it. The Queen’s Speech defined it as being based on “economic growth, justice and constitutional reform”. Taken at face value, these words do represent fundamental issues which require addressing in society. A new direction for the economy is necessary, the rights of the people need to receive a legal guarantee and a constitution to vest sovereignty in the people and enshrine their rights is urgently required. These are some of the most fundamental problems facing the polity. But, although it is shocking, it is no surprise that the Coalition’s programme will intensify the agenda that is been causing havoc in these crucial fronts in society.
The programme goes in the opposite direction to what the alternative demands. The attack on the rights of the working people will not provide economic growth, but on the contrary will further wreck the economy. It is capital-centred irrationality. Similarly with the attacks on pension rights, and the further dismantling of public services. The programme to attack the conception of public services and the demand that the individual must fend for themselves is unacceptable, and will not be accepted. The government is also caught with its programme of constitutional reform, which is aimed at furthering the arbitrary power of the executive under the guise of democratisation.
As the 2012-13 parliamentary session gets underway, it is essential that the working class and people get further organised in order to discuss the alternative, a different direction for the economy and society, and go further into the opposing outlooks which are contending in society. This goes hand in hand with getting further organised in order to develop ways of resisting the Coalition’s programme which is causing such damage to society. The Queen’s Speech has confirmed that the government is determined to avoid accountability for the fate of society and is acting in the interests of the owners of monopoly capital. It remains the responsibility of the workers’ movement to unite the polity in effective opposition to this programme and to fight for the alternative.
As well as the elections for local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales held on May 3, a number of referenda also took place on whether to create new directly-elected mayors in certain cities. Mayoral elections, where such mayors currently exist, were held on the same day.
The big parties
In terms of council control across the three countries, the results show an increase for Labour of 32 councils and a decrease for the Conservatives of 12. The Liberal Democrat share fell by 1, who now have their lowest level of local government representation since the early 1990s.
The change in share of the vote paints a somewhat different picture. Labour increased its share slightly by 1 point to 38, the Conservatives decreased by 3 points to 31 and the Liberal Democrats actually increased by 1 point to 16
The reason for these seemingly conflicting figures is that England, which outnumbers Scotland and Wales combined in number of councils, only had on average about one third of its seats up for election, in less than half of its councils.
To account for this, we have to look at the longer-term trends, which reveal a general fall in the vote for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and a general rise in the Labour vote from 2009, a year before the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition came to power. The biggest change, however, came at the last local election in 2011. The present election represents an incremental change broadly in line with these general trends
Since the 2010 election, over that time, the combined Lib Dem and Conservative vote has dropped by 14 points, while Labour has risen by 11 since 2010. The net change is dominated by a swing to Labour over the past two years. Nevertheless, the vote has not simply transferred to Labour. Green Party candidates, SNP and Plaid Cymru in Scotland and Wales, smaller parties and independent candidates have also played a role to varying degrees.
Small parties and independents
The Green Party of England and Wales increased its share of council seats by 11 to 34. Their London mayoral candidate came third, ahead of the Lib Dem candidate, who narrowly avoided being pushed into fifth by the large vote for independent Siobhan Benita. In other areas, independents fared poorly.
Building on their success in the Bradford by-election, anti-war party Respect won five seats in Bradford, ousting council leader Ian Greenwood of Labour.
Meanwhile, the British National Party vote collapsed. The party lost all six of its seats in England and gained no new councillors.
It could be said that, where a small party or independent candidate connected with the alternative has arisen and generated a profile on this basis, they have met with success.
Scotland and Wales
Almost all council seats were up for election in Scotland and Wales. The Welsh results imply a large swing to Labour, who gained 231 seats, taking their total to 576. Second party Plaid Cymru, however, fell by 41 to 158 seats. The Conservatives, Lib Dems and others also dropped.
The Scottish result was quite different, where local elections were held in the context of ongoing attacks by the Westminster coalition government on the right of the Scottish people to full sovereignty over their affairs, in particular surrounding the referendum on independence.
