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Election promises but none for Northern Irish


Nobody there from the North’s 18 MPs makes a telling point how 

London views the 6-Counties

by Tommy McKearney

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As Britain’s political parties began their general election campaigns with a series of televised debates, two interesting messages emerged from one of the widely watched, albeit less than inspiring, media events. ITV’s 7-person debate demonstrated that for the first time since the 1920s, British politics are no longer bipolar. 

Secondly, it is now very evident that not only is Northern Ireland not as British as Finchley but it is not considered integral to the UK’s political discourse at all.


Conservative Party delivered neo-liberalism is wrecking havoc on the North’s economy and those living there know it. People already experiencing hardship are to be further disadvantaged as public sector employment is to be cut back and central government funding reduced in favour of subsidies for corporations [1]. Thousands took to the streets in March to protest the damage about to be inflicted by the London government imposed Stormont House Agreement, and still their representatives could not find a place in the important debate watched by millions of voters.

The governing Conservatives entered the TV debate insisting that the economy is not only in recovery mode but is actually enjoying robust good health. Prime Minister Cameron told his British viewers that unemployment is falling, growth has been revised upward and he also claimed that living standards are rising along with improved consumer confidence. Outside the broadcast studios, Cameron’s spin-doctors were reminding the public that British business is firmly behind the Conservative Party. So wonderful has been the Tory management of the economy in the opinion of more than 100 of the UK’s most senior business figures, that they wrote to the Daily Telegraph complementing the Posh Boys on their handling of the country and thereafter warning god fearing Britons about the dangers of a Labour Party victory in May.

There was, undoubtedly, a large measure of pre-election grandstanding in all of this. Political parties rarely provide a balanced or accurate account of their performance in office or the broken undertakings made before hand. As the former Irish Labour Party minister Pat Rabbitt once said when asked about his own party’s unfulfilled promises; ‘isn't that what you tend to do during an election?’ It was, nevertheless, important that differing views were heard on ITV if only to ensure that the governing party’s assertions did not go entirely unchallenged. However flawed the television debate was, important issues were highlighted, argued about and options of a sort placed before the public.

As is the case in the Republic of Ireland, austerity and the fall-out from it is of major concern to those governed from Westminster. Assessing whether the economy is performing as well as the Conservatives claim is important, especially to working people. Carefully selected statistics may appear to indicate a healthy state of affairs in Britain but all is not well and not everybody is as pleased with the situation as are the above mentioned letter writers to the Daily Telegraph.

Productivity, one of the key indicators in any economy, is dismally low in Britain. The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) said this measure decreased by 0.2% in the third quarter of the last financial year, leaving output per hour worked little changed on the previous year and slightly lower than in 2007. In other words, Cameron and Osborne have presided over an economy with the weakest productivity record of any British government since the Second World War. TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said recently that the UK is fast becoming a low-wage, low-productivity economy. Endorsing this view, oddly enough, was the right-wing ‘Economist’ magazine as it carried a similar warning in an article last month that stated; ‘Britain’s workers are a bargain, because their pay is so pitiful. Of the 15 initial members of the EU, only Greece and Portugal now have lower hourly wages.[2]

Efficiency in a modern economy is not simply the result of sweat or diligence but is due to investment in training and state-of-the-art machinery. With labour so cheap, employers like those who use the Daily Telegraph to laud David Cameron, simply don’t see any reason to reinvest a greater portion of their profits in technology or enhancing skills.

A consequence of this is that, while Tory fiscal policy allows business enjoy a comfortable income, overall output is not increasing sufficiently rapidly to meet the needs of the wider population and simultaneously reward the wealthy. The end result of this neo-liberal inspired austerity programme is that inadequate resources are being made available to maintain public services and guarantee the social wage.

The ramifications of austerity, its impact and the Tory led coalition’s dealing with the issue was central, therefore, to the TV debate. Predictably, David Cameron stuck to his position that all is well and getting better, Labour’s Ed Miliband proposed a package that the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett described as a choice between ‘austerity and austerity light’, while the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon suggested a Keynesian alternative. Interestingly, the leaders of the Scots and Welsh nationalists and the Green Party (all women incidentally) offered Labour the option of support in return for softening the austerity programme.

Socialists might well have their doubts about the efficacy of any of these proffered remedies but at least all political parties with representatives elected to the House of Commons got an opportunity to contribute to an important debate. All parties that is, with the exception of those from Northern Ireland. Because, in spite of having more MPs than 4 of the 7 parties represented on the panel, in spite of demanding an opportunity to walk the British stage and in spite of offering to support either Labour or Conservative in the event of a hung parliament, the DUP found itself, like Cinderella, with no invitation to the ball.

The three largest Westminster parties and Britain’s television stations have offered various convoluted excuses for making an exception of the North’s MPs but the hard reality is that they are not seen as intrinsically part of the political dialogue in Britain.

Significantly, no voice was raised among the seven participating party leaders to say they would not take part in this event should it proceed without the Irish. With this happening only 6 months after the three big English parties made such an enormous effort to prevent Scotland leaving the UK, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Northern Ireland is effectively being ‘parked in a siding’ as far as Britain’s political elite is concerned. Under such a scenario, Northern Irish politicians might do well to consider their options while they still have the opportunity.

