The passing politicians’ show – Uxbridge and Ulez
The by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in July, caused by Boris Johnson jumping before he was pushed, provided a chance to observe conventional politics at work and to confirm how empty and irrelevant it is.
In his manifesto the unsuccessful Labour candidate said ‘the Tories have crashed the economy’ and that ‘since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 real wages have fallen so far that we are now worse off by £1,373 a year’. Labour, he said, ‘has a plan to put money into the pockets of local people.’ Who wouldn’t want that? But when you look closely at how this is to be done it turns out to be a plan not to actually give people more money but to stop them having to pay out so much. ‘A Labour government,’ he promised, ‘would bring your energy bills down by £1,400 by fast-tracking home-grown renewable energy’. Even on their own figures, this would only restore the situation to what it was in 2010, but there is no guarantee that it will happen.
Labour Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, had already rowed back on Labour’s ‘fast tracking’ promise. The Guardian (9 June) reported this under the headlines ‘Labour postpones £28bn green plan as it seeks to be trusted on public finances. Rachel Reeves says fiscal rule is priority as she delays start of promised investment in eco-friendly industry.’
‘Labour would now build up to the annual £28bn plan by halfway through a first parliament. The party had promised to spend £28bn a year on green investment until 2030 from the first year after coming to power. However, Reeves said she could not have predicted the market crash caused by the former prime minister Liz Truss’s plans for unfunded borrowing for tax cuts last autumn, which created the difficult economic conditions including higher interests rates affecting the cost of debt repayment’ (tinyurl.com/4ha669wh).
But that’s precisely the point. No government can predict what the vagaries of the capitalist economic system are going to throw at them. Out of office they can make all sorts of plans and promise all sorts of things, but when in office they can only react to the unpredictable workings of capitalism. Sometimes they might be lucky (and claim this as their own work). More often than not, they will be faced with some economic or financial crisis and then have to impose cutbacks and austerity in order to save profits by not taxing them too much.
Reeves as much as said so when she stated ‘I will never play fast and loose with the public finances.’ Now that’s a promise you can believe.
The Tory candidate didn’t promise anything. How could he? He couldn’t play the anti-immigrant card in this constituency with its large number of voters from the Indian subcontinent and their descendants. Instead he chose to challenge Labour’s claim that it would put more money into people’s pockets. On the contrary, he argued, the London Labour mayor’s decision to extend from the end of August the ultra-low-emission zone from central London to the whole of Greater London would take money out of people’s pockets. ‘No to Labour’s £4,550 ULEZ expansion tax’ was his line. It worked.
Owners of more polluting pre-2006 petrol and pre-2016 diesel vehicles will have to pay £12.50 for every day they use their car or van. This will, the Tory leaflet went on, ‘hit the poorest in our communities the hardest’. Although it’s a bit disingenuous of the Tories to say they are concerned about the poorest, they had a point. Most owners of pre-2006 petrol cars will be people who bought one second-hand because they couldn’t afford a new car. Others will have bought diesel cars after Gordon Brown, when Chancellor in 2001, reduced the tax on diesel. As usual under capitalism, it is the poorest who suffer the most from the extra cost of measures like providing for a less polluted environment.
Which brings us to the Green Party. Basically, they want a return to the small-scale capitalism that once existed and from which present-day corporate capitalism evolved. And would again if it was possible to turn the clock back (but of course it isn’t).
Their candidate’s manifesto called for ‘Public Money to be spent on Public Good not profits for the few’ and stated that the ‘economy is not working for most people’. That’s true but the capitalist economy cannot be made to work in any other way. It is a profit-making system that can run — and be run by governments— only in the interests of the profit-takers. It is based on ‘profits for the few’ and there’s nothing that can be done about it except getting rid of the system as a whole and replacing it by one based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. This would allow these resources to be used to directly turn out and distribute what people need to live a decent and satisfying life.
The Greens promised to ‘introduce universal basic income to reduce dependency on economic growth.’ But how would UBI do that? The relationship would seem to be the opposite as the economy would have to grow to provide the extra things that the basic income would be used to buy (assuming that the level will be somewhat higher than the current poverty line, which is not immediately evident or likely given the constraints and priorities of capitalism).
The Green candidate was again right when she said:
‘We all see the global environmental crisis that, if not tackled, will destroy the only known living planet in the Universe. Yes, change is needed on a Planetary scale.’
Indeed it is, but the small-scale changes under capitalism that the Greens promise are quite inadequate even if the workings of capitalism allowed them to be given priority over the ‘profits for the few.’
Although the Lib Dems had a candidate he was nowhere to be seen as they were concentrating on trying to win another by-election the same day. Their promises would also have been based on the same, mistaken, basic assumption that governments can control the way the capitalist economic system works and so could reform it to serve, as the Greens put it, the ‘Public Good’.
Experience over the years, under various different governments, has repeatedly shown that this cannot be done, with all governments ending up putting profits first. Yet the conventional parties still make promises to do this, blaming, when not in office, the government of the day rather than capitalism for problems — Labour is doing it now with its mantra of ‘thirteen years of Tory failure’ — and promising that this wouldn’t happen if they were in office. But it always does. The problem is not the Tories (or Labour), it’s capitalism.