The SNP drew into first place through a significant rise in its share of the vote compared with the last local elections in 2007. Votes for independents also rose slightly. The Labour vote also increased substantially, while that of the Conservatives dropped and that of the Lib Dems halved.
Mayoral elections and referenda
The London mayoral election provided a notable exception to the general swing to Labour; rather, it was more of a swing away from the Liberal Democrats, whose candidate experienced a drop in the share of first preference votes from 9.6 to 4.2 per cent. Indeed, Boris Johnson of the Conservatives actually increased his share of the vote, though the significant rise in the Labour vote for Ken Livingstone meant that the result was much closer than the last mayoral election
Mayoral referenda were held in ten English cities to decide on whether to create new directly-elected mayors. Only one of the referenda received a “yes” vote, a fairly narrow 53.3% in Bristol. The average “no” of the remaining nine authorities, on the other hand, was 60.0% (ranging from 53.2% in Manchester to 65.0% in Sheffield).
This appears to indicate a general opposition, or lack of enthusiasm for creating a new executive at local level in these cities. It should be noted that in addition, Doncaster voted on whether to retain its existing elected mayor, receiving a 62% “yes”. However, the fact that such a vote was held could indicate that more divisions exist on the issue than implied by that result.
The overall turnout in the local elections of 32% was the lowest since 2000. The fact that over two thirds of the electorate did not participate shows that people are not engaged by the political process. Politics is not going in their favour.
In Britain, there is not only a widespread, outright opposition to cuts or so-called “austerity”, but also a growing, developing movement for the alternative, both economically and politically. Where people havevoted, the general sentiment appears to have been to vote against the coalition parties. However, this has not been manifested in a whole-hearted swing to Labour, which cannot be said to represent the alternative. Rather, a general disaffection with the mechanisms of representative democracy is evident in the results and the turnout.
Writing in the Telegraph, David Cameron said:
“My reaction to last week’s local election results is straightforward: I get the message, loud and clear. I know that the familiar excuses – low turnout, mid-term blues – aren’t enough. Even the difficulties of our economic situation and the tough but necessary decisions the Government has had to take cannot fully explain the results. The message people are sending is this: focus on what matters, deliver what you promise – and prove yourself in the process. I get it.”
He concluded: “So that is what I take from last week. It is not about tacking Right or moving Left. It is about focus, delivery and hard work. There are some who try to help by pointing out that it isn’t easy when your party doesn’t have a majority and the country has run out of money. Sure. But government is about action, not excuses. I know exactly who, and what, we are fighting for – and I am more determined than ever to deliver.”
Though the election has created further divisions within the coalition, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted that the Liberal Democrats would remain part of the government, playing its role in pushing though economic policy, while continuing the agenda of constitutional change, via the House of Lords Reform Bill for example.
In other words, the Coalition will continue with its “austerity” measures regardless, putting into place political arrangements that aid this programme. Adding to the Finance Bill and Local Government Finance Bill currently before parliament, the Queen’s speech of May 9 announced the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and Public Service Pensions Bill. If enacted, these Bills will cut investment in social programmes and attack the working rights and pension claims of millions of workers.
In summary, the local elections underline the need to take forward the building of a strong opposition to the dictate of the owners of monopoly capital and the big parties in government and so-called opposition that represent the interests of the privileged few. This opposition of the working class and people is built around the workers’ independent programme to stop paying the rich, increase investments in social programmes and for democratic renewal of the political process at all levels.
Government’s Human Rights and Democracy Report:
At the end of April, Foreign Secretary William Hague presented the Foreign Office’s annual report entitled Human Rights and Democracy to Parliament. According to Hague’s foreword, “the promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of UK foreign policy.” He added that “we are determined to pursue every opportunity to promote human rights and political and economic freedom around the world. Individual demands for a better life can only truly be satisfied in open and democratic societies.” The report, which contains nearly four hundred pages, therefore constitutes a major summary of the values and thinking that underlie the foreign policy of the current government, although it must be stressed these are the same Eurocentric values that are defended by all the major parties and by previous governments.
