The first bit of news filled the media for days on end and the tabloids devoted pages and pages to the pros and cons of the decision to drop Paul Gascoine from the team. There were even phone lines set up for readers to cast their "vote" on this weighty matter.
Undoubtedly, big football stars are far more colourful and entertaining than the dour Gordon Brown -- after all who would buy a season ticket to listen to weekly performances of economic speeches read by the Chancellor?
But be that as it may -- there is still more than a whiff of bread and circuses in the air. And this is because the Chancellor's news, however dryly it was presented, contained a broad hint that the next recession is not very far away and because the news is a kick in the teeth for public sector workers and the public at large who need the services they provide.
New Labour pundits are doing their best to argue that the continuing belt-tightening is necessary. They claim the alternative is a return to the cycle of boom and bust which they seem to attribute to a former Tory Chancellor, Nigel Lawson.
What rubbish this is. We carry no brief for Nigel Lawson, but he cannot be held solely responsible for causing cycles of boom and bust -- such ups and downs are inherent in the system of capitalism itself.
If it were true that the ills of recent years were just down to Tory incompetence and ill-conceived policies then the problems would have been peculiar to Britain alone.
Yet economic crises have afflicted the entire capitalist world. The problems may vary in intensity from country to country and the crises may strike at different times -- but none is left unscathed.
What is more, countries that for years were held up as shining examples of capitalist success are up to their necks in trouble. There was a time when British workers were expected to marvel at German technology, productivity, and economic success. Today there is growing unemployment in Germany and social spending is being slashed.
Japan and the so-called "tiger economies" of Asia were also held up as miracles of capitalism with flourishing industries, high productivity rates and booming economies. Today they are in the threes of severe economic crisis -- large banks have collapsed, unemployment has grown, inflation has soared and businesses are folding.
The former socialist countries have taken a sound beating since capitalism was restored. Many Russian workers don't get paid for weeks or months on end. People on fixed incomes have been forced to stand in the street selling their possessions, serious infectious diseases have returned, crime has soared and foreign capitalists are raiding these countries' natural resources. And all of this so that a minority of spivs, mafia bosses and self-serving politicians can become millionaires.
Gordon Brown may pretend these examples have nothing to do with us and he may suggest that everything is down to good management of the economy. But he must know that the forces driving capitalism cannot be held at bay just by having cleverer dicks in the Treasury. He knows recession will return.
He also knows full well that public spending is to be kept down to be in line with European Union policy.
As always with capitalist crisis, the working class are being made to suffer. The public sector workers are being expected to take wage restraint. The bosses will hope this has the effect of forcing all workers to accept lower wage rises and poorer conditions. And the health service, state education, local government and benefits will all be squeezed yet again.
We don't buy it Mr Brown. We're sick of holding our breath and tightening our belts. We want Britain's nurses to get decent pay, we want decent education for our young people, we want good pensions and benefits and we want an end to year-on-year cuts.
The working class didn't cause the economic crisis. We shouldn't have to pay for it. We say, let the rich pay for their own crisis through progressive taxation. If some thing's got to be cut then let it be the useless Trident nuclear weapons system.
The real problem is capitalism which serves only the wealthy few at the expense of the many. Socialism is the way ahead!
CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown last week announced that he intends to keep to harsh Tory-inspired limits on public spending for the whole length of this Parliament.
And the leaders of the major public sector trade unions have warned him this will drive workers out of teaching, nursing and other vital public services.
Labour was elected in May 1997 with a pledge to keep within the spending limits set by the previous Tory government and not raise taxes for its first two years in office.
This is just about the one election pledge the government has kept.
It has meant that its promises to cut classes sizes in schools and to cut NHS waiting lists have gone by the board.
Some extra money had been made avai lable for education and health butitisa drop in the ocean compared to the desperate needs.
Other public services like housing, the fire brigade, public transport and social services continue to face the same rounds of annual cuts they faced under the Tories. Only there is not much left to cut now.
Meanwhile the seriously rich have continued to enjoy the low tax life-style granted to them by the Tories.
Then last week Gordon Brown announced he would keep to these spending limits for at least five years.
He said: "Those who said that we would fail to show the necessary public discipline in public spending have been proved wrong.
"And discipline is not for one or two years but must be locked in and continuous so thatwe can build the platform of stability upon which prosperity depends."
We would ask who gets the prosperity and who gets the discipline? As ever the workers must pay for the privileges of the rich.
And Mr Brown told a recent London conference: "I am determined to ensure that we not only balance the current budget over the economic cycle but that we achieve current surpluses every year for the rest of the Parliament."
The Liberal Democrats have accused him of stashing away a "war chest" surplus of £50 bilLion to work some miracles in the run up to the next general election.
But Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public sector union Unison, pointed out to Mr Brown: "It is no use having a surplus if we still have long hospital waiting lists, large class sizes, and teachers, nurses and doctors voting with their feet by leaving the service."
He said his members would be disappointed that the government is voluntarily extending its predecessor's strait-jacket
"They don'twant massive pay levels or huge numbers of extra jobs created for the sake of if" he said. "They want a decent day's pay for a decent day's work and that means being able to carry on providing quality services to the public, who, of course, vote in elections."
National Union of Teachers general secretary Doug McAvoy added his voice: "This will come as a disappointment to teachers and parents who recognise shortages in our schools, particularly the need to recruit more teachers."
The latest figures show that public sector workers have had an increase in pay of only 2.6 percent since last year while private sector wages have risen 5.6 percent.
This produces a widening wage gap and an inducement for public sector workers to quit for the private sector.
And Left Labour MP Alan Simpson had a warning for Mr Brown: "Sticking
to dogma with tight monetarism is a dubious virtue for a Britain hovering
on the edge of recession. Before singing the praises of staying on course
and on time, We should remember that so was the Titanic."
Many campaigning pensioners see this as a divisive move but it is evidence that Labour is feeling the pressure from their efforts.
The government is still refusing to restore the link for the basic state pension that is paid to all those over retirement age.
The link was broken in 1979 -- one of Mrs Thatcher's first acts as Prime Minister. Since then the relative value of the basic state pension has been seriously eroded.
In 1979 it was worth 20 percent of average male earnings, now it is only worth 15 percent.
If its full value was restored to 1979 levels, single pensioners would get £86.60 a week rather than the £64.70 they get now. They would still be lower than most in Europe.
Now Labour ministers say that if the link was restored and backdated to 1980 it would cost the Treasury more than £7 billion.
So they are backing the proposal From the Pension Provision Group, set up last September to study the issue.
They will target the improvement on those they say need it most -- in other words it will be means tested. Income Support for pensioners will be earnings-related but the basic pensions won't be.
Yet the basic pension costs just 45 pence a week per person to administer while Income Support, which is means tested, costs £5.45 per week, per person to administer.
The money to restore the link for all pensioners could be found if only the Labour government would raise taxes for the super rich.
Economists estimate that abetishing the present ceiling on National Insurance contributions by the highest earners would raise an extra £4.05 billion a year.
Raising the top rate of income tax to 50 percent of earnings of more than £50,000 would raise £2.7 billion a year.
And raising the level of corporation tax from 31 percent to 34 percent (still below most industrial countries) would raise £4 billion a year.
But the government is trying to force most workers to take out private provision for their old age.
Last week it tried to allay public fears about the worst aspects of the private pensions industry by saying that its proposed system of "stake-holder" pensions will be provided through non-profit co-operatives.
In one suggestion welfare reform minister Frank Field said private pensions providers should form mutual structures.
He mentioned trade unions, friendly societies and even churches becoming involved.
And in another he said the big commercial firms could set up non-profit subsidiaries to do the job.
Who does he think he's kidding? Does he think that financial giants which exist only to make mega profits will do this unless there is something in it for them? They will charge for their services as pensions providers and administrators and the money will come out of the pensions.
And even the best intentioned co-operatives will still have to
operate within the market system. They will still be under threat of bankruptcy
if they don't obey the rules.
Private pensions will always be agamble, as the Maxwell pensioners discovered.
Today's workers need to be able to look forward to security in their old age. This can only be provided by restoring and maintaining the basic state pensions, guaranteed to all pensioners at a level which will allow them to live in comfort and dignity.
* Employers in more than a third of Britain's largest pension schemes last year granted themselves a contributions "holiday" because they calculated their funds had enough assets to meet normal pensions, according to a survey conducted by Incomes Data Services, a pay research body.
Employees of course were granted no such break.
In Pakistan jubilant crowds took to the streets when the news of the first tests was announced in Islamabad. Pakistani political leaders from all sides closed ranks with the Nawas Sharif government to defend the government's decision to go nuclear following the Indian provocations.
And in Delhi opposition parties from Congress to the left and the communists are furious at their own government's actions which have destroyed forty years of diplomacy and left India isolated in the region and the world.
India's ruling fascistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went out of its way to provoke Pakistan and China following the five Indian nuclear tests with hostile statements claiming that their move would deter a mythical Chinese threat and resolve the Kashmir crisis with Pakistan.
BJP Premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have believed that by provoking Pakistan into going nuclear it would diffuse the hostility -- not to mention the Western economic sanctions -- which followed his own tests. He must know realise how badly he has miscalculated.
