This tedious business is not thrust at us because the election might bring about some earth-shattering and fundamental change. On the contrary, elections are hyped-up to make them seem more full of promise than they actually are -- it is bourgeois democracy that is really being sold.
It is important for us, those who want to see revolutionary change involving the seizing of state power by the working class and who want to build a socialist society, to recognise that bourgeois elections are not going to be a means of achieving that revolution whoever we vote for or whoever we put forward as candidates.
The struggle for socialism and real change has to be fought on every front and at all times. It certainly cannot be confined to Parliament or lelt in the hands ofa clutch of MPs -- however left-wing.
So should we vote and campaign at all? Yes we should because working class interests need to be defended and advanced here and now while we are still living under capitalist dictatorship.
It is also important to recognise that in Britain the "first-past-the-post" system means that elections are really fought between the two major parties in order to form a government made up of one party with at least a working majority.
Some people argue that various forms of proportional representation would be better as those systems give a better chance to smaller Parties and give the left at least a small voice in Parliament.
This may well be so. But it is also the case that PR creates a tendency for coalitions of the centre-right to emerge and become embedded. The experience of other European countries shows that PR all too often leads to permanent control by the political centre -- in Britain that would be a position occupied by the Labour right, the Lib Dems and the pro-Euro wing of the Tories.
It is much more in the interests of the working class to have the first-past-the-post system which can result in an outright Labour victory.
It is also argued by some on the left that "New Labour" is so drastically different from "Old Labour" that we should wash our hands of it and support one or other of the small left parties that put up candidates.
The reality is that none of these parties can win and therefore can't deliver anything at all.
And it's not true that the Labour Party has become a totally different party from the mythical "Old Labour".
The Labour Party was always led by right-wing social-democrats and some leading figures of the past were bywords for class-collaboration and reaction -- Hugh Gaitskell, Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Reg Prentice and others, not to mention the gang of four who formed the breakaway Social Democratic Party -- the House of Lords is full of such people.
The difference is that the left in the Labour Party is smaller and weaker than it once was. It reflects a lower level of militancy in the working class at the present time. This in turn means the right is having an easier time than it has sometimes had and is able to press home its advantage. This situation will change.
And yet for all the current problems the Labour Party remains essentially and fundamentally different from the Tories, Lib Dems and others. It is organisationally linked to the trade union movement and it is still the mass party of the working class.
This relationship between Labour and the unions is under constant attack -- from the right and even some on the left. It is a link the bosses and the capitalist class would smash tomorrow if only it could. They regard its potential with loathing because a rise in the militancy of the working class could then be brought to bear an Parliament.
Blair has already bowed to pressure from this quarter and at least partly restored the right of workers to be represented by a trade union -- a right the Tories had taken away. Of couurse there is much more to be done. But what is absolutely certain is that we need another dose of the Tories like we need bubonic plague -- we say vote Labour everywhere and keep the Tories, the BNP and the rest in the wildemess!
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by Daphne Liddle
PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair last Tuesday officially announced the date of the general election, as widely expected to be on 7th June, to coincide with local elections that were postponed from 3rd May because of the foot and mouth crisis.
This means that seven Bills currently before Parliament will have to be dropped because of lack of time.
These include the Homes Bill which involves a "seller's pack"; the International Development Bill which deals with overseas aid; the Bill which would ban tobacco advertisements; the Hunting Bill; the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill; the Culture and Recreation Bill and the Adoption and Children Bill.
There will be some sighs of relief among tobacco barons, landlords and the hunting fraternity.
There remain some bills which the Government intends to rush through, including the Criminal Justice Bill which extends DNA testing and child curfews. It also gives fixed fines for a range of public disorder offences.
The Health and Social Care Bill is also set to be pushed through. This will abolish community health councils.
The Government has dropped plans to allow police access to the Inland Revenue files of suspected criminals.
The Finance Bill, implementing the budget, has already been passed.
The announcement effectively blocked Home Secretary Jack Straw from announcing new sentencing rules for repeat offenders.
The election is happening this year and not in 2002 to speed the process of getting Britain into the single European currency. A referendum will be needed and already the propaganda to promote this is beginning to emerge.
It is also happening this year because a deepening economic crisis is sweeping world capitalism. Employment rates are not too bad right now but are likely to rise steeply soon.
Recent weeks have seen massive job cuts in the new technology industries on a global scale which will impacton Britain. This week the communications firm NTL announced 3,000 redundancies, most of which will come from its 22,000 British workforce.
Traditional manufacturing in dustry in Britain is in deep trouble. There is not one major car manufacturer that has not been affected.
When the demand for cars drops, the steel industry suffers and Corus is sacking thousands.
The future of Cammel Laird shipbuilders now depends on a successful bid from Swan Hunters.
Factories throughout Britain are reporting a sharp drop in confidence according to the latest Confederation of British Industry quarterly survey.
