With good reason big business is accustomed to the main political parties doing its bidding – legislating for easy profits from privatisation of public services, cutting corporation tax and undermining workers’ rights.
So when Ed Miliband’s speech at this autumn’s Labour conference proposed some very timid policies, barely threatening to trim the fingernails of the ‘big six’ energy companies and the biggest housing companies, they went ballistic! Energy companies threatened a blackout if their enormous multi-billion profits were slightly infringed upon.
The Tory conference, which followed, attempted to paint Labour as ‘going back to the bad old days’ before Tony Blair removed the socialist Clause 4.
Chancellor George Osborne actually compared Miliband’s timorous proposals to Karl Marx’s political philosophy. But in reality the Labour leadership is a body without a socialist bone in it.
Labour is committed to Con-Dem spending plans for 2015-16 at least, ie a continuation of the misery of the cuts which mean 15-minute care slots, job losses and growing queues at food banks.
Interviewed about Tory Health Minister Jeremy Hunt’s threat to cut even the tiny 1% pay rise in the NHS, Labour’s Andy Burnham’s opening words were, ‘of course there must be restraint’.
No Red Ed
The ‘responsible capitalism’ Miliband defends is a system based on private ownership of the wealth of society and entails no ‘restraint’ for the capitalists.
Let’s not forget that the Forbes rich list reported that the overall wealth of billionaires jumped 18% to $5.4 trillion in 2013.
A record 210 new billionaires joined the list. An estimated $30 billion, short change to this gang, could end the grotesque levels of world hunger that coexist with this obscene wealth.
As to Labour challenging this, Financial Times writer Chris Giles correctly points out, “economists will struggle to detect a significant effect of the proposal” to raise the corporation tax rate from 20p to 21p after 2015.
He says: “however much [establishment] politicians and their coteries talk about clear differences, the parties have rarely been closer on economics.”
Nonetheless the venomous Daily Mail and other right-wing tabloids saw it as an opportunity to crush any perceived diversion from pro-market fundamentalism.
As a Daily Telegraph writer summed it up: “The Daily Mail published a silly thesis (Ralph Miliband was a commie, so maybe Ed is too) under a daft headline (The Man Who Hated Britain).” Miliband responded and dominated the headlines during the Tories’ conference. There’s nothing the press likes more than a story about the press.
The Mail’s foaming-at-the-mouth attack has, however, brought the spotlight on its role as a defender of the 1%.
In February the Daily Mail revealed that the ‘big six’ ‘use tax havens to avoid paying millions to the Treasury’.
This was when it crusaded against the fuel bill rip-off to appeal to the experience of its vast readership who have been hit hard by Con-Dem attacks on living standards.
And before the idea of action against the companies, no matter how tiny in scope, was mooted by would-be PMs.
DMGT, the company behind the Daily Mail, had profits of over £100 million last year. Also Lord Rothermere, the owner, is said to contribute to the estimated £20 trillion stashed in off-shore havens on which no tax is paid.
The paper itself has very dodgy parentage – given the first Lord Rothermere’s enthusiasm for the Nazis and the 1934 ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ headline. Many victims of the vicious anti-working class paper have celebrated this exposure.
The Mail uses every trick in the book to discredit the ideas of socialism – attempting to conflate a democratic planned economy run in the interest of the needs of the overwhelming majority with the dictatorships, albeit based on a distorted planned economy, which existed under Stalinism.
Murdoch’s Sun gets in on the action with a rabid Trevor Kavanagh’s spittle-flecked comment that attacks Labour and the trade unions for bringing “Britain close to the brink of economic meltdown in the 1970s Winter of Discontent” and ‘explains’ that “Marxism is a revolutionary doctrine at odds with capitalism and democracy”.
The vehemence with which these mouthpieces of the ruling class attack any suggestion of an alternative to capitalism is directly proportionate to the attraction they fear socialist ideas will have in this era of capitalist crisis.
Since the banking crisis when capitalism brought Britain and the world ‘to the brink of economic meltdown’ and its austere aftermath – increasing numbers of people are forced to consider an alternative.
The 45,000 votes for an openly socialist candidate, CWI supporter Kshama Sawant, in the Seattle primary in August, in the US, the belly of the beast, is but one small indication of this.
It isn’t only mention of a socialist alternative that brings the big business-owned press out in hives.
They seem fatally allergic to struggle too. Every day working class people in Britain are engaged in the battle to defend public services and jobs, but it goes unreported.
The most blatant recent example was the way the Tory-influenced BBC reduced its report of the 60,000-strong NHS trade union-led demo in Manchester to a sub-headline.
While thousands are engaged in the battle against the cruel bedroom tax, the BBC insisted that only the government’s preferred name, ‘an end to the spare room subsidy,’ was used.
A myth is being brandished on the role of the press in elections and whether the Miliband-Mail tiff will impact on the 2015 election.
“It’s the Sun wot won it” is the infamous headline that followed former Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s 1992 general election defeat.
Kinnock has seen the attack on Miliband as an opportunity to come out and bemoan his own harsh treatment at the hands of the press.
But in 1992 the Labour leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by failing to support the magnificent 18 million-strong poll tax battle which could have laid the basis for a Labour win.
Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist, warned in the run-up to the election that Labour must offer a positive alternative to the working class.
But instead Kinnock offered a Tory-lite vision and prioritised ridding the party of socialist fighters.
Labour had been 25 points ahead in the polls a few months before the election but people tend to choose the real thing when offered a pale imitation.
Ultimately Labour has always had a pro-capitalist leadership. After 1992, the Labour leadership sought to change it from a party with a pro-capitalist leadership where the working class still had the potential to exercise its collective voice, to a party that the capitalists could rely on to do its bidding.
The myth of the power of the press barons was enhanced by Tony Blair’s genuflection before Murdoch in advance of the 1997 election.
But by then the two processes had borne fruit. On the one hand the Tories, the nasty party, had made themselves unelectable and thus unreliable for big business.
On the other hand, the structures by which the working class had a say in Labour had been largely destroyed.
A clear challenge to the pro-capitalist consensus, particularly in the form of a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme, would speed up the process of wider numbers drawing anti-capitalist, pro-socialist and pro-struggle conclusions. But it is not the only factor.
Far greater is people’s own experience. For example the Mail, the ‘big six’ and the Tories can rail all they like against a price freeze on energy and fuel bills.
But, given average hourly wages have fallen 5.5% since mid-2010, adjusted for inflation, and fuel bills are soaring, people can draw their own conclusion.
And that goes well beyond Timorous Ed. Almost seven in ten would support the renationalisation of the big energy companies. A similar figure wants the railways taken off big business and into public ownership.
The horror at the phone-tapping and other scandals have plunged the capitalist press into a crisis of legitimacy.
With Leveson about to report the Daily Mail has again revealed that a truly ‘free press’ means breaking the iron grip of capitalism.
The Socialist Party also opposes a state monopoly of news and information that existed under Stalinism.
We stand for the nationalisation of the printing presses, television and radio, etc, to be run under democratic popular management and control.
Facilities would be allocated to organisations and groups according to their popular support.
This would enable different views to be heard, and ensure an end to the scandalous abuse of power perpetrated by the billionaire barons.
This has to be linked to a programme to abolish the roots of this crisis, the profit-motivated capitalist system and to fight for a socialist alternative.