Monday, April 21, 2008
Don't Mention It. posted by Richard SeymourThis is the Basil Fawlty election. Among the many things missing from most of the campaigning for local councils, and for the London mayor and assembly in particular, is the war. It is not on Ken Livingstone's agenda. Boris Johnson would like to make something of it, despite being pro-war, but is wholly subjoined to the neoconservative wing of the Tory party. The war is not in the Liberal Democrat manifesto at all, despite the fact that the Lib Dems have benefited from the antiwar vote in the past. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Green Party manifesto. Neither is Islamophobia, for that matter, which is a curious ommission. And Sian Berry has recently criticised her party over the Israel boycott, vowing to oppose it. All of this is presumably part and parcel of the deal between New Labour and the Greens at the London level, and it is hardly a surprise. Wherever the Greens have had success in Europe, they have often ended up in coalition with neoliberal, privatizing, warmongering parties of the centre-left. (Perhaps more curious is the weakness on public transport. The Left List manifesto promises quite specific tube fare reductions: a quid per ticket, free travel for students and the elderly, instant reduction of paper ticket fares on overground services to match. There's nothing comparable in the Green manifesto, and nor is there any mention of privatization of the East London line. A strange weakness for an environmental campaigner). This is the city that saw 2 million demonstrators protest against the war before it even started; that experienced 7/7; that has had two police shootings, one fatal, in connection with the so-called 'war on terror'; that has seen protesters nicked under 'war on terror' legislation; and which has experienced a dangerous rise in Islamophobia under the rubric of, well, the 'war on terror'. And no one wants to talk about it, bar the Left List candidate. This is one of the reasons why Lindsey German can boast the support of several key figures in the antiwar movement, including two from different frontlines of the 'war on terror'.
Aside from not mentioning the imperialist war, no one wants to talk about the class war. This Thursday, just one week before the elections, the teachers are having their first national strike for over twenty years. A quarter of a million NUT members will be on strike. Joining them will be 100,000 PCS workers, 30,000 UCU members, and 20,000 Birmingham council workers. On the day of the strike, the Left List will be holding a rally, with Mark Serwotka of the PCS and Jane Loftus of the CWU in attendance. The reason why this issue is important, in case it needs spelling out, is that at a time when food prices are soaring and credit availability is collapsing, the government is attempting to restrict consumption through its incomes policy. That is bad news for all of us, and to it one can add the effect of recent changes in taxation with Gordon Brown hitting the poorest by abolishing the ten pence tax rate. We're facing a recession, with hard times for millions of people, and we have a government that seems fit for any contortion in order to serve the interests of millionaires. Is any other candidate even interested? I don't see it. Ken is more likely to call for people to cross the picket lines than actually join them these days, and may be tempted to do so again as tube workers strike for forty-eight hours before the elections. The Greens are too busy going for the business vote. If there's any curiosity over the position of sad sack Lib Dems, they hate strikes and are cautiously supportive of the government's pay restraints.
Both of these issues cut to the heart of the current neoliberal/pro-war consensus. Taking the latter for a second, public sector workers are at the centre of a battle against both privatization and pay cuts. They are unfortunate in having leaders who, barring a few principled sorts such as Mark Serwotka, are unfailingly loyal to New Labour, putting its position above the interests of their members. They are also in the position of having political funds that pour money into the coffers of New Labour even while the government reduces the amount of money they take home. New Labour's whole strategy relies upon taking trade unionists and working class voters for granted while relying on the AB voters in its electoral coalition. These are the figures I mentioned a while back:
Labour's share of the vote in 2005 was reduced to 36% from 43% in 1997 (in the 2007 local elections, Labour got a mere 27% of the vote), and its overall plurality was less than 2%. Its support among AB voters was relatively well-maintained, down just 2% from its 1997 level, while among C2 voters, DE voters and council tenants, it fell by 9%, 13% and 9% respectively.
It is only because the collapse in support has been in working class areas with mountainous Labour majorities that they have been able to keep a majority, despite being in the clear minority on its central policy flagships: war and privatization. So, the more trade unionists break with New Labour, the better chance there is of building the alternative. At the same time, the major pole of radicalism is still the antiwar movement. Demanding troop withdrawals from all frontiers in the war, and the unconditional defense of civil liberties at home, the movement places all the main parties on the back foot by commanding majority support for policies that few politicians are willing to advocate. It doesn't merely critique and counteract Islamophobia, it connects it to the war and makes it a clear political struggle. One can hardly effectively criticise racism in this day and age without mentioning the imperialist background. In its analysis, it also contains a critique of neoliberalism especially as applied in Iraq, but understood as being inseparable from the global war of American expansion. The anti-war movement is thus a counter-hegemonic force par excellence. This is why none of the main candidates can talk about it. That is why you mustn't mention the war.