An appeal to the ordinary folk of Wigan Borough who are concerned about the worsening economic situation we are facing, the effects of Government policies, and how little Labour is doing for us!
We need a new
party of Labour,
which stands up
and fights for the
mass of ordinary
people – not new
The Wigan area has been staunchly Labour for almost a hundred years. So strongly is it a Labour area in fact that some people still say “…you could stand a pig for Labour and it would still get in!” However the times they are a changing, and its electoral support has dropped considerably over the last thirty.
Labour has enjoyed this support because it was believed by a great many people in the past, due to the support it receives from the unions and its links with them, to politically stand up for labour in the workplace, as well for the mass of ordinary folk in general. Also, because the Liberals (forerunner of the Lib-Dems) were generally seen to represent more middle class people, and the Tories were seen to represent the bosses and owners of the factories, mines and mills most people worked for, and to be the party of the existing economic and political establishment.
Backed by a number of progressive reforms by the first post WWII Attlee Labour Government such as the introduction of the NHS, a massive Council house building programme, the nationalisation of the mines, steel and the railways, the continued support it received from a majority of the unions, and a long period of post War prosperity in relative terms, until the early 70s, this view of Labour was passed down from generation to generation almost in the same way as a religious belief.
In some cases it was done even in the belief that Labour might at some not too distant future date abolish Capitalism altogether and establish a Socialist society which might “…secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.” (Old Clause IV, part 4 of the Labour Party Constitution).
During the Thatcher years however things began to change significantly. By the time of Tony Blair’s New Labour victory in 1997, despite retaining most of its union support, Labour had became more and more indistinguishable from the Tories as a result of its common support, alongside the Tories and the Lib-Dems, for the new mantra and approach to the economy and politics that is now widely referred to as ‘Neoliberalism’.
Their only difference with the Tories, and indeed the Lib-Dems was in the alleged greater fairness in relation to the majority of people of their particular take on this new mantra. Perhaps also, in their even more slavish support for the UK Banking Sector and Anglo-US oil and other corporate interests than either of the current Coalition parties.
The trouble with Neoliberalism, however, is that it emphasises non-intervention from government in the economy and rejects regulation in markets as inefficient. It also emphasises the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalised trade and the necessity of relatively open markets to promote globalisation. It further seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining the political and economic priorities of the World. In other words it is first and foremost about ‘liberating’ and ‘oiling the wheels’ of Capitalism, and promoting its continued maintenance and growth on a global level – an aim which is the very opposite of Labour’s former commitment to common ownership and the “best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service” even if the Labour leaders of the past have never actually been serious about working towards a society based on such principles.
MILIBAND & BALLS SPELL OUT NEW ‘NEW LABOUR’ APPROACH CLEARLY
If Labour’s conversion to Neoliberalism to become New Labour under Blair, its abandonment of the vision embodied in its old Clause IV and our own closer to home experiences of its betrayal of ordinary folk in town’s like Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley, Ince, Ashton and Hindley in our locality, has not already become apparent to most people; if the handed down view of Labour as the party which stands up for ordinary people is not yet recognised by the majority of traditional Labour voters to be really one of myth, then surely last weekend’s speeches by both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls must clearly spell out to all what Labour now stands for.
Labour now stands squarely behind a similar programme of austerity for the great many as the current Coalition Government does, and for the entire foreseeable future. It stands for a “fairer and more responsible Capitalism” than even arch-Thatcherite Cameron has said he stands for only yesterday. This will be the new ‘New Labour’ approach in preference to the slightest thought of upsetting the applecart of British and global Capitalism; especially the World’s financial markets, Credit Rating Agencies and Britain’s EU, WTO and other international Treaty obligations in relation to “free trade”, “free markets” and the fostering of “private ownership of the means of production distribution and exchange” over public ownership and state intervention into the economy.
Not unlike the Tories who are historically firmly wedded to Capitalism and have no intention of upsetting their own supporters, Miliband and Balls run scared of the thought of making the Bankers, the City, big business and the small minority of ultra-rich multi-millionaires and billions who most benefit from the existing economic set up, foot the bill for getting us out of the worsening economic and financial mess we’re in as country, and which they are ultimately collectively responsible for, rather than the rest of us, fearing they might all leave and go work and live elsewhere; that it might alienate ‘middle class’ voters who they are wanting to woo having effectively abandoned their former core working class supporters; that it might reduce the likelihood of private sector investment in the UK which they, like the Coalition parties, hold as the key driving force behind all our future prosperity and which accordingly, all of society must serve the interests of.
