George Osborne’s Budget tells us nothing new about the Chancellor or the government. It represents if anything an acceleration of the Conservative programme to transfer wealth from working people to the rich and to abolish or marketise the public sector.
Following an attack on the tax credits of 800,000 poorly paid workers on Monday, the Chancellor is now set to take billions from the pockets of disabled people with through slashing personal independence payments within weeks of the decision to cut employment support allowances by £30 a week.
These attacks on some of Britain’s most vulnerable are evidently not because the money is running out, since the Budget was packed with giveaways for big business.
Corporation tax is to be cut to 17 per cent by 2020 even though the UK’s 20% rate is already the lowest in the entire G20. Osborne’s supposed willingness to introduce measures to clamp down on tax avoidance by transnational firms will hardly make up for this largesse if his record on Google is anything to go by.
Capital gains tax is also to be cut — the headline rate from 28 per cent to 20 per cent and the basic rate from 18 to 10 per cent in another bonanza for the richest.
Business rates are to fall, with calculations switched from CPI inflation to RPI inflation, and Osborne says he will continue his attack on local government funding with “all council funds to be raised locally.” How councils will make up for the resulting losses without far greater revenue raising powers is not mentioned — because they won’t. Cue more bed-blocking in hospitals as elderly patients cannot be safely released due to gutted local care services, more library and youth club closures, more women’s refuge closures — the further destruction of communities across the country.
The great ideological experiment rolls on. From outlawing ethical investment by local authorities to gerrymandering parliamentary constituencies to attacking opposition funding and seeking to cripple trade unions, this government is dismantling democracy. So it is unsurprising to find a draconian determination to force all schools in the country to become academies, a move the prime minister has the gall to defend as giving parents greater choice even when confronted in Parliament with cases where parents voted to prevent this shift.
There remains no evidence whatsoever that academies raise academic standards. Academisation is about the marketisation of education by removing schools from democratic accountability and exempting their staff from nationally agreed bargaining structures. News that schools will now be made to bid against each other for funds to provide extracurricular sporting and artistic activities entrenches a politics of competition which will divide communities and let down the children of working-class families.
This is what we have come to expect. But if the “same old Tories” mantra still applies British politics has changed.
This was the first Osborne Budget to be answered by a socialist leader of the Labour Party. Labour’s rejection of the entire austerity programme today stood in stark contrast to five years of mixed messages over the lifetime of the coalition government.
The developments of Labour economic policy over recent months and weeks has seen a renewed emphasis on public and co-operative ownership.
And John McDonnell’s fiscal rule, while clearly an act of positioning to challenge Tory myths that Labour spending broke the economy, allows the party to move beyond Keynesian inspired sticking plasters and to look at the fundamental causes of injustices and inequalities in the British economy — which are not about how much money we have but about who’s got it.
The Labour leadership remains fragile, with significant hostility within the PLP, and the labour movement has yet to understand the scale of the task that faces it — or the severity of the consequences if it fails.
Unnecessarily divisive attacks on Corbyn from sections within the labour movement illustrate that some long for a return to “business as usual” — indicating a failure to grasp that only a radical challenge to the failed neoliberal consensus stands a chance of reversing Labour’s decline.
Corbyn’s defeat could mean permanent irrelevance for Labour, whilst the Tory's are using all aspects of the capitalist state to permanently hobble and destroy the labour movement.
On a broader scale, delusions about the nature of the European Union indicate an unwillingness to face the reality of an institution which is tearing up workers’ rights across a continent. Many rights supposedly enshrined by the EU have already been rendered worthless by successive judgements of the ECJ, and those that remain are unlikely to last. There will be only two options on the ballot paper in June to leave or remain within an EU that daily displays contempt for workers and their rights across Europe.
Worries about jobs and trade are understandable, but to use these as reasons to stay in an EU busily negotiating a trade deal that the EU’s own impact assessment says will cost over a million jobs while subordinating all our governments to secretive corporate courts borders on the absurd.
A deep-seated pessimism which believes working people are incapable of fighting and winning ever again, combined with a fatalistic belief that Britain is bound to permanently elect right-wing governments, are the key reasons for europhilia in the organised working class.
This timidity also lies at the heart of scepticism over the chances that Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist upheaval in the Labour Party can bring about the transformative social change that this country is crying out for.
Communists may not need to do much work to encourage pessimism of the labour movement intellect, but we have a big job ahead of us in terms of optimism of the will.
Our party must be at the heart of community struggles to resist the austerity of Osborne and that means at the heart of the People’s Assembly, which must become the street wing of a labour movement that recognises the true potential of the Corbyn revolution.
We must mobilise cadres from all over the country for theApril 16th demonstration and ensure that Communists play their part in ensuring a positive showing for Labour in the May elections acts as a springboard for further left advance.