India's old friends in the nonaligned movement have deserted her. The only support for the Indian bomb has been the pathetic endorsement by the Dalai Lama -- the exiled "God-King" of Tibet who Lives under Indian protection and the fanatical followers of the BJP -- a Hindu nationalist front representing the landowners, capitalists and high castes who want to make India a world power and think they can do it by throwing their weight around the region.
To their horror the response from the Big Five at the United Nations has been to raise the issue of Kashmir together with the question of the old UN call for a referendum in the province -- divided by India and Pakistan since 1947 -- an issue Delhi has successfully shelved in the past by claiming it has been subsumed by subsequent wars with Pakistan.
The Pakistani government has been quick to exploit the situation. Pakistani politicians are now elevating the "Islamic bomb" claiming that their country is a bastion against Indian expansion towards the Middle East and calling for Muslim and Arab solidarity. And for the moment they've got it.
India's old Arab friends, won during the decades of Congress rule under the Gandhi family, have been disgusted at India's stand -- a disgust based on a deep suspicion that India is secretly collaborating with Israel to make nuclear weapons.
Some Arab papers are already claiming that some of the Indian tests were covers to test Israeli nukes. And though this is unlikely it is a fact that Israel, which is also on the nuclear threshold, has still to test a bomb.
True or not Iran, the other non-Arab Muslim power in the region, has quick to mend its fences with Pakistan. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi was in Islamabad this week for talks planned before the nuke crisis blew up. Iran and Pakistan have been at loggerheads over Afghanistan with Tehran backing the resistance to the Pakistani sponsored Taliban regime.
This week those differences were put aside as Iran gave full backing to the Pakistani stance on the bomb. Pakistan, now bracing itself for the same sort of American sanctions imposed on India forgoing nuclear, will welcome oil-rich Iran's friendship. And the Iranians may hope to share some of Pakistan's nuclear know-how in return.
It's all bad news for Indian Premier Vajpayee, who is trying to
push through an anti-people budget while defending the series of blunders
and diplomatic disasters of a government just weeks into office. All the
opposition parties are rallying to try and break his coalition and bring
him down. If that fails, mass mobilisation for an early election seems
This continues to form the high-profile and volatile backdrop to campaigning now underway. And as the electioneering hots up, the political mathematics of PR will be key to how the nationalist-unionist relationship operates in the Assembly.
But the potential for wrecking the process is ever present. Last Saturday's junior Orange march through nationalist Portadown led to familiar battles with the RUC and the British Army on the Gervaghy Road, leaving dozens injured. Thirty plastic bullets had been fired.
Sinn Fein's north Belfast representative Gerry Kelly, accused the RUC of baton charging protesters and considered the Parades Commission decision to allow the provocative route of the march "incomprehensible, especially considering the present climate". The main Drumcree march through the area is expected in five weeks time.
But while this will strengthen the need to find a resolution of the conflict, RUC chief Flanagan has suggested that the three nationalist groups which have rejected the deal -- Continuity IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and the recently formed True IRA -- are about to merge under one command.
He said: "I think there is intelligence to indicate a coalescence,
if you like, of dissident groups, and they pose a real threat." Even so,
he said the Garda had so far been successful in intercepting their actions.
The point, of course, is that if there is no real progress in addressing the key nationalist concems the conditions will encourage a directly expressed anger at the lack of change. The RUC, after all, need few opportunities to argue why they should remain intact in such circumstances.
That adds urgency to Sinn Fein's demand that the RUC be disbanded. It is now subject to a new Policing Commission, headed by former northern Ireland minister and Hona Kong Governor Chris Patten, which intends a "reform" of the service -- something Flanagan welcomes but republicans and nationalists see as likely to be cosmetic.
In that context, and the wider British military occupation that still shows no real sign of demilitarising and provides the ground force which enables loyalist paramilitaries to exist,Sinn Fein are determined that decommissioning will not be a one-sided operation.
Party president Gerry Adams has voiced clear concerns that the British government risks scuppering the Good Friday Agreement if it kow-tows to unionist diktat.
He warned: "It is frankly worrying that since the document was signed, there are already signs that the British government is buckling under unionist pressure to depart from what was agreed at Stormont. This appears to be taking place in regard to what is called decommissioning."
Emerging from a meeting last Tuesday,with British Premier Blair and leaders of the 10 political parties to the Stormont talks, Gerry Adams said he had been assured there were no preconditions. He said: "If we receive a mandate, we expect to take our positions both in the Assembly and in the executive and in the all-Ireland cross-border bodies."
Sinn Fein's electoral gains at the community level continue. And
whereas the Party has been prevented by a unionist veto from taking top
posts -- this is changing: for instance, Omagh district council elected
its first Sinn Fein chairman for 10 years and, significantly, Derry council
has elected a Sinn Fein deputy mayor supported by the SDLP -- the first
ever civic office held by Sinn Fein.