OUR CUTS ARE ‘FAIRER’ & ‘BETTER’ THAN THEIR CUTS
Labour will now officially be supporting the Government imposed pay freeze on public sector pay for the next financial year, and suggesting its own spending cuts in the preference to those of the Coalition Government which it continues to deem as only ‘too deep’ and ‘too fast’ rather unnecessary at all. It is also now giving no commitment to reinstate a single cut imposed by the Coalition and will be presenting its own programme at the next General election of ‘fairer’, ‘less deep’ and ‘less fast’ cuts which will still hit the mass of ordinary people most, a programme which as under the last Labour Government’s of Blair and Brown, will no doubt see the rich get even richer and the poor get even poorer in the process. Such alleged frank realism and honesty, and showing Labour as the ‘fairer party’ even in bad times, however, is hardly the kind of stuff likely to inspire a mass resurgence of support by ordinary people who will have to suffer the consequences of it, and a landslide Labour victory in 2015.
Even if it did, like the Coalition parties, Labour will still be relying on private sector growth to lead the economy out of recession. As however, even Tory Chancellor George Osborne is forced to admit, the prospects of that right now don’t look good even from his position, given the relative downturn in the US economy and the prevailing policies of mass austerity and worsening crisis in the Eurozone. An underlying belief however in the private sector and the Capitalist system as a whole delivering the goods at some stage is something Osborne definitely has, and which unites him ideologically with Miliband, Balls & Clegg.
The failure of such private sector growth however, in conjunction with the scale of the planned public spending cuts, can only lead to a further increase in unemployment and the Government’s outlay on unemployment related benefits combined with a simultaneous reduction in tax and other Government revenues. This might lead to a further potential increase in Government borrowing such as was the case last year, when instead we saw a £65 billion increase in the Government’s projected borrowing despite the Coalition implementing cuts of around £35 billion which they expected to reduce the figure by the same amount, i.e. an error in the Government’s originally projected Budget figure for public sector borrowing for the year so huge as to leave George Osborne’s pledge to balance the Government’s books by 2015-2016 and the next General election, completely in tatters.
Certainly, such as there may be any private sector growth, little of it is likely to be in the Wigan area. It certainly won’t plug the loss of the public and private sector jobs which have already been lost, and which are going to be lost in our area as a result of Government cutbacks, privatisation and the worsening economic recession generally over the coming years, let alone for any other reason.
LABOUR IN WIGAN IS DOING NOTHING BUT IMPLEMENT THE CUTBACKS
On a Wigan Borough level the Labour Party, supported by the local Tories, are merely implementing the cuts in the Council’s budget imposed on them by the Government’s reduction in funding to the Council from central coffers. They have done little even to verbally protest about the imposition of these funding cutbacks by a Government which in reality does not have a legitimate mandate, no one voted for, and which has increased Government funding to many Tory and Lib-Dem Councils despite claiming: “We’re all in it together”. Nor have they even for a second contemplated showing any kind of leadership or making any kind of stand against them alongside other Labour controlled Councils and the unions, which might show at least a willingness on their part to fight what the Government is doing, and to seek to rally the mass of the public behind them in opposition to their detrimental effects on the vast majority.
Instead they have done what they would have done had even Labour got in at the last General election and simply got on with implementing them to the penny and merely pointed to the Government as the source. They have done this, as Miliband and Balls have argued nationally, on the basis that Labour cuts are intrinsically ‘fairer’ and ‘better’ than any which might be proposed by an of the other parties represented on the Council or the Independent Councillor group’s alternative proposed cutbacks, and which the case of Wigan even have the endorsement of the Tory group of Councillors to go with it. If the latter is so however, doesn’t that mean that Labour and Tory share a common view of what constitutes ‘fairer’ and ‘better’ cuts as far as Wigan Borough are concerned?
Given the main opposition to Labour on the Council, the so-called ‘Independent’ group of 8 Councillors confines itself merely to arguing the contrary (i.e our cuts would be better than Labour’s and the Tories’ cuts) and don’t challenge the necessity of implementing any of them, i.e. don’t challenge Neoliberal thinking either, and the comparative weakness and disorganisation of the existing political Left both inside and outside the Council Chamber across the Borough – which in broad brush terms would include former members of the Labour Party’s Bennite left-wing as well as disgruntled traditional Labour voters who think Labour has sold them out, but as yet see no coherent political alternative to them; trades union activists in UNITE, PCS, UNISON and other local union branches; Morning Star Readers and supporters, Christian Socialists, members of the recently formed Wigan & Leigh Green Party, local members and supporters of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Socialist Party and the former Socialist Labour League, the latter of which once had a strong base in the area; it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of people across our Borough are not yet aware that there might even be a qualitatively different alternative to a policy of austerity, privatisation and public sector spending cuts and what the Coalition and Labour are doing and saying, which involves little to zero hardship for the overwhelming majority of people.
