Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Brown is the new blue
It's funny what people will delude themselves into believing. Ever since the Tories were booted out of office back in 1997, a myth has persisted that a Brown premiership will somehow represent some sort of break with Blairism. An entire industry seems to have been created by the British media dedicated to analysing "codewords" uttered by Brown which reveal his supposed real intentions when (if) elected. A coalition of so-called "Brownites" has long argued that Brown's leadership will represent a real change - either because of naivety, sycophancy or desperation.
You've got to pity Brown. What does the co-founder of New Labour have to do to convince people that he is wedded to the same neo-liberal, pro-war agenda as Blair? Brown himself is more than happy to brag about. Take this quote boasting about his neo-liberal credentials:
"I have introduced most of the Private Finance Initiative, sold off air traffic control, made a controversial decision on the London Underground, set up the Gershon review to sack or make redundant 80,000 civil servants, made the Bank of England independent and introduced the most widespread competition reforms this country has ever seen."
Indeed, Brown is the architect of New Labour's privatisation agenda. Last year, Brown announced a £26bn expansion of PFI across 200 public sector projects. It's PFI that has allowed private contractors to milk our public services dry. Even before the current crisis, PFI was ravaging the NHS: the first wave of PFI schools suffered bed reductions averaging 30% and staffing level cuts of 25%.
The "contoversial decision on the London Underground" was the disastrous decision to part-privatise it. As he boasted, it was his initiative to massacre civil servant jobs - a decision he announced to Parliament without any consultation with the workers he was sacking.
In the one major policy dispute between Blair and Brown since 1997 - over pensions - Brown attacked Blair from the right. While even Blair pledged support for the proposal to re-establish the link between earnings and pensions (granted that this was along with a rise in the retirement age), Brown opposed the policy on grounds of “affordability”. Despite an eventual agreement between them, which allowed the Government to announce its response to Turner, there is widespread suspicion that Brown will renege on the supposed deal as soon as he is installed in Number 10.
Since his pledge last year to run a Blairite administration if he becomes party leader, Brown has veered to the right with increasing confidence. He supports another attempt to introduce de facto internment through 90 days detention. He has made it known that he is willing to review the £3,000 cap on annual tuition fees for students – which, if lifted, would open the floodgates to an internal market in higher education.
Last year he echoed Margaret Thatcher’s call for a “property-owning democracy” when he described his vision to “build a home-owning, asset-owning democracy.” No wonder the Washington Post on 14th May said to him bluntly: “You don’t sound like the socialist you are portrayed to be.” His response was clear: “I’m a free trader. I’m pro-open markets,” adding that “the economy that I admire most is the American economy.” This echoed many earlier comments in which Brown has professed his admiration for what he regards as the more entrepreneurial US economy while repeatedly calling for Europe to “adjust its social model to combine flexibility with fairness” through “wholesale economic reform.”
There are sinister signs that Brown is willing to pander to racist prejudices in order to win power. As well as some of the empty jingoistic policies he has floated, such as the establishment of a ‘British day’, he argued on Radio 4’s Today that “people who come into this country, who are part of our community, should play by the rules. I think learning English is part of that… I would insist on large numbers of people who have refused to learn our language that they must do so.”
And, of course, Brown is committed to wasting £25bn on Trident. Not only did he wholeheartedly support the war in Iraq, but he also committed Britain to yet more American-led wars - while in the same breath claiming Gandhi as one of his chief inspirations.
It's clear that the notion Brown will represent any shift to the left is, frankly, wacky at best. A vote for Brown will mean a vote for more privatisation, more wars, and more cuts. That's why I'm proud that SYN unanimously backed John McDonnell's campaign for the leadership. Indeed, a vote for John will be a vote for peace, workers' rights, free education, and publicly-funded democratically run public services.
It's time those in the labour movement still backing Brown to decide whether they're happy voting for a candidate who opposes Labour party and trade union policies - or a candidate who has spent his entire political career campaigning for those policies. So, who's it going to be?