The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 10th October, 2008


BROWN’S PLAN TO TAME CHAOS - Plan B? There is no Plan B

by Daphne Liddle

EARLY ON Wednesday morning Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling faced the press to explain the rescue package they had put together to rescue the crumbling banking sector in Britain.

 The previous day four major high street banks had suffered huge losses: HBOS shares were down 42 per cent; The Royal Bank of Scotland was down 39 per cent; Lloyds TSB, which is in the process of buying out the beleaguered HBOS, was down 13 per cent and Barclays was down nine per cent.

 The package they unveiled involved half a trillion pounds of taxpayers’ money – and a desperate gamble that it will be enough.

 Of that, £50 billion will be used to buy shares in the worst hit banks. The Government will become a stakeholder in these banks and if, in future, they make a profit, the Government will claim its share on behalf of taxpayers. The Government will set some conditions – about curbing bonuses paid to bank executives who have taken bad risks and generally behaving more responsibly.

 But the Government has failed to demand a place on the boards of these banks, which could have extended democratic control over the economy.

 Another £250 billion will be made available to be used if necessary to guarantee bank debts and protect savers’ investments.

 And the final £200 billion will be used to back short-term lending to banks to make it easier for banks to begin lending to each other again. The bank of England will lend sterling for three months and dollars for a week.

Brown pointed out that this was a very different rescue package from the $700 billion one delivered by Paulson to stem the Wall Street crisis just a couple of weeks ago. He said the Government was not buying the banks’ bad debts but making an investment in them on behalf of taxpayers that taxpayers would, in a couple of years, reap some benefit from.

 But, like Paulson’s package, it did little to stem the continuing collapse of share prices.

 Then around midday the Bank of England announced a drop in interest rates of half a per cent to 4.5 per cent from five per cent. This announcement was coordinated with the US Federal Reserve and other national banks around the world that all lowered interest rates at the same time.

 The big lending banks had previously this year significantly failed to pass on cuts in the basic lending rate to mortgage payers but this time they have begun to pass on the rate cuts to customers.

 The total £500 billion package will cost an average of £1,000 for every person in Britain and there is anger on the streets from many people who blame greedy bankers for the crisis and would prefer it spent on schools and hospitals.

 When asked, Brown said the money would be raised by borrowing but clearly the spectre of public spending cuts on things like schools, hospitals and benefits looms, as does the prospect of tax rises.

 If Brown were to impose these tax rises firmly on the very rich, especially bankers, he would quickly regain Labour’s standing in the opinion polls.  

 When Brown was asked, “What is plan B if this does not work?” he changed the subject and talked about all the benefits taxpayers would gain – eventually. Meanwhile stocks are still falling.

 This is not hitting only the wealthy; pension schemes of course have been very badly hit. And many local authorities, on Government advice, have invested their reserves. Some have invested millions in the Icelandic Bank, Icesave, which stopped trading on Tuesday.

One local authority is believed to have its payroll account lodged in Icesave.

 Icesave’s parent bank, Landsbanki, had to be taken over by the Icelandic government. That government sought help from European and American governments for help but was turned down and now hopes to negotiate a four billion euro loan from Russia.

 The Icelandic government denied rumours in a column in the Spectator that in return they might allow the Russians to use an airbase abandoned by the US Air Force a couple of years ago.

 In the “real” economy everything is slowing down: house sales, car sales, high street sales. And the IMF is predicting a major global downturn with negative growth and job cuts. 

 There is one small benefit for workers; the downturn has led to a fall in demand and falling prices for some commodities: oil, gas, food and so on.

 The economic situation remains chaotic but there are opportunities. Now the banks are coming cap in hand to taxpayers, taxpayers should be setting the terms and conditions to their benefit.

 And it is the organised working class, the trade unions, who should be demanding democratic control over these now half-nationalised banks.

 Chaos also has its dangers; without a strong, organised working class, the extreme right-wing can take advantage on behalf of the ruling class to impose the kind of neo-fascist regime that would be needed to repress working class anger if the banks continue to rip us off.



Still going down

THE BROWN government is holding crisis meetings to hammer out a package of economic reforms as the slump deepens while finance ministers throughout the capitalist world are scrabbling around trying to prop up an international banking system that’s on the verge of meltdown. There’s panic in the chancelleries of Europe.

Franco-German imperialism is trying to get European Union agreement for an EU-wide billion euro bank bail-out.The Irish government has effectively guaranteed  its entire banking system for two years while our northern neighbour, Iceland, hopes to stave off “national bankruptcy” only through a four billion euro loan from Russia.

Though the American $700 billion “bail-out” package got through Congress last week it did nothing to halt the slide in the markets, while the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley at home has only accelerated the big business demand for state intervention throughout the banking sector.

 The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, says he’s willing to take some “pretty big steps” to help stabilise the markets. But the only measures the Government’s taken so far has been to replace the old Economic Development Committee with a “National Economic Council” headed by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers and to recall Peter Mandelson from the European Commission to take up a seat in the Brown Cabinet.

Mandelson’s appointment reflects a shift towards the pro-European Union elements within the ruling class but it has more to do with Gordon Brown’s need to get consensus amongst the Labour’s right-wing in the long run-up to the next election.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury quotes Marx and his number two, the Archbishop of York, condemns  the speculators as “asset strippers and bank robbers” and the Pope says the global financial crisis shows the futility of money and ambition. Benedict XV1 says that “the only solid reality is the word of God” and, no doubt, his answer to the crisis is prayers. But praying isn’t going to help the unemployed, the homeless and the destitute.

Nor can Brown’s half-hearted social Keynesianism, like the nationalisation of ailing banks, solve the crisis. The ruling class intend to put the entire burden of the capitalist crisis on the backs of working people. We have to ensure that they don’t.

 The trade union movement has a crucial role to play in mobilising to set an immediate working-class agenda for the Labour Government. The state welfare system and the public sector must be restored,  pensions and benefits guaranteed and homelessness eradicated through the building of mass council estates at affordable rents. And the rich must be forced to disgorge some of their wealth to pay for it.

Social-democratic reforms like those which Labour’s Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan governments pioneered from 1945 to 1979 defended the living standards of the millions of working people who put Labour in power in 1945, 1964 and 1974. But only socialism can emancipate the working class.

 The year after the 1929 Great Slump Stalin said: “If capitalism could adapt production not to the obtaining of the utmost profit but to the systematic improvement of the material conditions of the masses of the people, and if it could turn profits not to the satisfaction of the whims of the parasitic classes, not to perfecting the methods of exploitation, not to the export of capital, but to the systematic improvement of the material conditions of the workers and peasants, then there would be no crises. But then capitalism would not be capitalism. To abolish crises it is necessary to abolish capitalism”.

How true those words are today.

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