The desperate measures of both Labour and the Tories to gain votes by stealing each other’s clothes have made virtually no difference to the polls. Yet in contrast to the frozen character of the general election campaign, there is growing worry among the British capitalist class about what they will face after 7 May. This has been reflected in the financial markets. The FTSE 250 is 5% below its level of a year ago. 63% of major companies’ chief finance officers say they face the highest levels of uncertainty for two years.
The Labour leadership has done all it can to emphasise that a Labour government would be a safe pair of hands for big business. First Blair was wheeled out to argue that a Labour government would not hold a referendum on Europe and therefore be the best option for business. Now Ed Miliband has made an appeal to ‘moderate’ Tories that he would be their champion, emphasising that Labour stands on the ‘centre ground’. The central promise in Labour’s manifesto was to cut the deficit every year. Asked in the latest TV debate what he would cut, Miliband cited hundreds of millions more that could be cut from local authorities – which have already had their spending slashed by over 40%.
Yet despite the best efforts of the ‘big three parties’ the accumulated anger at endless austerity has had an effect on the election campaign, albeit in a distorted way. Politics is fragmenting, with support for the three major establishment parties in decline. As a result there is no possibility of a genuinely strong government coming out of the election, able to effectively rule in the interests of the 1%.
The challengers’ debate gave a glimpse of what the capitalist class fear. Miliband, determined to appear ‘responsible’, came under attack from the ‘three women’ of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, all of whom concentrated on attacking his support for ‘austerity-lite’. Miliband’s defence was to point out that Plaid Cymru and the SNP – far from being anti-austerity – had also carried out cuts in office! This is true, but it is not an accident that all three tried to claim the anti-austerity mantle – they did so because it is popular. Even before that final debate, one opinion poll showed the SNP would poll 9% if it stood across Britain.
In England the Greens have increased both in the polls and in membership by emphasising that they are anti-austerity and left wing. For this they have been attacked in the capitalist press. The Guardian, for example, condemned their policies as the economics of ‘la-la land’. In fact their economic programme is very limited, incomparable, for example, to the programme of the 1945 Labour government.
The Greens call for renationalisation of the railways, but not any of the other services and industries that have been privatised, including Royal Mail that was sold off for a song by the current government. They promise to halt further privatisation of the NHS but not to reverse what has taken place unless it is possible to: “buy out existing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts where that would represent good value for money”. The PFI robbers have already made billions in profit out of our NHS and should be kicked out without compensating the big shareholders.
The Greens would also leave the banks in the hands of the private sector. Their modest aim is for the public sector to make up 45% of GDP, about the same as Germany today and considerably lower than France. Nonetheless, the Greens will gain the votes of some workers who want to vote against austerity, and do not yet know about TUSC, or see the Greens as a more prominent alternative at this stage.
In Scotland anti-austerity voters will flock to the SNP in their millions, almost obliterating Labour. The Tories and the right-wing media have been trying to whip up fears about the ‘match made in hell’ of a Labour government supported by the SNP. In part this is just electioneering, with some more serious sections of the Tory party openly criticising the strategy because it could further strengthen the SNP. However, it does also reflect real fears among the capitalist class. Their fears are over the threat of Scottish independence, but also of how a minority Labour government, reliant on the votes of the SNP – and possibly also Plaid Cymru and the Greens – would not be able to withstand mass pressure from the working class.
As even the IMF has warned, there is no prospect of healthy economic growth for the UK economy. A Labour-led government would be likely to be faced at a certain stage with a new slowdown at the same time as it added more austerity to the misery the working class has already suffered in the last five years. The result would be a new mass wave of struggle against austerity. The idea that Labour would face that while being propped up by parties who say they want to push a Labour government left fills the capitalist class with dread.
It is therefore not insignificant that when the Liberals launched their manifesto Clegg made it clear that a government propped up by the SNP was not acceptable to him, while at the same time emphasising that a referendum on Europe was not a ‘red line’ for him. In other words he indicated that the Liberal leadership would much rather another coalition with the Tories than one with Labour, if it was reliant on SNP votes.
It is probable that there is also a section of the Labour leadership who agree with Clegg’s prognosis and would rather allow a Tory minority government than Labour enter into an agreement with the SNP. If they were to go down this road, however, it would be disastrous for Labour, leading to splits particularly from the trade unions, and posing very quickly the development of a new mass party of the working class.
Impossible to predict
It is not possible to predict at this stage what the outcome will be of the tortuous negotiations that are likely to follow the general election. It is certain, however, that the resulting government will be very weak, and will attempt to introduce further vicious austerity. The capitalist class would prefer another Tory government, but they could live to regret that wish if a weak Tory government tries to push through further anti-trade union laws and austerity, and is then faced with an uprising of the working class which could even force it out of office.
The vital work TUSC is doing in beginning to create a genuinely anti-austerity, socialist electoral force is preparation for the stormy events that will come after the election.