The leaderships of both parties are beginning to focus their attention on the next election. Their problem is that neither intends to abandon the policy introduced by Thatcher of protecting the rich from higher taxes and neither intends to cut Britain's huge "defence" budget. As a result we are going to get a lot of soft words in lieu of hard cash and a lot of "new" ideas for re-arranging the few bits of furniture we already have.
Labour has chosen to make an issue of Oxford university's failure to give a place to a young woman from a state school. This has enabled the Labour leaders to cast themselves as principled opponents of snobbery and privilege and champions of state education and working class pupils.
There's nothing wrong with championing state education of course. The trouble is, none of it rings true because we all know that these supposed champions of the working class have not only failed to restore the student grants system -- they have supported the introduction of tuition fees for students and made it even tougher for working class young people to go to college at all.
In fact all the fine words in defence of one young woman have cost the government nothing -- making the money available to give everyone a chance is another matter and does not enter the Labour leaders' arguments.
The Tories have chosen a different battleground -- their old favourite subject of law'n'order. For them it's always the same recipe of tackling crime by taldng up a bigger stick and dishing out more punishment to offenders. We're all supposed to forget that crime figures actually rose when they were in government.
Was it not it the Tories who presided over a prison system that was bursting at the seams and then proceeded to privatise prisons and prisoner transport? During those years there were riots by prisoners, industrial actions by prison officers and scandals over breaches of security. And all the time civil liberties were eroded and the level of crime still went up.
The Tories also hope to score with the pensioners by promising a rise in the weekly pension instead of the one off payments for winter fuel and the Christmas bonus. They are doing their best to exploit the widespread anger at the recent insulting 75p a week increase offered to pensioners.
But pensioners are not impressed by a proposal that is merely a re-packaging of the same money. Neither front bench is prepared to give the pensioners what they have repeatedly called for -- restoration of the link between pensions and average male earnings. Britain's campaigning pensioners will not be fobbed off and will carry on their fight for justice.
Militant action and active campaigning on the part of the whole working class is needed now to put an end to the parliamentary shadow boxing. The coming year has to be a year of action and the focus of the campaigning has to be the Labour Party's current leadership.
The Tories are, as they have always been, a party created to represent the interests of the ruling capitalist class and despite their crude populist appeals they will uphold through thick and thin the economic gains the Thatcher government brought to their class.
The Labour Party on the other hand is largely financed by the trade unions and has an organisational and historic link with the labour movement. It is not the property of Blair, it does not have to be dominated by the careerists of Millbank Tower. We say, Blair's class collaborationist politics can and must be defeated. That requires making the call for a democratic Labour Party a reality. It requires struggle and participation in our own movement.
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VARIOUS Government ministers this week have been courting publicity by attacking the Oxford University selection process -- after it rejected the highly talented Tyneside 18-year-old Laura Spence -- for being culturally elitist.
The Labour Party is blatantly trying to win back some of its fast dissolving popularity among the working classes by pretending to champion working class applicants to traditionally middle and upper class seats of learning.
But at the same time it has been planning to increase student tuition fees to the full cost -- with help only a means tested basis for the most hard up.
This will mean fees ofaround £4,000 a year for an arts course, £6,000 for science and even more for medicine. The fees are supposed to be met by parents.
This will do far more to prevent students from working class and middle income homes getting to any college than any alleged snobbery among Oxford course selectors.
There is of course cultural snobbery involved in the selection processes. The selectors deny this and are probably unaware of it -- but it's institutionalised.
Selectors look for more than just paper qualifications. They say they are looking for confidence and other less tangible qualities.
In reality they are, unconsciously looking for a reflection of their own middle class academic cultural values and world outlook.
But this is not the biggest obstacle in the path of aspiring working class students. Lack of funding for the whole education system is -- and that's the Government's responsibility.
The medical course that Laura Spence applied for only had five places and that too is a scandal. This country is in desperate need of more good doctors.
There are no heart operations happening in the whole country of Scotland at present because the one and only heart surgeon resigned recently.
The Government's plans to combat cancer cannot happen because ofa shortage of specia Iist doctors. NHS wai ting lists are a national scandal because we do not have enough doctors.
We cannot afford to lose people like Laura Spence. It is a false economy. The money spent on training her at Oxford would be more than repaid by the work she would one day be able to do for the NHS to relieve illness, to rescue people from being on sickness benefit while on long waiting lists.
There were almost certainly other good applicants rejected for that course who are also a loss to British medicine.
The university selectors have complained that not enough students from working class backgrounds apply to the most prestigious universities.
