Iain McKay writes on the collapse of the Tory economic plan and its dire “solutions” to the looming troubles of Brexit
On every level Thatcherism is recognised to have failed, from the broken housing market, to railways unfit for purpose, a dysfunctional labour market etc. Or more correctly, the reality is being admitted but the root causes are being carefully avoided.
But how have the electorate acted? Though there has been a swing to Labour, ultimately they have re-installed the very party which caused the problems to be begin with. In spite of — most recently — stifling a recovery from the 2008 global recession and producing years of stagnation by imposing austerity, the Tories are rated as being more economically competent than Labour.
As for “tackling Labour’s deficit,” well they may have a plan but Osborne’s was to eliminate it in one Parliament — and we are facing a lost decade, at the end of which we shall still have one. Truly, that will be their deficit, as their policies have ensured we need to borrow not to invest but to fill the holes they created.
It was somewhat surreal to see Theresa May proclaim that other parties “put their own political interests ahead of the national and local interest” when the Brexit vote itself was the product of infighting within the Conservatives and that all sections of her party place the interests of the few ahead of all others.
For the rich have got richer while the poor have been punished. May seemingly loves the “just about managing,” as she and her party have created the conditions by which so many are created. Unique amongst developed nations, Britain saw a combination of economic growth and falling wages since the 2008 financial crisis. But May was right in one way, as the facts are indeed “contrary to the stereotype which is sometimes promoted”about the Tories. They have always believed “in the good that government can do,” for the few.
Anti-union laws do not “just happen” — they need to be passed by a government and implemented. Council housing does not get sold off by itself, nor do local councils ban themselves from building more. Privatisation of key industries at knock-down prices doesn’t happen as if by magic, nor do corporation tax and benefits cuts just happen at the same time. These, and so much more, need a government to do it — and as anarchists have always argued, being the defender of the wealthy is a prime role of the State.
May says Brexit creates an opportunity to create “a stronger, fairer, better Britain” but it was not the EU which stopped that happening before. It was the Tory party and its policies which made Britain unfair, worse and weaker — at least for working class people.
She proclaims that the Tories are “the party of people who work hard and play by the rules.” But who makes those rules? As the famed economist Adam Smith once noted: “Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters.”
The net effect of these Tory (and Labour) policies are clear even to May when she proclaims that “we must and will ensure that hard work is decently rewarded” but simultaneously proclaims “that the rules are properly adhered to by everyone, without fear or favour” — the very rules urged by the master class and implemented by her party which produce the situation she pays lip-service denouncing.
The reason is obvious enough. Labour produces all wealth but the product is monopolised by those to whom we sell our labour and liberty. How much of our product remains in our own hands is not set by natural laws but rather by struggle. If workers stand up, organise, strike, then wages will rise. If they do not because “the rules” are such to make this difficult then hard work will only reward the owning class. If you regulate strikes you regulate the labour market and as Smith recognised: “Whenever the law has attempted to regulate the wages of workmen, it has always been rather to lower them than to raise them.”
The Tories have never been against the State — just against it helping anyone bar the masters. Thus May proclaimed that the Tories “want ambitious local councils” and “effective local councillors elected” yet her party did more to centralise government power than any other. Still, remember that “local government account[s] for a quarter of all public spending” and that money can and must be given to capitalist companies ( “in collaboration with other important local institutions”) by means of outsourcing. The public purse has not been fully funnelled into private hands yet.
Similarly with Brexit. Before the vote, numerous experts said leaving the EU would be such a huge undertaking that it would empower the executive and State bureaucracy, for Parliament would be unable to oversee it all. The so-called “great repeal act” being mooted — which would convert all EU law into UK law — legalises this power grab. For a vote which was meant to be about Parliamentary sovereignty, its supporters are less than happy at letting that Parliament, or the people, have any kind of say.
But then, as the anarchist philosopher Pierre Joseph Proudhon pointed out long ago, referendums empower the government, not the people. For it is the government which both sets the question and, more importantly, interprets the result. May did just that to try and keep the rabid-right of her party happy, the right-wing media on board and herself and her party in office. Now that the people “have spoken,” those politicians and media barons seek to ensure we do not get the chance to speak again — nor, apparently, the very Parliament whose sovereignty they demanded.
Brexit was never truly about the EU, but rather securing a right-wing coup. The notion of a progressive-minded “Lexit” proclaimed by some (even the “revolutionary” left) was always delusional given the balance of class forces. The choice in the vote was between which section of the ruling class would predominate. Which flavour of neo-liberalism would continue to be imposed.
By 37% to 36%, fuelled by decades of lies which reached a frenzy last year, the English-nationalist ultra-reactionary section won. What they could never have achieved by Parliamentary means they can now do under “Red, White and Blue” Brexit and other meaningless platitudes.
Ultimately, if the Tories gave a toss for Wales, the Midlands, etc then these regions would not need to receive EU funds. And only those who have not been paying attention will be surprised when, as with North Sea Oil in the 1980s, a Tory government decides to use the monies no longer going to the EU to fund tax cuts for corporations and the top 5%. Putting “£350 million a week” on the side of a bus does not translate into policy decisions — for it is the government, not the people, which determines what Brexit actually means.
Brexit did have two possible benefits. First, Nigel Farage (alas, only temporarily) disappearing back into his hole. Second, the rabid-right would lose the scapegoat they have blamed for the problems caused by the politics they championed and implemented. Sadly, Farage has decided not to get his life back but the latter may still come to pass.
Perhaps people will realise that the real reason their pay has not risen is not due to immigration but rather British anti-union laws. Perhaps they will realise that they are being squeezed is due to British polices ensuring more and more income flooding to the top to reward those who do nothing but own it.
Perhaps they will realise “playing by the rules” means being an obedient little servant to a British ruling class who will always seek their own enrichment first and shape the rules accordingly? And that their vote has resulted in a power-grab by the rabid-right of the British Tory Party to increase the policies which produced the “left behind” in the first place?
So where does that leave us? Well, if all we do is vote then we will continue to be ignored by those in power. Real power lies outside the ballot box — but only if it is organised in our workplaces and communities. It is there were we must challenge the scapegoats and point to the real causes of our problems while building real alternatives.
The Tories know this, which is why we have the most draconian anti-union laws outside of dictatorships and why they have aimed to outlaw all forms of effective direct action. Laws can and do remain dead letters in the face of popular protest, and that is what must be organised if anything is to change for the better.
This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Freedom anarchist journal