The issues behind the election promises
Once every five years we are asked to vote for MPs who we entrust to make decisions on our behalf for our best interests. Parliamentary democracy is based on the illusion our needs and our concerns will be best represented by those we elect. In reality MPs in power only represent their parties and their personal interests. Look at how the war in Iraq became a reality (still costing us millions of pounds a day and the lives of ordinary young people) on the whim of our political elite. The purpose of government is to reinforce the status quo; keeping society subdued and capitalism ticking over, making profits for the rich while the rest of us are forced to accept what’s left. Below we look at the real issues and the failure of governments to address them.
Whichever party is first-past-the-post and whatever balance of MPs makes up the next parliament, the relationship between government, corporations and banks will remain the same. Over the last few decades the divide between rich and poor has become even starker, more polarised. Today four million children in Britain are living below poverty – more than in any other European country. The government won’t intervene when whole factories and industries close yet can find £850 billion to bailout private financial institutions and the total national debt has risen to an unprecedented £2.2 trillion, which will still have to be paid for by ordinary people through cuts in public spending regardless of which party wins the election.
Work and Unemployment
Despite paying lip service none of the parties can offer or guarantee overall job security for the working population, simply because in doing so would contradict all their other election promises – “spending less” means cutting public sector expenditure means job cuts and wage freezes. In fact the money they promise to free up to pay for their pledges and pay off the national debt comes from a direct assault on the working class, either through increase in direct or indirect taxation or limits on public spending.
Any promise of jobs is based on inducing new investments which is dependent on corporate tax breaks (paid for by us) and lower wages of a compliant workforce. Work then is visualised in terms of how we must adapt to the current climate of capitalism. The reality is governments are entrusted with the task of ensuring the economy continues to grow smoothly on behalf of the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. Unemployment remains another tool with which to drive down wages and threaten the existing workforce. Any active defence of jobs, wages or work conditions is immediately attacked by the government in power. Unemployment only becomes an issue in as much as it is a drain on the chancellor’s financial resources.
The housing situation is in severe crisis, and one that governments have steadfastly refused to address over the years, relying instead on a mish-mash of inadequate legislation, the private sector and a shift in management as a means of dealing with the problem.
The shortage of affordable housing has increased exponentially since the late 70s when local authorities were actively discouraged from replenishing aging housing stock. Added to this Thatcher’s policy of the right-to-buy on council property has left the social housing stock dangerously depleted. Indeed there has been a deliberate policy with successive governments, the result being house prices have been kept artificially high and only affordable to either the rich, or households prepared to take on massive personal debt.
It also means the low paid, poor and vulnerable only have access to what’s left – overcrowded, substandard and often hazardous property. Over 85,000 households were officially recognised as newly homeless in England in 2008, but Crisis estimate there are as many as 400,000 hidden homeless in the UK. Currently there are around 450,000 properties lying empty whilst housing waiting lists grow longer.
The National Health Service was introduced in 1948 as part of the post-war reconstruction of sweeping social reforms, and seen as a success of the labour welfare state. That everyone should have access to medical treatment regardless of the ability to pay, and that free universal healthcare is regarded as right rather than a privilege are not only noble sentiments, but worth fighting for and preserving.
Despite this, the NHS is seen as a burden by political parties in power. It is the country’s biggest employer with over 1.3 million staff with expenditure last year of £98.3bn. Lessening the burden means instituting massive cuts and farming out more and more of the service to the private sector. Today’s NHS is planned around meeting statistical targets, rather than meeting the needs of patients (there has been a 5.6% annual increase in managers in the past ten years alone), and is being structured in a way to make it more profitable for private companies to take over. Foundation hospital trusts are now run as private business concerns where people’s health is viewed as a commodity.
It is essential any free universal healthcare policy is run by those directly involved in providing service for the benefit of the whole of society. No political party is prepared to make that commitment in reality successive governments have ensured the opposite.
The education system in the UK is based on compulsory education with a standardised curriculum for all 5 -16 year olds (schools being either state-funded or privately financed, and paid for, independent schools) and an optional higher education in the form of universities which is maintained through state financing, though increasingly now topped up by student tuition fees.
Traditionally lower education was seen as equipping young people, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, for the necessary requirements of work – basic numeracy and literacy, vocational skills, time management etc, whereas higher education was for developing ‘life skills’ as well as securing academic qualifications as a pathway to better and more fulfilling employment.
Today however education is now being re-structured through the lens of ‘the global economy’ which means traditional skills based learning is being replaced by the demands of the market with an increasing reliance on service industry employment.
The education system is now being ‘corporatised’ to fit that purpose, as seen with the introduction of academy schools, or universities being forced adopt a commercial business model (many of which have former CEOs of companies on their boards) to secure basic funding.
Education should not be seen as a process of providing a future compliant workforce, but as an integral part of the very social fabric of our society. Any transformation in the education system must come through the collective needs of society and be free, open and inclusive to all.
It’s clear that climate change, alongside other crucial ecological issues, is one of the biggest concerns of our generation. The only way it can be successfully challenged is if we confront the capitalist mode of production as a whole. The rabid exploitation of natural resources has been the backbone of capitalist expansion for the last 50 years – production is based solely on the desire for profit rather than any social need.
State solutions to the climate crisis were presented to us 10 years ago through the Kyoto protocol – what were they? To privatise the air we breathe and turn carbon emissions into commodities, to buy and sell atmospheric poison, to create a new market of trading in the means of ecological destruction. It’s no wonder many reject state solutions to climate change. The question is, who and under what conditions, controls decision-making, and has climate-changing power? How do we bring about a transformation which empowers us all? Grassroots organising in cooperative, low-impact, sustainable ways, and practised daily by millions, is one way towards this.
Changing our sources of energy without changing our sources of economic and political power will not make a difference. Neither Coal nor nuclear are the “solution”, only complete social change.
Law and Order
Everyone has the right to live in a safe and secure environment free from the fear of violence and criminality. The question is how do we successfully achieve this?
The law today and the institutions used to up hold it – the courts, the police, prisons, are all part of the state apparatus and as such anything that reinforces the power of the law reinforces the power of the state. Promising stronger more severe policing powers without tackling the root causes of criminality – the massive social inequality that exists in this society, turns governments into repressive regimes.
With such an unequal distribution of wealth within our society, especially when the majority of that wealth comes from exploiting the rest of us, laws are first and foremost designed to protect the property and livelihoods of the rich and powerful, while maintaining order amongst the ‘unruly’ working class. What is clear is that we have more CCTV cameras watching us (over 4.2million in the UK – more than any other in western Europe) more laws introduced against the ordinary citizen (New Labour has invented over 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997), and more opportunities for the police to snoop into our private lives with a national DNA database and the introduction of bio-metric ID cards that can track our every move.
There is genuine fear of crime in society, which is manipulated by media and used to divide communities so that we mistrust our neighbours and it is even harder to maintain strong community ties.
Immigration is a controversial subject with strong opinions and feelings surrounding the issue.
The idea of ‘no orders’ where people are free to move across the globe without being criminalised or persecuted because of their identity maybe seen as utopian but the premise is essentially sound. Borders aren’t natural, they are created, often violently through wars, as a means of controlling populations, imposing laws that bind ordinary people to a set of social conditions we have no real stake in or means of challenging – they simply reinforce the authority of the state. It is no co-incidence that the rise of the nation state and the rise of capitalism developed in parallel. In fact capital is free to move around the world, usually from poor to rich countries, unhindered by the same regulation. It is capitalism that causes scarcity and limits resources, not people.
What is beyond refute is immigration is used as a tool to divide us and keeping us fighting amongst ourselves.