One of them let slip one of the main reasons. Students nowadays apply for courses at whatever higher education institute is near their home so they can live more cheaply with their parents while they study.
This is an effect of removing student maintenance grants and imposing the existing £1,000-a-year tuition fees.
Working class young people are afraid of taking out huge student loans that will leave them to begin their working lives saddled with big debts.
Even with the student loans, most find it very hard to make ends meet and are forced to take on part-time or even full-time jobs while they study.
The jobs market is now geared to this with employers siting call centres and such near universities to benefit from the cheap, non-unionised labour.
But the students suffer from trying to do too much. They spend their student years fighting exhaustion and anxiety. There is not much time for traditional student activities like having fun or political campaigning.
The traditional social life of young adults away from home for the first time does not exist for those who have to stay in the parental nest to make ends meet.
Their work suffers too. Working class students are distinguishable from their wealthier colleagues because their grades are lower, projects less likely to be handed in on time and so on because work and study are not easy to combine.
It is a very unequal struggle and working class students are daunted. They do drop out or fail to achieve their potential.
They are being betrayed by Labour politicians who themselves benefited from a proper grant system that enabled them to get where they are.
There are thousands of other working class pupils who never even contemplate going to university because they have been let down by an education system that does not have enough teachers.
Laura Spence has been accepted by Harvard University in America and probably has a bright future. But there are thousands of other young working class people whose talents and potential are being poured down the drain by the system and we are all the poorer for it.
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THERE is a new scramble for Africa going on among imperialist powers that is comparable to what was happening at the end of the 19th century, speakers told a meting in London last week.
The meeting was organised by the New Worker to honour Africa Liberation Day with invited speakers Explo Nani Kofi of the African Liberation Support Campaign, Hakim Adi of the African and Caribbean Progressive Study Group, Chris Coleman of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and New Communist Party general secretary Andy Brooks.
Explo Nani Kofi began by attacking the role of the capitalist press in spreading misinformation and covering up the truth of what is happening in many African struggles but in particular what is now happening in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.
"The capitalist press calls the tune and too many people who think of themselves as progressives are dancing to it" he warned.
He went on to give an account of his own experiences of living under neo-colonialism in Ghana. He saw political comrades who were active against capitalism incarcerated or even killed.
He was among those forced to find a way out of his home country -- though the governmentwas trying to shoot those trying to escape. This was done at the behest of the imperialist powers. Explo told the meeting that if he had not been forced into exile in Britain he would have been unaware of the existence of the working class movement here.
On Zimbabwe he cautioned against helping imperialist aims to divide the workers and peasants of that country.
The peasants and workers are united in reclaiming the land that was forcibly taken from them.
On Sierra Leone he said the motive of imperialists like Tony Blair was profit -- the arms trade and diamonds.
He called on progressives in Britain to recognise that working class and peasants throughout Africa have a vital leading role to play which should be supported.
"Africans need no interference to liberate themselves from neo-colonialism," he said.
Hakim described the blatant interference of imperialist organisations like the World Trade Organisation among sovereign African countries.
But he said the opposition to all this is growing. The recent demonstrations in Seattle and the City of London against capitalism are only the latest events in a long-running movement that has been fighting in Africa for many years.
He then gave a lengthy account of how the people of Zimbabwe were forcibly robbed of their land by British imperialist forces under the command of Cecil Rhodes.
Chris Coleman also warned against the new scramble for Africa and stressed the importance of combating imperialism here in one of its main homelands.
Andy Brooks supported this. He said it was not our job to interfere in how African people conducted their struggle for liberation but to support all, throughout the world, who make a stand against imperialism.
There followed an interesting discussion and a collection raised £135.
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by Steve Lawton
CERTAINTY is a rare commodity in Irish history. The twists and turns in the recent years of the peace process epitomise the way progress has so far defied everything thrown at it. It has stalled, taken a battering and looked like breaking down catastrophically many times. It still may, depending on how the British Government now proceeds.
Following the Ulster Unionist Party council's decision last Saturday to accept the IRA's decommissioning statement, devolved governing powers were restored to the Legislative Assembly at Stormont Castle, Eelfast. Though still far from business as usual, it does mean all parties to the process -- including the UUP and Sinn Fein -- will re-connect in addressing the daily political challenges.
But the Democratic Unionist Party, which has two seats on the 12-member Executive, remains "semi-detached", as Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams put it.
The IRA had said it would put weapons permanently beyond use in the context of the overall arms hand over, including British demilitarisation and on the basis of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The UUP vote has cleared the way for the political institutions, which were up and running seven months ago but suspended in February, to resume work for a second time.
