Home > General Politics, Labour Party News > Budget 2009: A crisis gone to waste

Budget 2009: A crisis gone to waste

Credit where it’s due, Rahm Emmanuel masterfully pinched the jam-tomorrow glee of some nuttier revolutionaries when he said, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste, they are opportunities to do big things.” That is precisely what Alistair Darling has done with the new budget. The crisis has gone to waste as the clock runs down on a Labour term of office. No mighty reforms to banking, more of the same tokenistic gestures (e.g. the £200 million to be raised by a 50% income tax band) and little else.

I’m probably being a bit too harsh, since there were some very helpful measures included – on pensioners, retraining for employment and on the carers of young people – but delivered with brevity and solemnity amid the jeers from the opposition benches, a 2009 “People’s Budget” it was not. There was no watershed moment, excepting that the Labour leadership published a headline grabbing tax band whilst extending corporate subsidies through tax relief on profits for the last three years, without tying that to a promise to keep workers in jobs.

On the other hand, I’m watching people like Iain Dale getting away with calling even these limited measures reminiscent of Denis Healey’s “tax them til the pips squeak” moment. There’ll be more in a minute on Dale’s branding of Labourites as a “happy little band of envy warriors”, but in the meantime, it should be painfully clear to even the Newest of New Labourites that the leadership has lost direction and focus. This is not to do with the individuals – it’s to do with an equivocation caused by NuLab’s realisation that they’ve been essentially abandoned.

By Labour activists, by the working class, by the wealthy (to whom New Labour offered so many anti-tax or PFI carrots) and by history.

Before the budget was announced, John Band made a good joke over at Liberal Conspiracy by saying that now is the time for socialists to rejoin Labour. I damn near looked at the calendar to see if it was April 1st. The Labour Party’s internal democracy is corrupt (as if we needed Alice Mahon’s resignation letter, Erith & Thamesmead, or Calder Valley, to prove that!). The membership has been depoliticized; however abandoned Brown may be, there are still members touting David bloody Miliband or some other cabinet figures perceived as ‘more left.’

With its token populism, this budget has demonstrated that Labour’s leadership has not the inclination to turn back the clock on Labour policies. What it hasn’t demonstrated is that Labour’s leadership has lost control of the Party – in fact, it hasn’t. The same student hackery, the same policy wonkery, the same endless carousel of circle-jerking junkets is still going to produce leadership figures because it still has iron controls over parliamentary selection and over a marketing machine that invalidates internal democracy – and Conference is toothless besides.

This is why Iain Dale is so wrong; the people he might regard as “envy warriors” have nothing to be envious of, since they are themselves often rich, of an Oxbridge education and decidedly not in favour of thorough-going measures of redistribution and progressive taxation.

The people in charge of Labour are champagne socialists and their control is nigh unshakeable. No leadership battle, no economic crisis is going to change just how far individuals can get by knowing the right people and mouthing the right platitudes within the Labour Party. As the NEC’s forced deselection of Janet Oosthuysen proves, and as the selection battle between a Unison insider and the 22-year old nobody daughter of Lord Gould confirms, the future of the Labour Party is being railroaded right now.

If we are to change tack, the solution does not lie with constitutional trickery within Labour itself. The inertia of the Unions, the Reaction of the leadership, the reduction of CLPs to apolitical networks of propaganda distribution…none of this will change in a widespread and meaningful way without a sea-change in the context wherein Labour operates. That context, material and ideological, can only now be changed by organising to fight the swingeing cuts the next government will bring in – and the cuts are coming, if you believe Iain Dale’s article.

In Labour, out of Labour; the difference has now been rendered irrelevant by a continued course of massive borrowing and no structural change. Amongst all those opposed to capitalism, we’ll swim together as we arrange protests, pickets and occupations, to derail what comes next or we’ll sink together. Such weapons as we need – new media to communicate and new methods of inspiring and organising the working class – we’ll have to fashion without reference to the leadership of any political party but according to our principles.

Otherwise we’re simply asking to repeat the whole situation all over again – and, as this budget and this crisis clearly demonstrate, we can’t afford that.

  1. Andrewmarkbaker
    April 22, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Initiating a new sea change at this stage of the political cycle is rare if not novel.

    There is facing us now, a new perspective in a different world which one should rightly call the start of the post Thatcherite era, Blair was after all her real heir.