From the outset, Hague’s makes it clear that for the government and the Westminster consensus the concept of human rights is one which is to be defined and manipulated in order to serve the predatory interests of the financial oligarchy, or what is commonly referred to as the foreign policy of the British government. It is to be noted that the report was issued at a time when the current government is refusing to recognise and make reparation for the violation of human rights carried out for many years by the British colonial authorities in Kenya and Malaya and covered up by successive British governments.
In the case of Kenya, the government and its Labour predecessor claim that it is the present government of Kenya which must answer for any abuses against Africans carried out by the colonial government on orders from Westminster. In regard to Malaya, attempts by relatives of 24 unarmed plantation workers massacred by British troops in Batang Kali in 1948 to have an official enquiry have repeatedly been denied. Previous governments have even sought to intervene and prevent enquiries in Malaya itself. The present government is still rejecting demands for an enquiry into what a lawyer for the relatives termed a “gross human rights abuse”.
The government’s Human Rights and Democracy report makes no mention of such cases and others too numerous to mention. Rather it is designed to provide a justification for the government’s intervention around the world today and for its promotion of what the report refers to as “British values”, that is, the values of neo-liberal globalisation. It is for this reason that a special section has been added at the start of the report on the so-called Arab Spring. As the Foreign Office report makes evident, British government did nothing to aid the long-suffering people of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in North Africa and western Asia. Indeed, quite the opposite was the case; the British government and its allies have been and remain the greatest supporters of the region’s feudal rulers and reactionary regimes. The uprisings in the region have mainly been directed against the political and economic diktat of the big powers and their local lackeys and their Eurocentric values, but the government claims that the contrary is the case and that it is the greatest defender of those struggling for progress and freedom. Here championing “human rights” has been used as the justification for military intervention in Libya, interference in Syria and continuing threats against Iran. It is in this context that the government claims that it has a “values-based approach” to the “Arab Spring”. and that “human rights are indivisible from our foreign policy”.
The government is continuing to present the view that intervention is akin to liberation, that it is the greatest guardian and defender of human rights, and making a big fuss that it has a “foreign policy with a conscience”. However, there can be no justification for its warmongering and interventionist activities around the world. The recent announcements in the Queen’s Speech regarding continued meddling in North African, western Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa must be totally condemned.
May Day celebrations continue to be held on various days in different parts of the country. Whether demonstrations were held on May 1 or some time over the Bank Holiday weekend, the focus in the workers’ movement this year has been genuinely to fight for the alternative, the world as it should be.
In London, the May Day demonstration called by SERTUC (the South East Regional TUC) and GLATUC (the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils) upholds the internationalist tradition of May First. For many years now it has assembled on the historic Clerkenwell Green, from where Karl Marx himself organised demonstrations, and is the site of Marx House which houses the Marx Memorial Library.
The demonstration of a few thousand was representative of the working class and people’s movement and of its organised and internationalist character. Trades Councils, trade union branches, fighting organisations, communist and revolutionary contingents, banners from Stop the War, national minority communities and revolutionary organisations, youth and the Occupy movement were all represented, under the leadership of the organised working class. The slogan of Build the Workers’ Opposition was also raised on the demonstration. The May issue of The Line of March with the May Day call of RCPB(ML) was sold and distributed in large numbers. Along the route also were trade union contingents with their banners upholding the dignity of labour.
At Trafalgar Square, all speeches were delivered with militancy and with the spirit of resistance. The affirmation that there is an alternative to the Coalition’s programme of austerity and paying the rich continued to ring out.
In Newcastle on Saturday May 5, the demonstration militantly marched through the city. The contingent of RCPB(ML) set up a stall with the banner Fight for the Alternative!, Stop Paying the Rich! For an anti-war Government! They engaged many people in serious discussion especially on the need for an anti-war government and on fighting for the future of the NHS. In accordance with the mood of the workers’ movement to fight for the alternative, this year’s demonstration was one of the most successful, larger than ever and a lot of youth were involved
May Day 2012 demonstrated that the space for change is to be occupied by the working class and people fighting for the alternative, and that the future lies in expanding this space in mobilising the youth and the conscious workers for modern communism. This is a decisive moment for the advance of the communist and workers’ movement.
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