Britain at the crossroads
The Democracy Platform of the Socialist Alliance has issued an alternative declaration for Respect
A crisis of representation
The mass opposition to the war in Iraq was a watershed in British politics. The Labour government took the country into an illegal war on false pretences. The real cost of this ill-considered adventure continues to mount up. Not only has there been a tragic loss of human life on all sides, and a massive waste of tax revenues, but the government has put the British people in the front line as a terrorist target. One of the casualties of this war has been the credibility of parliament. Britain's long-standing alliance with US imperialism, and Blair's secret commitment to Bush's plans for regime change in the Middle East, meant that war was inevitable long before it began. Parliament failed to represent the majority opposed to war, and failed to expose Blair's deception and manipulation of public opinion.
The opposition to the war led to a crisis for the government and the resignation of cabinet ministers. The biggest mass demonstration in our history reflected the fact that a majority were opposed to war. Yet this majority was unable to exercise any effective democratic accountability or democratic control over the government, civil service, security and armed forces. This has destroyed the illusions that many people had that Britain has a democratic system of government.
There is a crisis of representation at the heart of politics in Britain. The last general election saw the lowest turnout since universal suffrage was introduced. The war served to highlight this by drawing attention to the growing chasm between ordinary working people and the political establishment. A continuation of this situation provides opportunities for the far right and brings the danger of a more authoritarian state and a threat to civil liberties.
A new direction for Britain
We will continue down the same disastrous path unless and until the people take matters into their own hands. A failed parliamentary system and failed politicians offer no solution. The people themselves must decide the future direction of the country. This requires the kind of mass movement that was mobilised against the war, but which addresses the major democratic and social questions.
The first major question is whether the present weak and failing democracy will continue or whether the country can take a new, progressive, democratic direction. This would require us to establish a democratic, secular and republican system of government, in which power is in the hands of the people, and government is elected, accountable and subject to recall.
The second question concerns the inequalities and discrimination that keep the people of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales divided by nationality, race, sex, sexuality, or religion. The struggle for democracy and equality is about overcoming these divisions and creating greater unity and solidarity among the people of Britain. A new democratic constitution will help to secure our democratic freedoms and civil liberties and establish full equality for all citizens and the right of nations to self-determination.
The third major issue is the question of Britain's relationship with Europe and America, made transparent by the war. Britain is dominated by US foreign policy, its security and military interests and its multinational corporations. The present European Union bureaucracy does not provide an alternative. A democratic future for Britain is connected to the need to end the 'special relationship' with US imperialism and unite with the peoples of Europe to create a fully democratic and federal state.
The fourth major issue concerns the social conditions in which people live their lives. A redistribution of wealth is necessary to tackle the issues of poverty, housing, pensions, education and health. A more democratic system of government, an expanded public sector, along with the strengthening of trade union organisation, will greatly assist working people in tackling these problems.
As members of the Socialist Alliance we believe that the problems of war, peace, poverty and injustice require the abolition of global capitalism by socialism. The struggle for democracy is an integral part of the struggle for socialism. The defence and extension of democracy is therefore of fundamental importance in advancing the interests of the working class.
In the 2001 general election our candidates stood on the manifesto People before Profit for election as workers' MPs on a worker's wage. This programme combines demands for a democratic republic, for social change and internationalism. Whilst we do not think this programme answers all the problems, we believe that any genuine debate and decision-making to establish the Respect Unity Coalition must address all the demands of this programme.
For a democratic republic
* Abolish the monarchy, the House of Lords, the privy council and crown powers. * Establish fixed-term, democratic elections, based on proportional representation, and accountability of all elected officials and all MPs to their constituents. * Disestablish the churches of England and Scotland - for the complete separation of church and state, and the freedom to worship, or not, as we choose. * Self-determination to Scotland and Wales. * Self determination for the people of Ireland. * Abolish the lord chancellor's office - all judges to be elected and accountable.
For a free national legal service to ensure equal and effective access to justice for everyone. Establish the right to sue any official before a jury. * Disband special branch, the secret services and all surveillance agencies and operations.
For social change * Stop privatisation - renationalise the railways. * Tax the rich and big business to rebuild the welfare state. * For the right to work - 35-hour week now. * End discrimination - against racism, sexism and homophobia. * Repeal the anti-union laws. * Stop the sell-off of council homes - end homelessness. * Raise pensions and restore the link with earnings. * For a fully funded NHS - end privatisation and cuts. * Fully funded comprehensive education - no selection. * Raise the minimum wage to £7.40 an hour - the European decency threshold. * Scrap student tuition fees. * Free abortion and contraception on demand. * Stop the onslaught on civil rights.
For internationalism Save the planet - for tough action on pollution and food safety. * Cancel Third world debt. * Defend asylum-seekers and oppose all immigration controls. * British troops out of the Balkans, the Gulf and Ireland. * For workers' and socialist unity across Europe. * For a democratic and federal Europe based on working class solidarity and cooperation. * We neither advocate the euro nor defend the pound.
In order to build a society in which need comes before greed, we believe our economy must be reorganised on a radically democratic basis. By socialism we mean nothing like the old Stalinist Soviet Union, with its repression and bureaucracy. For us, socialism is about making solidarity the guiding principle of society. We mean the working class organising to liberate itself from the rule of profit and create its own democracy, abolishing the privileges of managers and officials. Every major industry should be reorganised on the lines of social provision for need - publicly owned, and democratically controlled by workers and the community. No rich and no poor, no profits and no wage-slavery, no palaces and no homeless, no jobless and no overworked!