Friday, March 02, 2012

Tories retreat, bemoan isolation

I really think now is the time to cash in on my previous prognosis that the government would prove to be remarkably weak and potentially fragile at the first sign of a serious fight. Of course, I wasn't the only one saying this, but the reasoning has held up quite well. Yesterday, David Cameron urged British businesses to stand up against the "Trotskyites" of the Right to Work campaign. He knew this would really upset us, as only complete ignoramuses ever use that locution. But he also invited people to notice that the Labour front bench hadn't joined in the red-baiting of the opposition to workfare.

The fact that this petulant lament was followed by a backdown, in which the government was compelled to withdraw the benefit sanctions from the workfare scheme (thus de facto killing the heart of the programme) underlined the fact that the speech was a down-in-flames whimper of defeat and isolation. No one had stood up for the policy, beyond the right-wing press and a few known Tory businessmen like Sir Stuart Rose, who has also castigated the failure of the capitalist class to unite behind their government.

But the reality is that the Tories don't seem to have given business much to unite behind. Few of the participating businesses really seemed to understand the finer points of the policy, just the general idea that they were getting, en masse, millions of free man hours of labour out of the deal. This resulted in hasty, confused statements and retractions being released by companies in quick succession, and eventually the exit of a melanoma of businesses (yes, that is the real collective noun) while others urged the government just to drop the compulsory element that made it such a mouth-watering scheme to begin with. Businesses hadn't signed up for a fight, nor for the embarrassing sorts of flash-mob protest pioneered by groups like UK Uncut to great effect. 

In general, I would suggest that while they like the material benefits the government promises them very much, the capitalist class is likely to be very divided over whether the government is capable of delivering it without seeing the whole country burned down in the process, over whether it is part of a coherent growth strategy (a low-wage economy has its draw-backs for large capital), and over whether the Tories are the best party to deliver anything. For, the government are woefully inadequate to the scale of the task they have set themselves of structurally adjusting British capitalism. Their complacent mis-handling of the union negotiations shows this. Actually, so did their astonishingly inept handling of the riots, during which they signally failed to build any right-wing populist capital out of the fiasco. They haven't had a serious class fight in almost twenty years, and during most of the hiatus they have been out of office. Only the pathetic weakness of the opposition has spared them. But as the Trotskyists have shown, it doesn't necessarily take many people to put this bunch on the back foot.