That says the balance of manufacturers who ate optimistic was now minus 29 per cent, from minus three per cent in January.
Labour seems set to win the election provided there is an adequate turnout. But Blair is unlikely to be rising so high in the popularity polls once the chilly economic winds start to drive up the unemployment figures.
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by Caroline Colebrook
'I`HE BABY-bond scheme announced by tbe (;overnrncnl two weeks ago may
be part ol' a long-term stralcgy Lo undermine stale welfare by pcrsuading
people to save or Lake out private insurance Lo cover illness, unemployment
and so on.
Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the scheme to give each new born child a starter payment of at least £250, rising to £3,000 For those in low income homes, to be put in trust until they are 18 as part of the Government's proclaimed war on child poverty.
The savings accounts would be topped up at ages five, 11 and 16 to five a maximum endowment of £8OO.
Families are to be encouraged to add to these trusts to give each young adult a sum to help towards higher education costs or setting themselves up as independent adults.
Many have pointed out this is small beer compared to the value of higher education grants that have been abolished by successive government's, together with the burden of tuition fees that have been added.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by Chancellor Gordon Brown, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett and Social Security Secrehry Alislair Darling at a recent press conference where they described this package -- to be introduced in April 2003 -- as part of a "significant reshaping of the welfare state".
At the same time they announced plans for a separate "Saving Gateway" to encourage people on low income to save, saying the Government would match pound for pound the savings of the poor up to £50 a month.
They claimed this was part of the Government's determination to match "rights with rcsponsibilities".
No doubt the stakeholder pension schemes for the low paid are also part of this vision.
"We want to encourage adults to save for themselves to help ride out difficult times, losing a job or becoming ill for example," said Mr Blair.
He did not say expliciCly that this encouragement to save is likely in future to replace the entitlement to various benefits and that more and more benefits are likely to be made meanstested rather than linked to National Insurance payments and at a statutory level.
Tony Blair was asked if labour was abandoning the notion that Government would always provide in the areas of health, education and pensions.
He replied: "This for us is all part of changing the very nature of the way we look at the welfare state, so that the welfare state becomes about Government helping people to help themselves, rather than government doing everything for people or simply handing out benefits to people."
Alistair Darling added: "We are seeing a fundamental shift towards our vision of a welfare state that is much more than just a basic protection and insurance but instead plays an active role in helping people become independent."
Gordon Brown quoted from a 1995 Tory party manifesto which promised to create a "property-owning democracy".
He said: "Now it is the Labour Party which is saying we believe in a wealth-owning democracy for all, which is a wider vision for the future."
For the working class, this is a very dangerous vision. It will undermine the safety net of state welfare.
And it shows up the myth in the very concept of a "welfare state". We do not live in a welfare state but in a capitalist state that provides some state welfare.
In times of capitalist crisis and high unemployment the demand for state welfare to sustain the unemployed and their families is heavy. It is a burden the capitalist system wants to be rid of.
It is a policy of the capitalist state to get rid of state welfare regardless of which political party occupies the front benches in Parliament. Refusing to vote Labour and so allowing in a Tory government would only accelerate the process. It will take more than just votes to stop this.
Clearly, the thinking of the right-wing Labour leadership needs to be strongly countered by the trade union movement, who are after all, organisationally linked to the Labour Party, as well as seeing a strengthening of the struggles for decent wages.
The capitalists don't mind, up to a point, paying benefit to those in full-time work because it means bosses can get away with paying lower wages. The tax payers' money ends up in the bosses pockets.
And in times of high unemployment and low wages there will always be masses who struggle to get by from day to day, never mind saving for the future.
The savings these people will have, if any, will not be enough to keep them from the direst poverty.
Meanwhile state benefits will all wither in value and those who depend on them will suffer extreme poverty.
At the same time the capitalists are now urging us at every turn to take out loans to pay off debts or to splash out on rare luxuries.
Repaying these debts will mean workers have even less of their earnings available to save.
There is no substitute for the security of state benefits.
The scheme may seem generous but it will eventually take far more than it gives.
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by Steve Lawton
FOOT and mouth or foot in the mouth? While that affliction of cattle has affected daily life on the island of Ireland as it has here, the provocative announcement by David Trimble, Ulster Unionist party (UUP) leader and Northern Ireland Assembly first minister, that he will resign on 1st July, is an affliction of a potentially more serious nature.
He said that if the IRA do not begin destroying their weapons before the 30th June decommissioning deadline, he will go.
Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, sneered, declaring that it amounted to nothing more than a barely disguised election stunt.
He demanded that Trimble go to the Assembly and tender his resignation now if he really wanted to up the ante, and they would be happy to resign with him.
While that view is equally self serving and is clearly connected to the General Election too, the implications are obviously more serious than that.