If they do, then likely think of it as a ‘fringe’ viewpoint which has little support currently and will never have, and which therefore isn’t going to happen, and as a consequence of that, reconcile themselves to the ‘least worse option’ and looking after their own and their family’s back, in the hope they might make their way through it all and remain relatively unscathed if not emerge in a better position than they might be in currently at the end of it! Will there however, ever be an end to it?
INDEPENDENT COUNCILLOR GROUP NOT A SERIOUS OR COHERENT POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE TO LABOUR
While the success of the so-called Independent Councillors in some areas of the Borough, and before that the Community Action Party, have been based on a growing break by many former traditional Labour voters with the former widely held, inherited ‘mythical view’ of the party, and an increasing view of them as “…little different from all the rest and just in it for themselves” combined with the mistrust of all political parties, this does not mean for a moment, that the election of more Independent Councillors provides a serious or coherent political alternative to Labour’s increasing betrayal of ordinary people across the Borough, or to any of the other main parties locally either.
Indeed, their entire stance everywhere seems limited to little other than attacking Labour (often justifiably) and to become, sometimes quite cynically and opportunistically, the professed champions of many genuine grassroots, but often narrow and ill thought-through local causes (especially once they add their support to it) i.e which appear to extend little beyond “…we don’t care if the Council has to shut another town’s Library, or close another town’s baths, or that the axe will have to fall elsewhere in the Borough just don’t shut our particular Library, school, baths, or other local Council owned amenity or service” which is a very narrow parochial view of politics which would pit all the so-called ‘Independent’ Councillors, and the area’s they allegedly represent, against each other if they were ever to become in charge of the Council’s budget in the current economic climate, a prospect which right now would look to be highly unlikely.
The so-called Independent Councillor Group (which operates in every respect like a political party other than in calling itself one and having a clear set of principles which everyone allegedly agrees with) is really just a rag bag of political misfits and small and parochially minded political opportunists who are “…all things to all men” and have few principles other than to get elected and make out they are doing something positive locally to justify the £11k+ Councillor allowance plus expenses that might pick up in the process. They have no strategy or perspective of taking control of the Council and making it act and implement policies in the interests of the majority of ordinary people living in the Borough. In the case of some, they simply have no political idea at all.
In the case of the Atherton Ward, the so-called ‘Independents’ worked alongside the Tories for the return of former Tory, Trafford Council leader, Susan Williams in Bolton West at the General Election in 2010. They have also campaigned alongside the Tories for a Free School replacement to the town’s former Hesketh Fletcher High School which was closed by the Council in 2011, which will be unaccountable to local people, outside the control of the local authority and ultimately overseen and controlled by a London based, Salvation Army Christian inspired, private “Change Agency”. They have focused their criticism on Labour’s local inaction and miserable recent record in the town, which is justifiably worthy of condemnation by everyone living there, but which many traditional Labour voters, who still self-evidently, believe in the myth of Labour as the party which stands up for ordinary folk, appear to nevertheless want to turn a blind eye and give their repeated backing to at the polls, if not as in 2010 on the last occasion.
On that occasion, and as result of our own electoral intervention (we got 322 votes and a 9.8% share of the vote) voters returned alleged ‘Independent’, former Labour Councillor and New Labour defector Norman Bradbury, who in the course of the last four years voted whilst still in the Labour Party and Council Labour Group, to close Hesketh Fletcher High School as soon as possible and to replace it with a new 14 to 19 year old College. He then jumped ship , condemned Labour’s closure proposals and helped to organise a petition to keep Hesketh Fletcher open. When it was decided by local campaigners that the better idea was to fight for a new and adequately funded, non-religious, better, community run school rather than ‘saving’ Hesketh Fletcher, he changed tack again. In the hope of currying favour for himself in the General election against Andy Burnham in Leigh constituency, he then campaigned for his own slant on the latter, in the shape of a CofE University of Chester run Academy. When the possibility of that evaporated, he then began a campaign in alliance with the Tory candidate in Bolton West, for the return of a Tory Government and the promise of directly Tory Government supported Academy.
When the Tories didn’t get in outright, and Hesketh Fletcher failed to meet the new criteria for establishing an Academy, he changed tack again in favour of a directly Government financed Tory ‘Free School’, which is now referred to as a ‘Community’ school, but which bears no resemblance to the original Community school idea, run in partnership with the locality authority, proposed by the Atherton Demands Its Own High School (ADIOHS) campaign, and which unlike the London based Change Agency ‘Chapel Street’, Wigan Council has considerable experience of running and would be ultimately accountable to us for.