    However there is a reflex to manage the current situation as a principle in itself and to compete on who has the better managment strategy.

    This new world does mean a relook at the issues and principles of progressive taxation and the values of a consumer led society and economy. On both we have been indoctrinated in the Thatcher years as shiboleths, unmovable.

    To re-enagage a new view would be to let the argument through the back door that this is an admission of failure for previous policies. This would be heroic. Labour does know that there are exciting challenges through the other side of this crisis but it has the shadow of history at its shoulder.

  2. April 23, 2009 at 5:32 am

    Andrew, you talk about Labour as if it is a person – and one that I do not recognize. You also talk like it hasn’t been us in government for the last twelve years, extending and entrenching Thatcherite reforms.

    Not one of the people on the front bench cares a fig for progressive taxation and each one of them has at some point made the same argument as was made yesterday by Iain Dale: that foreign investment will be driven away by higher taxes.

    The 50% tax band is a fig leaf and little else. The other beneficial moves are the like of which we’ve seen before from this government – e.g. on child poverty – timorous and small scale. Meanwhile we’re missing the target even on child poverty, once a cornerstone of New Labour’s claim to success.

  3. Robert
    April 23, 2009 at 7:54 am

    According to Mendelson we are not going back to the 1983 mistakes, according to this Labour traesury advisor, we are not going back to old Labour 1983 mistake, according to Darling we are not going back to the 1983 manefesto.

    The three of then said the same thing word for word, so I wonder cou;ld labour be looking at the 1983 Maanfe

  4. April 23, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Good take, comrade.

    It has been disappointing to see many on the soft left fall for the social democratic and green window dressing. I say window dressing because at the heart of the budget lies a £60bn sell off of government assets (say goodbye to the Post Office and hello to more privatisation and outsourcing) and the £9bn/year “efficiency savings”. As I’ve sad many times already, the dunces of the right are partly correct to say this is a class war budget. But it’s not against the rich and their pals.

  5. Robert
    April 23, 2009 at 8:00 am

    My dam computer is playing up again. are we heading for an old Labour rebirth, with Labour refusing to say as much. Madelson stated so did Darling so did this lady from the Treasury, all stated we are not going back to the 1983 period of old Labour. Yet if you look at the basic of this dam budget it’s the same as the manifesto in 1983.

    Looking at youth unemployment, building council houses which my council are refusing to do saying they worked to dam hard getting rid of them. Giving money to the job center, building infrastructure.

    I just think it’s hard for new labour to accept that Thatcherism failed and so did New labour, and now they must look at a different way of working, they hate for anyone to think it’s old labour.

    But like it or not it is.

  6. April 23, 2009 at 8:11 am

    I don’t think you could be more wrong, Robert. The 1983 manifesto was about wholesale nationalisation, extremely high levels of taxation on personal wealth (for the rich) and on capital gains and investments (for business). This budget has been nothing like that. This budget is still basing itself on cuts – though the “c” word wasn’t used once.

    Then there’s the matter of further privatisations to raise money to pay back the borrowings that we’re making to save the banks and to throw around the subsidies for failing businesses etc. None of that is anything to do with 1983 – and when those three people say that we’re not going back to 1983, they are absolutely right.

    To give you an example, look at the following quote from LEAP, the economic analysts of what remains of the Labour Left:

    The 2009 Budget announced a further £9bn on public service cuts, on top of the £5bn announced in the Pre-Budget Report. The Chancellor also announced £16bn of “asset sales”, which will include the privatisation of Royal Mail and the Royal Mint. This is a total of £30bn of public service cuts and privatisation.

  7. April 24, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Dave, I largely agree with this.

    This budget is like the gasp on the flat at the top of a very unpredictable roller-coaster.

    The best thing the government could do now is pass a trade union freedom bill.

  8. April 24, 2009 at 12:09 am

    But on re-joining the party, you haven’t been a member for long yourself, have you?

  9. April 24, 2009 at 5:23 am

    I’ve been a member for three years, why? I don’t know if that qualifies as “long” – but then growing up in Northern Ireland, there’s not a Labourite to be seen, so I was a member of the Socialist Party.

  1. April 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm
  2. April 22, 2009 at 10:56 pm
  3. April 23, 2009 at 5:04 pm

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