Northern Ireland minister Dr John Reid regarded it as "highly regrettable" and warned: "Progress needs to made on all fronts. The two governments set June as the date by which they believed substantial progress would be made to secure the full implementation of the Agreement."
A tall order given the disatisfaction among nationalists and republicans over the crucial failure on policing, the banning of Sinn Fein from the cross-border ministerial council and the inadequate British troop withdrawals.
To date, the IRA have undertaken to co-operate with an independently verified monitoring of an IRA arms dump. Trimble's insistence is tantamount to declaring that the IRA are defeated aggressors and that the British occupation is a benign part of the equation.
Now that we have it on record that during the Bloody Sunday events of 1972 Martin McGuinness was a senior IRA figure, we can accept the weight of that reconfirmation of the IRA's absolutely consistent adherence to the Good Friday Agreement. Moreover, despite all manner of tripwires and political mines, the IRA maintains its ceasefire which it first undertook seven years ago.
He said Tuesday that Trimble "intends to go forward at this general election effectively allowing the rejectionist unionist tail to wag the unionist dog." That, he said, amounts to offering a "negative manifesto, and in effect a wreckers' charter" to the unionist people. On the last occasion he threatened to resign, Tony Blair suspended the Legislative Assembly for three months.
Sinn Fein leaders have frequently pointed out that this unionist intransigence and dicing with the lives of both communities Catholic and Protestant, unionist and nationalist, is part of a persistent rearguard attack on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
It fits into a pattern of what republicans call the reactionary securocrat agenda within the British state. And it may well be that diehard unionists see the election as a means to put the Good Friday Agreement on trial. If so, it will backfire.
There is no doubt, particularly given the way the Patten policing
proposals were shredded by the former northern Ireland minister Peter Mandelson
virtually setting a preservation order on the Royal Ulster Constabulary
(RUC), that there is a continuing effort by reactionaries in in the British
ruling class to unravel the political process.
But three years on, some solid foundations for confidence in progress to date has been set firmly down. Not only are diehards finding it difficult to push the IRA out of its disciplined resolve, but many unionists have to swallow the bitter pill administered by the European Human Rights Court last week.
The Court found against the British Government, ordering it to compensate 14 families of those who were killed by the British Army and RUC between 1982 and 1992. Some victims are at the centre of shoot-to-kill claims.
Martin McGuinness, since his position in the IRA at the time of Bloody Sunday was recently declared, has been personally vilified in order to undermine that inquiry. That's partly because it is probing the wretched depths of British terror, and unionist bigots and reactionaries don't like what is emerging.
Hardline DUPers tabled a motion of no confidence in the education minister in the northern Ireland Assembly, but amid heated exchanges between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the motion was defeated 45 to 31 -- Sinn Fein was backed by the SDLP, Alliance Party and Women's Coalition.
Martin McGuinness, asked what the IRA's response would be to David Trimble's announcement, said: "We had a very important initiative from the IRA [last year] which unionists and David Trimble threw back in their faces -- that was the international inspectors and their ability to come to Ireland and inspect a number of dumps.
"This was coupled with an even more dramatic announcement from the IRA that in a particular context, which they outlined, that they were prepared to initiate a process to put weapons beyond use. David Trimble telling all of us that he knows best how to deal with the issue?
"I can say without fear of contradiction, that if David Trimble persists with this line, in my view, we will never see decommissioning."
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by Renee Sams
HUNDREDS of people joined hands around the United States embassy in London's Grosvenor Square last Saturday to express their concern about President George Bush's refusal to honour the Kyoto Agreement on global climate change.
The event was organised by Friends of the Earth , the Green Party and Greenpeace. They were joined by the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Party, Globalise Resistance and many individuals with their own slogans and placards.
They were mainly young people from many walks life and from many different organisations but were united in their fears of what escalating global climate change will do to their future.
They all believe that climate change is now a grave th reat to the future of the human race and the longer we delay taking action, the more difficult it will be to halt and the greater risk we run.
They are angry that the US, the greatest producer of climate changing gases responsible for around 25 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, is all set to make it worse.
The Kyoto agreement allows for the temporary exemption of some developing countries. But even India would need astronomical economic growth to produce as much greenhouse gas as the US seems determined to continue to do.
Demonstrators dressed in carnival attire, with death masquerading as Uncle Sam, along with the statue of taking liberties and the Toxic Texan, led by a lively group of drummers, made fheir way to the High Commission of the Maldives Islands to draw attention to their plight.
The people of the low-lying Maldives are amongst those in greatest danger of the rising sea levels it action is not taken to curb global warming.
Bangladesh is another country where those who live in the delta of the River Ganges, already suffering from more frequent floods, are also in danger of being swamped if sea levels rise further.
Green activists also noted that President Bush's main backers are the big corporations and among the biggest are the oil giants Esso and Chevron They are calling for a boycott of these companies.
The next world climate change talks are scheduled to take place in Bonn in July.
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