Labour on capitalist offensive

Most people have very few illusions in what a Labour government would deliver. The Labour leaders, far from promising the earth, are simply vying with the Tories to prove that big business will be safe in its hands. They are laying down the message that any gains given to workers with the one hand will be snatched back with the other.

Take last week’s ‘attack on inequality’ by Gordon Brown, the shadow chancellor. He proposed to provide an extra £700 million a year funding to boost education opportunities for the ‘disadvantaged’. But where would the money come from? From ending all child benefit payments to full-time school and college students between 16 and 18.

At present benefit is paid at the rate of £10.80 a week for the first child and £8.80 for subsequent children. Playing his populist card, Brown asked why the parents of boys at Eton should receive this payment while it was denied to families whose children had been forced to go out to work.

But eating into child benefit is an attack on working class families. It is paid as of right and is seen as a source of regular income by millions. As a result, the Tories and Liberal Democrats were able to attack Labour’s proposals from the left. Peter Lilley, the secretary of state for social security, correctly stated that they would discourage young people from staying in education.

It is of course easy to point to Lilley’s incredible hypocrisy. Just a couple of days earlier he was denying the very existence of poverty in Britain. According to him, “Government policies have continued to increase the prosperity of the population as a whole.”

A report from the Child Poverty Action Group demonstrated how one in three children are growing up in poverty and the poorest 10% of the population have seen their incomes drop by 18% in real terms since 1979. Simultaneously, Centrepoint, the homeless charity, pointed to the fact that 80% of homeless young people are forced to leave home by parents who can no longer cope with their own no-hope degradation.

Yet more and more of the bottom 20% own a fridge, a video, a car, even a telephone, declares Lilley - as if the mere possession of these items will alone relieve workers’ oppression. If the fridge is often empty or contains nothing but second-rate pre-packaged foods; if the video is used only to play third-rate ‘entertainment’; if the car is used - out of necessity - only to take the wage-earner to and from the workplace; is it any wonder that workers are not rushing to thank the Tories? The everyday struggle to make ends meet goes on. A holiday, a school trip, sporting or cultural activities are still out of the question.

Alan Fox