The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 7th April 2006




Condoleezza Rice not welcome

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Lead

BLAIR & BROWN BOTH BAD NEWS

by Daphne Liddle

LORD
Turner last week delivered his long awaited report on Britain’s pensions crisis and sparked a battle of wills between Chancellor Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

By Wednesday it seemed as though Brown had backed down as was prepared to accept 95 per cent of the Turner report’s recommendations – but whichever of them wins, working  people are going to face a bleak future in retirement.

The report recommends raising the real level of the basic state pension and restoring the link with average earnings in order to reduce the necessity for means-tested top-ups.

 But the pension level would still, on average, be only 17 per cent of a retiree’s final salary – not enough to live on so some means-tested top-ups will remain.

 The pension age would be raised gradually to 69 by 2020; everyone will have to pay more taxes to fund the higher state pension. Pension spending is expected to rise from the current 6.2 per cent of gross domestic product to 7.5 per cent by 2050.

 Employers will be obliged to take part in a new private National Pensions Saving Scheme (NPSS). Workers will be automatically enrolled in it but they do have a choice to opt out.

 Those employers who already operate a more generous pension scheme will be exempted – though it is expected that most employers will cut back to minimum standards.
 
cost too much

Brown would have preferred not to restore the link between pensions and earnings and to rely on means-tested pension credits to help the poorest. His main complaint was that it would cost too much. He was also opposed to raising direct taxes to pay for the state pension.

  Since only 42 per cent of the working age population are currently able to save anything for their retirement, it seems that whatever happens, an awful lot of pensioners will be relying on the basic state pension and the means-tested benefits.

 The battle over the Turner report came after a week of frustration for Brown as Blair claimed he needed to remain in the premiership for at least another two years to complete his agenda of proposed changes.

 We also saw two ardent Blairites, former Cabinet Ministers Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers, warning that Brown would not automatically succeed Blair. There were claims that Brown had withdrawn a £200 council tax discount for pensioners in order to damage Blair in the coming local elections.

 This was followed by news from Peter Hain that Blair and Brown were “at odds” and a call from Ashok Kumar, a parliamentary aide to International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, for Blair to step aside quickly to make way for Brown. Hilary Benn then dissociated himself from this call.

 Next we heard that Blair had axed Brown from the party’s campaign launch for the 4th May local elections.

 The following day we heard that Brown and Blair would present a united front at the launch – to refute claims of a deepening rift between them.

 The truth is that rank and file Labour members and the population in general are getting more and more exasperated with the Blair-Brown infighting. Both of them are bad news for working class interests.

 It was in this atmosphere that the Labour Representation Committee warned that Brown cannot count on an automatic move into Blair’s shoes and that the chronic under-funding of pensions is likely to lead to a serious leadership challenge. Let’s hope it does.
 
Labour is not expected to do well in the coming local elections and there is a growing clamour for Blair to step down. The “loans for peerages” scandal continues to rumble on and the police are now officially investigating corruption claims.

 The NHS financial crisis and jobs massacre is also continuing but both Blair and Brown seem intent on pressing on with further private sector involvement in health and education.

 Repressive measures like the anti-terrorism Acts, the Identity Cards Bill and a new secret police force are coming thick and fast.

 And the death toll in Iraq is still rising. Over a hundred British troops have died and the number injured or taken ill on active service in occupied Iraq now totals 6,700. This is nearly as many as the total number of British troops currently stationed there. Of those casualties, around two thirds have been injured badly enough to have to be sent home to Britain.

 Blair and Brown are as bad as each other – they must both go to make way for a more principled Labour leader. Only the trade unions and the parliamentary Labour Party have the power to boot them out. For the sake of the Labour Party, the country and world peace they must act now.

 *************
Editorial

New war on terror or old class war?

IN THE SAME week that Home Secretary Charles Clarke launched the new Serious and Organised Crime Agency, his colleague, Defence Secretary John Reid, called for the withdrawal of the Geneva conventions. In a speech last Monday, Reid claimed that the Geneva conventions get in the way of the treatment of prisoners; they prevent pre-emptive strikes and hamper intervention “to stop a humanitarian crisis”. And these are things that the world’s great powers claim they need to do these days in a changing world to deal with the threat of international terrorists.

 It’s all down to Bush’s myth of the “war on terror” a war that can never end because it cannot be properly defined – a war that can mean whatever you want it to mean and that you can wage on and on until all opposition to US imperialism anywhere in the world is wiped out.

 When Reid speaks of terrorists, he means people fighting on behalf of poor countries, resisting the onslaught of imperialism by whatever means they can. He does not literally mean those who terrorise civilian populations because the governments of the United States and Britain would be the guiltiest in history.

 Reid is speaking for both Blair and Bush who are now embarrassed at the international condemnation they are attracting after the illegal invasion of Iraq, the torture camps at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and many other places – and the future breaches of the Geneva conventions that Bush and Blair are planning against Iran.

 Terrorism is nothing new. The people who drew up the Geneva conventions were well acquainted with violence and horror and terrorism in all its forms. The conventions were an agreement among the world’s powers to limit gratuitous violence and aggression, stem tit-for-tat atrocities and set some ground rules for the treatment of prisoners of war and civilian populations in time of war. They were formulated by bourgeois liberal idealists on an if-we-don’t-do-it-to-you-then-you-won’t-do-it-to-us basis. They were always limited in scope and likely to be ignored when they got in the way of rampant imperialism.

 Reid is calling for all restraints which defend the poor and the weak against the rich and powerful to be scrapped with the excuse that people who oppose imperialism can now communicate with computers and mobile phones. So what! That is a very thin excuse.

 Back in Britain, the new Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) is supposed to “make life hell” for the country’s most sophisticated and brutal criminals – to combat the traffickers of drugs and people. It has been described as Britain’s version of the FBI – but a couple of years ago that description was applied to the National Criminal Intelligence Service – which is now to be merged into Soca, along with the National Crime Squad, senior officers from Customs, from the immigration service and from the intelligence services. Soca will be headed by former MI5 chief Stephen Lander.

 The Police Federation has expressed concern that Soca is not a police organisation but it will be equipped with police powers. It blurs the boundaries between many different services and blurs accountability and, according to Blair, it will adopt a “what works” philosophy to disrupt criminal networks.

 When they say it is Britain’s version of the FBI, we should remember that the FBI was set up to combat organised crime yet, in its first decades, ignored the Mafia in America to wage war on communism and socialism.

 We should also remember the situation in the occupied north of Ireland where British state forces operating included the RUC, the British Army, the Special Branch, MI5, MI6, army intelligence and others. It led to rivalry, infighting, confusion and a loss of accountability. It created the situation where collusion was possible – the passing of British intelligence files on Sinn Féin supporters was passed to loyalist death squads – a shoot-to-kill by proxy policy. Long Kesh paved the way for Guantanamo and Belmarsh. Was collusion just a pilot run for policing in Britain?

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