Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDITORIAL: Countdown to 2015

In Editorial on March 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

In January this year, Cameron and Clegg faced the cameras to give us their take on the Government’s record so far. They’ve now reached mid-term – and as they looked back on the shambles created by the ConDem coalition since 2010, Cameron managed somehow to look both smug and complacent as he proclaimed that the administration was on target.

It’s difficult to grasp what target he was talking about. When it comes to listing the regime’s “achievements”, we hardly know where to start. Perhaps we can begin with one over-riding issue – the economy. The Government has so far failed to lift the country out of the doldrums – and if economic reports are anything to go by, we could be in for a “triple-dip” recession. Of course for many who’ve been thrown out of work, or have failed to get a job at all, the recession’s never gone away.

A REMINDER:

Let’s remind ourselves of what’s happened since the unholy alliance of Tory and Liberal Democrats took over the reins of government in May 2010. “We’re all in this together,” proclaimed the new Prime Minister. But it soon became clear that some were in it more than others – and for those on high incomes, their life-style wasn’t affected at all. The bonus culture continued unabated.

Before the end of that year, the cuts had begun, hitting services, jobs and wages both nationally and locally. It was of course lower income families who were hit the hardest, and have continued to be hit. And, by the end of the year, plans to increase student tuition fees nearly three-fold were announced. Clegg and his band of Lib Dem followers tamely acquiesced, despite their pre-election pledge to abolish student fees altogether. Support for the Lib Dems slumped from 23 to 11 per cent in opinion polls (it now stands at 8 per cent).

In his first budget, the Chancellor George Osborne announced that he would be cutting benefits by £2 billion – rising to £8 billion by 2013. And before the end of the year, the Government unveiled its plans to sell off the NHS piecemeal to “any willing provider”. After a long-fought and bitter battle, the Bill passed through Parliament, with Clegg’s tame Liberal Democrats trooping into the lobbies in support of the bill, in March 2011.

Whilst the structure for change is now being put into place, we have yet to feel the full affect of the Tory Health Act. We may have to wait until next year before the first major wave of privatisation hits the fan. The end of the Health Service as we’ve known it may be slow and agonising. But, of course, campaigners continue to fight a rearguard action, working to ensure that health care in Gloucestershire remains in NHS hands – at least for now.

THE PUBLIC SECTOR:

One of the Government’s stated aims is the “reform of the public sector”. The word “reform” here is used to describe a process of making cuts, slashing jobs – and hiving off areas of the public sector to private companies. The slow erosion of public provision of services since the days of Thatcher is now becoming an avalanche.

In one particular sector, that of education, the old pattern of local authority control and accountability will soon become nothing but a memory, if Michael Gove has his way. “Academies” will rule the roost, with private companies or “faith” institutions sponsoring them.

All these points have, of course, been covered in past issues of the Clarion – as has the increasing level of poverty in Britain. Food banks and soup kitchens are on the increase, as more and more families struggle to feed themselves. More of them are losing their homes, and are forced to seek “temporary accomodation”. On the other side of the coin, pawn shops and money lending are on the increase. Over Christmas, for example, it was estimated that 1.4 million took out loans to cover the festive season.

This, then, in summary, is Cameron’s Britain. In reality he has little to look smug about. And yet he seems to believe that he can win a second term of office, and remain at Number Ten until 2020.

If current opinion polls are anything to go by, he has no chance at all – though much can happen between now and 2015.

Even if the Tories manage to stage some kind of recovery by the next election, they would have to gain an overall majority. They are unlikely to

have the support of the Liberal Democrats who are on track to being slaughtered at the polls. And if current trends are anything to go by, Cameron’s party could face a strong challenge from the right, in the form of a resurgent Ukip. Even if (hopefully) Ukip fail to win any seats, they could garner enough support to split the right wing vote.

LABOUR’S CHALLENGE:

Meanwhile, Labour needs not only to get its act together, but also to stand firm on its principles. It needs to look to its core values, and start campaigning for all those who’ve lost out under this vicious Tory attack on their livelihoods, their homes and their families.

For those who remain cynical and who doubt that the Labour Party is capable of such change, there is a need to face up to the fact that it is the only alternative in town. And if the message gets through not only to rank and file members but also the leadership, then we could have a chance of a radical alternative to the Cameron/Osborne “slash and burn” approach.

It’s worth noting here that 2015 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the election of the 1945 Labour Government. Then, too we were saddled with massive debts, and the country was in a mess. But, concentrating on priorities, the Government pushed through the biggest programme of welfare reform that we’ve ever had. It’s this same programme that the ConDem government is now intent on dismantling.

CAMPAIGNING:

True, we need to carry on campaigning – for the National Health Service, against Government-inflicted poverty and deprivation, and against the financial lobby that backs Cameron and Co to the hilt. Indeed, as we move into the second half of this administration, such campaigns need to be intensified.

Meanwhile the Government is now mounting another attack on those who try to survive on benefits. It’s been backed by Tory attacks on “scroungers” and “skivers”, and the claim that however poor people are they should make sacrifices for the common good – whatever that may be.

The background to this new legislation is covered elsewhere in this issue. It has had its backers, many of them amongst those who should know better. Misinformation from Government Ministers backed by a rabid Tory press has had an impact.

It’s an important issue, not only for those who suffer most under the present Government, but also because it’s a benchmark of the kind of society we want to be part of. Do we really want to live in a society marked by deep social divisions, a callous disregard of those who struggle from week to week to make ends meet – whilst the rich get richer still?

Or do we want an egalitarian society, typified by concern for those around us?

The Clarion knows which alternative it prefers!

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