Instead what we are alleged to be getting will be a ‘Free’ of local authority control School (hence the ‘Free’ in ‘Free School), unaccountable to us, which need not employ qualified teachers, which will be potentially hugely under resourced and funded, will be top heavy in terms of its overall running and administration, and a potential ‘cash cow’ for Chapel Street’s ‘private sector partners’. Though it is planned to open in September, it is a school without a building currently, which is opposed by the teachers’ unions, and which falls short of what the people of Atherton are deserving of.
Should the school open as planned which is by no means certain, possibly with the personal appearance of Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove thrown in on the day, then it is the combined efforts of Labour, the so-called Atherton Independents and the Tories we will have to thank for it.
WE NEED A NEW PARTY OF LABOUR WHICH STANDS UP & FIGHTS FOR THE MASS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE – NOT NEW LABOUR OR ALLEGED DO-GOOD ‘INDEPENDENTS’ WHO IN MOST CASES TURN OUT TO BE TORIES!
The idea of building a new broad democratic grassroots driven party which might actually stand up and fight for labour in the economic equation and ordinary folk in general, and which might in time, rightly replace the Labour Party as the new, widely recognised and supported party of the great mass of the people, and working people in particular, will likely be seen by even many on the Left, as both a daunting and perhaps even impossible a project to embark on and turn out successful. However, that is what is needed, or alternatively a movement rather than a party like it, as Labour certainly isn’t the answer.
That key figures in both UNITE and GMB have already been critical of last weekend’s speeches by Balls & Miliband, and in the case of GMB General Secretary Peter Kenny, gone so far as to suggest might even bring into question the union’s future affiliation to the Labour Party, and that many in the RMT, and PCS unions are favourable to the idea of creating a new ‘Workers’ Party’ suggest that it might perhaps be more than a mere possibility.
The Wigan Borough Green Socialists are fully committed to the idea of creating and building such a Party, of, for and by the majority of ordinary people, however we are incapable of doing either by ourselves even at a local level, let alone nationally.
It is for this reason we have sought to work with others locally and nationally towards the perspective of creating such a party and have sought to promote the greatest possible unity of front of both the political Left opposed to all cuts and privatisations as well as the wider movement of the working class and all those who are oppressed by the Capitalist system and who want to put an end to it.
It is for this reason we are making this appeal to the ordinary folk of Wigan Borough who are concerned about the worsening economic situation we are facing, the effects of Government policies, and how little Labour is doing for us, to join with us at the forthcoming local elections in seeking to plant the seeds of such a future party by standing for and/or alternatively supporting a unified ‘Left of Labour, No to All Cuts, Make the Bankers and the rich pay’ slate of candidates in the May 2012 local elections, which we propose calling the Wigan, Leigh & Makerfield or Wigan Borough People’s Alliance, believe should add its effort to that of the Trades Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) nationally. Even if we were only able to stand half a dozen candidates in May then we would already qualify as the Borough’s fourth political force, supplanting the dwindling Lib-Dems, BNP and Community Action Party.
We propose as the basis of such a unified slate of candidates, support for the People’s Charter nationally (see: http://www.thepeoplescharter.org/) which is supported not only by most Left of Labour organisations and parties including the Green Party, SWP, SP, CPB and Morning Star, but by the TUC, a number of national Trades Unions and not a few in the Labour Party as well. Additionally, we propose as the basis of such a slate, support for a local Wigan Borough People Charter (see: http://wigangreensocialists.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/wigan-borough-peoples-charter-discussion-forum/) which if elected we might collectively fight for in Wigan’s Council Chamber, and which even if any of us aren’t elected, we might ALL fight alongside each other for across the entire Borough, notwithstanding our existing party allegiances or none, or our own individual ‘take’ on other issues.
We think that this might represent a step forwards rather than a step backwards in the current climate, and is infinitely preferably to the current apparent division and disorganisation of those opposed the Tory-Labour-LibDem tripartite Neoliberal consensus, less harsh, or more fairer any of them might be than the others, which demands the working class and the mass of ordinary people foot the bill through cuts in their jobs, pay, public services, pensions, benefits and living standards, rather than those supportive of the system and ultimately responsible for the economic and financial mess we find ourselves in , doing so via a clamping down on tax avoidance, evasion and non-payment by higher earners and big business, a more progressive system of general taxation including a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on all City financial transactions, and other proposals which if implemented would avoid the need for any public spending cuts whatsoever. Indeed which might generate sufficient funds to invest in longer term economic and environmental sustainability and help put people back to work.
If you’d like to stand in the forthcoming local elections in the Wigan area on something like that a basis, or alternative support others doing so, then please do get in touch with us either by phoning 07724 139 278 or alternatively sending an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Appeal issued by Stephen Hall on behalf of the Wigan Borough Green Socialists.