David Trimble's recommendation as UUP leader and First Minister to support that IRA statement won the day by a close margin, bringing into sharper relief the persistentdivision in unionism as it comes under increased pressure. The 862-member council voted 459 to accept with 403 against (56 and 47 per cent respectively). The result was welcomed by US President Clinton.
Hardline unionist opposition therefore remains unrepentant. Given such a substantial vote against Trimble, fears have been prompted of a serious polarisation within unionism.
No doubt this is reflected in the heightened Loyalist paramilitary feuds. And they, of course, must also submit to the disarmament process. But that will only add up to a destabilising movement if the British government give them the opportunity to wreck the Agreement.
Gerty Adams said: "I met a rejectionist unionist in the hall [of Stormont Castle] and he said 'It won't last'. If that attitude is taken then our confidence is ill founded; but our confidence is in the people who voted for this agreement north and south and we cannot let their votes be foundered or undermined by those who resist change."
The British government having suspended the Assembly powers once until the IRA had made yet another unilateral concession, has clearly demonstrated its arrogance to both communities.
In its temporary, yet swift and arbitrary dismissal of the fledgling institutions, certain forces within the state are reminding everyone that it can take such decisive action whenever it deems it in its interests to do so. In part, this is the securocrat problem that Sinn Fein refer to.
The hard and long process required for cross-community development and reconciliation to take root is dependent upon the British Government sticking to the Good Friday Agreement. Both Sinn Fein and the unionists have gradually developed in many local ways a degree of cooperation on everyday issues. This is also reflected in north/south links and in the growing commercial interests in the north.
The heart of the long term issue is that the British state wants to make very sure there is no dominant political shift that challenges the social and economic basis of society in Ireland. That may seem, in any case, a long way off; but peoples re-united develop a new arsenal of knowledge for the future based on centuries awareness of their history to continue change, once that challenge has been taken up.
Nothing stands still. The momentum remains strong for a permanent settlement of the conflict which has deeply scarred the north of Ireland. Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said: "We want to build a future for everybody. The question is, are we up to it? I think we are. I think we can get this right." The first reconvened Executive gathers as we go to press.
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THE RESULTS of the sowing of crops contaminated with genetically modified seeds by mistake are deepening.
The Government has failed to either advise farmers to plough up the crops now in the ground or offer them compensation.
In Scotland, Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie has ruled out any Government compensation and told farmers they must sue the Canadian company, Advanta, that supplied the seeds for any costs they may incur.
This has led Jim Walker, the head of the National Farmers' Union in Scotland, to advise farmers to leave the crops growing until the Government clarifies the position on compensation.
Speaking for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Kevin Dunion said: "Yet more conflicting advice puts the environment at risk. Every additional day these illegal crops remain in the ground they pose a real and unnecessary risk to the environment.
"The seed crushers will not crush it and the supermarkets will not buy it. The only decision which will protect the environment is to plough these crops under."
Farmers fear that supermarkets will boycott any seed that may be contaminated and the whole disaster could cost them millions.
But there are far greater potential costs. Monsanto, the company that has pioneered these crops has recently discovered that GM soya -- widely used in all kinds of food products -- contains unexpected gene fragments.
There is no evidence that these in themselves are dangerous -- or that they are safe. What the evidence does show is that companies like Monsanto have no real idea what they are unleashing and cannot hope to control all the knock-on effects of what they are doing.
Another four-year study by Professor Hans Hinrich Kaatz, a leading German zoologist, has found that genes from GM crops can jump the species barrier to mutate.
He found that an alien gene used to modify oilseed rape has transferred to bacteria living in the digestive systems of bees.
This implies that such genes could transfer to the bacteria in our own insides. This could have an impact on the bacteria's role in helping the human body fight disease, aid digestion and facilitate blood clotting.
A year ago Dr Arpad Putzai published research which showed that eating GM potatoes damaged the stomach lining of rats but his work was fiercely attacked by scientists working for the GM companies and for the Government.
It could give rise to any number of totally new, mutated bacteria, some of which could be harmful.
Dr Mac-Wan Ho, a geneticist at the Open University, said: "These findings are very worrying and provide the first real evidence of what many have feared. Everybody is keen to exploit GM technology but nobody is looking at the risk of horizontal gene transfer.
"We are playing with genetic structures that existed for millions of years and the experiment is running out of control."
Scientists are now worried that if a gene which provides resistance to anti-biotics crosses from a GM crop to bacteria it would make many diseases impossible to treat.
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