|The keyword that is being put out by Brown himself and echoed backwards and forwards is “change”. For most of us, however, it amounts to a lot of noise about nothing.
Brown is now Prime Minister, but the British monopoly capitalist ruling class is still in charge – no change there. Brown’s task, like that of Blair before him and all preceding Tory and Labour prime ministers, is to steer the ship on behalf of the masters.
When Blair became Prime Minister there were two very important tasks that he had to perform for the ruling class, tasks which they clearly believed he was better able to take on as a Labour prime minister than could his Conservative counterpart. These were to dismantle the welfare state and consolidate Britain’s position in the EU, particularly adopting the Euro.
Dismantling the welfare state
The first of these was to be a gradual process; too much too soon would have caused a perhaps unmanageable reaction from British workers. Over the last 10 years, Blair has made substantial progress handing over to private hands those parts of Britain’s social services, well primed with government spending, from which the bourgeoisie could make profits. He was ably abetted by his then Chancellor, Gordon Brown.
He was also ably abetted by the labour aristocrats of the trade-union leadership, who refused to take any effective stand against these attacks, arguing as usual that to make life too difficult for Labour would only open the door for the Tories, who, according to them, would be worse. They cannot, however, show how the Tories could in the current circumstances serve British imperialism any better and make life any worse for the working class. These despicable labour aristocrats are equally servants of imperialism.
We must not forget the role of the left wing of social democracy – the Trotskyites and revisionists. For all their revolutionary-sounding phrase mongering, they too serve imperialism by trying to corral those who are disillusioned with the system, including those who are disillusioned with the Labour party, and steer them into support for imperialism by deflecting them from rocking the boat for that arch servant of imperialism, the Labour party.
The task of joining the Euro has been more complicated. There were, without doubt, different opinions among the big monopoly capitalists. Those who saw their best advantage in continuing to ally more strongly with the US prevailed, particularly in the context of the US intention to secure control of potential pipelines through Afghanistan from the Caspian and control of middle-eastern oil by dominating Iraq. Hence British participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq,
The problem now is that Anglo-American imperialism has suffered a resounding military defeat in Iraq and Britain may need to get out – in actual fact, is being forced out. In addition to this, British imperialism has not received as much of the loot as was hoped for. All the lucrative ‘reconstruction’ contracts have been awarded by the US to US companies; only some of the so-called ‘security contracts’, ie, contracts for private mercenary armies, have gone to British outfits. Oil revenues are much lower than hoped for, with the Iraqi resistance making sure that oil production and transport is kept low. As a result, the signs are that the pro-European section of the bourgeoisie is moving into the ascendancy, pressing for moves towards closer political and economic integration of Britain with the rest of the European Union.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
So, what changes will Gordon Brown bring? All the ‘change’ he has made such a fuss about amounts to little more than rearranging the window display. He has talked about constitutional reform, but that will amount to little more than cabinet meetings and parliament being allowed a vote on some issues – that has not bothered the bourgeoisie much in the past. He announces a review of the NHS, but continues with privatisation. There are vague promises about more house building, but it is unlikely to be nearly enough, and few of those who desperately need homes will be able to actually afford the so-called ‘affordable’ housing. The privatisation of what used to be council housing will continue, preparing the ground for less secure tenancies and massive hikes in rent. Meanwhile, some tinkering with the procedures for bidding for school academies will not stop their expansion, and announcing some limited extension to student grants while the charging of tuition fees continues and preparations are made for lifting the cap on them is going to do little to promote free education for all.
These ‘changes’ actually spell more of the same. Brown has done a good job for the imperialist bourgeoisie in managing the economy in their best interests; he has done very little for the working class except force the tightening of their belts. We can expect that to continue under his tenure as Prime Minister. If anyone has any doubt, look at the Cabinet and advisers he has installed, including Digby Jones, ex-head of the Confederation of British Industry, and Damon Buffini, head of a private equity company.
