WHILE silent skies may not quite be the end of civilisation as we know it, the past few days have highlighted the problems of dependency on air-travel and the need for an integrated transport system in Britain and across Europe.
The ash clouds from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland have paralysed civilian and air-freight flights throughout northern Europe. Despite the bleating of some Tories trying to make political capital out of the emergency, the prompt action of the air traffic control agencies in Britain in grounding all commercial UK flights over the past few days was essential to guarantee passenger safety. But it has left hundreds of thousands stranded in Europe and highlighted the inadequacy of the rail networks in dealing with the crisis.
The airlines will doubtless be seeking compensation from the British Government and the European Union to cover the immense losses they’ve sustained. We must argue that any bail-out must be linked to public ownership.
The renationalisation of British Airways and the rail companies would enable future governments build an eco-friendly integrated hi-speed transport system that could make rail travel to Europe beyond Paris and Brussels a viable and reliable alternative to air and road transport. An integrated high-speed rail network across Britain would take years to build and would require immense investment that can only come from the coffers of the state. The alternative is to remain hostage to the unpredictable forces of nature we’re enduring today.
There’s been a surge of support in the opinion polls for the Liberal Democrats following last week’s TV debate between the leaders of the three main parliamentary parties. More and more the talk is of the Lib-Dems as kingmakers in a hung parliament. The Tory and Lib-Dem leaders talk about the need for “change” but the Tory programme is just another rehash of the anti-working class policies of the Thatcher era, while the Lib-Democrats offer a Blairite platform without the slavish support of American imperialism and a hidden agenda of full integration within the European Union.
True the Liberal Democrats opposed the Iraq war and many want a way out of the hopeless occupation of Afghanistan but this has more to do with their support for the stand of the dominant forces within the European Union than any real commitment to peace.
The Tories represent the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the British bourgeoisie but it is a ruling class divided over Europe and those who believe that British imperialism’s interests are best served as full partners of Franco-German imperialism within the European Union hope they can now resolve the issue once and for all through the Lib-Democrats.
Though the Lib-Dems have a “liberal” policy on human rights and immigration, their attitude to organised labour barely differs from that of the Conservatives. They supported most of the Tories’ anti-union legislation and they can never be an instrument for working class advance.
Make no mistake, a “hung” or “balanced” Parliament is simply a code-word for a Labour/Lib-Dem coalition, which is what the pro-EU section of the ruling class want. Such a coalition would provide an alibi for Labour’s right-wing to continue to ignore the demands of the unions that the Labour Party is supposed to represent and all we can expect is a continuation of Brown’s neo-Keynesian reforms and a new drive to get Britain into the Euro.
It is no alternative to a straight Labour majority and it certainly won’t mean “change”. In the days that are left we must fight to mobilise Labour’s traditional working class support to get the biggest possible vote out for Labour on 6th May.