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A nineteen year old with a camera in rural Norfolk. http://rosajoy.com

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Why not vote Lib Dem?

A slightly-adapted piece from the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists.

Why not vote Lib-Dem? Because, although they are more left-wing than New Labour on some issues, they are fundamentally, deep in their bones, a junior party of big business.

Lib-Dem spokespeople have demanded powers for Government to ban strikes in "key national services and infrastructure" and impose "compulsory binding arbitration" on rail workers, postal workers, telecom workers, firefighters, etc. During the BA cabin crew dispute, Lib-Dem leaders denounced Labour as "in hock to militant unions". When Simon Hughes, the "left-winger" among top Lib-Dems, ran for mayor of London, he claimed that if elected he would "see off" the Tube workers' union, the RMT.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been leading members of the "Orange Book" group in the Lib-Dems, named after a book they put out in 2004 which argued, among other things, for scrapping the NHS and replacing it with a system of "social insurance" (like BUPA, but run by the government, with compulsory enrolment).

The Lib-Dems opposed the creation of a National Minimum Wage. They think that "Government needs to impose far fewer burdens on the business community", and say New Labour isn't pro-business enough.

On cuts, the Lib-Dems have tried to place themselves halfway between Labour and the Tories. They want bigger cuts (like the Tories), but (like Labour) only after a delay. They cite the 1990s Liberal government in Canada as the model of how to deal with budget crises. That Liberal government, in 1993-8, responded to a crisis in which Canada's credit ratings had fallen in global markets. It slashed public expenditure by a fifth. Some 23% of public servants (45,000 jobs) were made redundant. Business and agricultural subsidies were cut by 40%-60%. The transport and science budgets were halved, and some ministries were abolished altogether.

The Lib-Dems' record in local government is also a test. For example, they lead Leeds council. They have been in a coalition administration with the Tories and Greens since 2004. Leeds has gone from one Academy school to three, with two more now being proposed. The council cabinet member for education is a Lib-Dem.

In 2009 the council's pay review left up to 3,500 bin workers and street cleaners facing cuts in pay which would also hit their pensions. The cuts varied from £3,000 a year to £6,000 a year. Some people faced the threat of losing their mortgages and homes. Only resistance from the workers' unions, the GMB and Unison, forced the council to reach an agreement which saw all but fifteen of these workers lose no pay. The council leader throughout the bin dispute was Richard Brett, a Lib-Dem.

The Lib-Dems are to the left of New Labour on some important issues. They are against the Trident replacement (though they want to continue Britain's nuclear arsenal: they just say they could find some, unstated, cheaper way to do so). They are for an amnesty for "illegal" immigrants settled here (though not for any substantive easing of Britain's restrictive and racist immigrant and asylum laws). They have opposed New Labour's restrictions on civil liberties in the name of "anti-terrorism", and opposed ID cards.

Some of the Lib-Dem surge reflects a real desire among votes for more leftish politics. But workers' and union rights, and public services, are central issues. Without workers' rights, all other rights decay. Once you know the Lib-Dems' record on these issues, you see they are no alternative.

A real working-class alternative to New Labour can be built only from within the labour movement, from the grass-roots organisations of the working class. Since the main unions are still affiliated and have a say within the Labour Party, that also means, partly, from within the Labour Party.

The Lib-Dems have no base that can be mobilised against the leadership to create the elements of a new alternative. Even the currently weak left wing within the Labour Party - trade unionists, MPs like John McDonnell and others, and many Constituency Labour Party activists - looks positively formidable in comparison to any "left" in the Lib-Dems. And it has a social base from which activists can build something powerful.

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