Firstly, can I thank the SWP for the invitation to Marxism 2012. Whatever differences we may have amongst us as socialists, it is crucial that we are able to debate these. This annual event does provide an important opportunity to such discussions.
Now you’ll forgive me if I treat the title of this session a little lightly. The Tories real agenda is to grind down the people we represent and I should imagine you all know this.
What I want to focus on is some of the problems of building alliances in response to the Tories attacks.
The first point is that the Coalition government is definitely weakening. But this has not made it a pushover. After all, this is a government with a Parliamentary majority of 85, and which secured nearly 60% of the popular vote in 2010.
Yes, you can argue that they won the support under false pretences – hiding their real intentions.
But this government is led by the Tory party – who have hundreds of years of experience of running government; and 150 years experience of dealing with a mass electorate.
They know how to secure a social alliance, which gives them a political bloc to govern from.
There is a very accessible recent pamphlet which illustrates this. Labour MP, Jon Trickett, recently published “The Conservative Dilemma”.
Based on the Tories own polling, he explains how their incomplete victory in the 2010 general election was possible.
Cameron’s project established a social alliance that was broader than in 1997, 2001 and 2005 General Elections.
Conservative voters in 2010 reported support for the following organisations:
* around 40% for the Electoral Reform Society
* around 40% for the Stop the War Coalition
* around 65% for Amnesty International
* around 60% for Greenpeace.
Clearly these are not figures which you would normally expect from your local Conservative Association
Lord Ashcroft, in analysing the data, suggests that there were around 8.2 million Tory voters who are generally aligned to right wing issues.
There were an additional 2.5 million Tory voters in 2010 who are more socially liberal, and swelled the reported figures for these political campaigns.
Jon Trickett suggests that this element of the Tories alliance has been driven away by the experience of two years of the Tory lead Coalition – hence the Tories fall in opinion polls to the low 30′s in percentage terms.
And hence the new assertiveness of the right inside the Tories.
What is certain is that the Tories cannot win a majority in a General Election on their current position. The social basis of the Tory party has been declining since the 1930s – as a direct result of the decline of British imperialism in the world political economy.
Some temporary checks in decline appear to register – it has been still possible to win Elections. But each time the Tories have won with a smaller part of the popular vote – and most recently only with the help of the Lib-Dems.
The importance for our fight back is clear.To defeat the Tories we have to secure the loyalty of millions of people who do not begin by identifying themselves as left wing, socialist, or part of the Labour movement.
We have to establish an opposition of the left and centre – in which the left provides the essential ideas, organisation and initiatives to defeat the Tories.
We can say that the TUC’s March for the Alternative last year represented a big step in such a direction. Hopefully the TUC’s October demonstration will also add move along the same line.
The idea behind these actions is to connect the trade unions to the community. It certainly can strike a chord – given that the assault upon living standards is taking place in both the workplace and the community.
Least anyone be in doubt, I do not think this as an alternative to the actions taken by trade unions in defence of pension provision or the action that unions may be taking against the continuation of the pay freeze.
Those actions too are important steps in defeating the Tories. But we need both feet to run.
The summary point here is that it is not just organised workers who want to defend living standards.
We want an alliance between the working class and those professional sectors of society who can be won to defending the welfare state, etc. That’s a political bloc that can defeat the Tories.
Now, the second issue is what policies is this opposition is going to be built around?
I do not believe that there exists one policy, or one policy document, which pulls everything together.
For example, there is a strong tendency to focus on tax evasion, avoidance etc. Some phenomenal figures have been offered for the worth of this.
I fully accept this probably runs into tens of billions of pounds. And this is an important policy. But collecting it does not create a single job.
You still have to have a government policy to direct productive investment for the recovery – whether in social services, infrastructure, housing, manufacturing, etc.
Nor do I think there is nor do I think there is a simple list of economic policies being offered as a programme around which the movement will be built - for example, the People’s Charter.
Again, without sympathetic government this really is just an ardent wish.
Broad social movements are not manoeuvred to a programme. Socialists can make proposals and suggestions, but millions of people move to action because they feel they have no choice.
Of course, we must produce single policies, and ordered programmes.
But the changes that the government can make arise because of massive pressure on its simpler issues – like bread, peace and land.
So I think we should work within the opposition to government around a series of issues which must be broadly stated. The details must be the subject of continuous discussion amongst us – not treated as an ultimatum to the movement.
For example – we want an end to austerity. This means investment in industries, infrastructure, social services etc – as well as our opposition to cuts.
We need to defend our multicultural society – against all the attacks on migrant workers, against the fascists against Islamophobia and racism, and for one society many cultures.
We need to promote the equalities agenda, especially equal pay and pensions for women. But we must also fight against the abandonment and abuse of people with disabilities that austerity policies are promoting.
We want an end to imperialist wars and no new wars in the Middle East. Let’s have jobs not bombs.
These are some of the themes around which the opposition must be organised – indeed, is being organised.
I will finish on the question of unity. There are different dimensions to this.
We need a united opposition involving both the unemployed and the employed – involving both students and workers – involving both pensioners and the young, and so on.
We retain our own organisations. But we bring these organisations together in common action.
We also need a united opposition where we can discuss our differences without breaking the common movement. This assumes a culture of broadly respecting each other.
There is no doubt that the coalition government is running into very difficult times.
Given the complete failure of Osborne’s economic policy, internal tensions of this government can only grow.
Our work as socialists is crucial in giving voice to the worries, concerns and opposition of millions of people.
I do believe we can prevent this government from completing its full term.. But it all depends on whether we are able to meet the challenge of building a broad and united opposition.
Together, we can win. Thanks for listening.