The only real change, and one which Brown has not trumpeted, is that he is in a better position to be more flexible on the conduct of the war against Iraq. Blair had so identified himself with the invasion and the occupation by his bellicose, sanctimonious warmongering utterances that for him to pull troops out would be a huge loss of face, while for him to have done that as Prime Minister would be damaging not only for the government but for the whole establishment.
Blair was clearly not the man for the job of withdrawal from Iraq; in the circumstance, it was prudent for imperialism to install a different leader. It would have been a very difficult task for any Conservative party leader. It is clear that Brown is seen to fit the bill very well. He gave all the necessary Treasury support for war, but kept a low personal profile.
The truth is that Blair took Britain into the Iraq war (and the wars against Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and so on) at the behest of the British bourgeoisie. It was not because he wanted to ‘suck up’ to George Bush, nor was it some kind of madness; it was cold calculation that this was the best way to pursue the interests of British monopoly capitalism. If the continuation of war is seen to continue to pursue those interests, Brown will continue to wage it, even in the face of defeat at the hands of the resistance. If that defeat forces withdrawal of troops, Brown will do that too, no doubt with asides about the irresponsibility of Blair to send them in! The fact will remain that it was British monopoly capitalism that sent troops in, and British monopoly capitalism that, defeated, will be withdrawing them.
Tory or Labour?
How, then, can we account for the apparent popularity of Gordon Brown and the decline in ratings for David Cameron? It is likely that previous relatively favourable media portrayal of Cameron was instigated by the big bourgeoisie in order to convince Blair that his sell-by date had arrived. Now that Brown is Prime Minister, he, for the reasons given above, is receiving the favourable media coverage, while Cameron, less useful to the bourgeoisie for the moment, is being unceremoniously dumped. The media sets the tone, and it is the way that Brown is portrayed in the media that has produced his favourable poll ratings, rather than some spontaneous popularity that the media just happens to be reporting on. We are, of course, supposed to believe the latter – that Brown is the democratic choice of the ordinary working people. In reality, he is the favourite of monopoly capitalism, ‘democratically’ decided upon by the big bourgeoisie – among themselves, such is bourgeois democracy!
Pathetic efforts to revive Labour’s credibility
And who comes along to throw up a smokescreen in an attempt to disorientate workers who are grasping the truth about what is happening? It’s John McDonnell, writing in the Morning Star, among other platforms. Is he pointing out the impossibility of penetrating the Labour party machine with genuine working-class politics? No. Is he announcing his resignation from a party of which he seemed to be so critical in his campaign for leadership, and which is clearly set to continue in those ways? No. To have done that would be honourable. He does point out what he calls ‘inadequate’ changes that Gordon Brown has announced – the so-called changes which we have referred to above.
On the question of Iraq, McDonnell merely complains that Brown is not really breaking with Bush, saying “withdrawal is only on the agenda because the dangerous chaos created by the invasion by US and Britain is beginning to force them out”. Yes chaos for the Iraqi people was certainly created by the invasion, but why cannot McDonnell bear to admit that it is the victory of the Iraqi resistance that is threatening to force withdrawal? The truth is that he is not in favour of defeat for British imperialism.
No, he must continue to beg for support for the Labour party, that faithful servant of imperialism. That is why, having listed his criticisms, even if muted, he concludes: “The role of the left must be to welcome these announcements of ‘change’, but to demand it for real. Policy by policy we must set an alternative agenda. The novelty of a new prime minister pronouncing change may well provide an initial bounce of support, but, unless there is real difference, disillusionment will inevitably set in.”
McDonnell is doing his best to head off disillusionment in the Labour party when the only honest thing to do would be to encourage it. He knows that real difference is not on the cards. He also knows that it will be impossible to establish any alternative agenda that genuinely serves the proletariat while remaining hamstrung within the Labour party. His job, in spite of the rhetoric, is to pretend otherwise.
It is not just the leadership that remains unchanged. From Gordon Brown to John McDonnell, when the dust is settled, it is service to imperialism as usual.