 (This article first appeared in Socialist Voice April 2015)

[1] Northern Ireland CIT Bill Passes UK Parliament (http://bit.ly/1Ivvkef)

[2] Bargain basement. If Britain cannot get more from its legion of cheap workers, the recovery will stall. The Economist, Mar 14th 2015

 


Economic Misery and bloody chaos

Tommy McKearney examines the connection between sovereign debt and aggressive great power strategies.    This article first appeared in Socialist Voice March 2015


The soap opera that surrounded SYRIZA’s limp attempt to negotiate with the vicious, agenda-driven European Union, led by the financial sector, has understandably captured huge attention during the recent past. As with all the best action within that genre, viewers were kept in mock suspense while the inevitable dénouement was played out.

Pundits spoke solemnly about the risk of Greece leaving the EU, of threats to financial stability, or a break-up of the euro zone. Meanwhile the new government in Athens stuck out its chest and talked of taking on the mighty German finance ministry and the other members of the Troika. That the drama ended for SYRIZA with a timid whimper rather than anything so unsettling as a bang was, unfortunately, all too predictable. 

The new Greek prime minister, Aléxis Tsípras, may be a handsome and articulate addition on the European political stage but he is no Fidel Castro. His finance minister, Varoufákis, strikes a dashing pose as he tours the Continent’s capitals, but, photograph him as you may, he hasn’t the steel of a Che. Therein lies the essence of the Greek people’s disappointment. Not only did they need a determined and purposeful socialist government and instead got social democrats, but a hard-pressed population was allowed to believe that a different and better outcome was possible. 

Not that any genuine socialist or working-class activist can be anything other than dismayed by what has happened. Many on the left throughout Europe greeted SYRIZA’s election victory with genuine enthusiasm. The Greek people had rejected a plundering, neo-liberal programme imposed on them by international financiers, and it appeared, from the newly elected government’s declarations, that someone, somewhere was finally prepared to reject the demands of rentier capitalism. That the initial rhetoric proved hollow is a set-back for all on the left, as early optimism (and not only in Greece) may well be replaced by disenchantment. How often - some may justifiably ask - can we raise expectations before people stop believing in the possibility of meaningful change? 

It would be a mistake, nevertheless, to ascribe the failure of SYRIZA to personal inadequacies, betrayal, or lack of moral fibre. The Greek social democrats’ misfortune was to be bit players in a much greater game, and one in which their leadership mistakenly believed they could effect change while staying within the parameters of the present system. The response to this regrettable situation should not be the sterile cry of “We told you so” but to endeavour to promote a deeper understanding of what went wrong, and why. 

Following the crisis in capitalism created by the economic crash of 2008, Europe’s ruling class and its vehicle of delivery, the European Union, is in no mood to endure any challenge to its authority or to tolerate developments that might undermine its power. Like a wounded beast, the ruling class is even more aggressive and dangerous than it was when feeling stronger. 

The nature of its response to this present crisis is manifesting itself in two different but related theatres. One is being played out with the Greek government and people; the other is the ever more lethal and dangerous conflict raging in Donets and the wider Don Basin. While acting tough in the negotiations between Athens and the Troika, the EU and its allies are also pursuing their agenda in eastern Europe. 

Following a well-practised routine, the western European media prepared the ground as they promoted a narrative asserting that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were intent on an aggressive policy of invasion and expansion. Old, crude anti-Soviet rhetoric was regurgitated. In February the second in command of NATO’s forces in Europe, General Adrian Bradshaw, told the Royal United Services Institute (the elite’s strategic think-tank in London) that NATO forces must prepare for a large-scale conventional assault by Russia on an eastern European member-state.¹ Shortly thereafter the British prime minister, David Cameron, announced that he is to send military personnel to Kiev to train the regime’s troops, and give additional funding to the BBC to “counteract Russian propaganda.”² 

Ignored in the telling of this scaremongering and sabre-rattling was the fact that the EU and the United States had encouraged a coup against an elected government in Kiev, and supported its replacement with a regime that made no secret of its hostility to Moscow and to Russian-speaking Ukrainians. No mention either of NATO’s encroachment into an area of immense strategic sensitivity to a country that lost 26 million citizens within living memory. Donets is, after all, only a two-hour journey by car from the Russian city of Volgograd (or Stalingrad, as it was known when assaulted by Nazi Germany in 1942). 

Deliberately concealed, moreover, is an underlying calculation being made by upper echelons of the dominant capitalist power-brokers in the United States and western Europe. Relentlessly pursuing, over the past few decades, a short-term neo-liberal policy of profit maximisation at all costs, they have caused their own manufacturing industries to re-establish themselves outside their home countries, often to the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Inevitably this has led to a decline in their own productive capacity, forcing them to become ever more dependent on finance and services. 

In the long run this creates a dilemma for the western powers, because economic history and experience clearly demonstrate that finance follows production, rather than the reverse. Inevitably this must mean a decline in their global hegemony—unless, that is, they can offset this trend by a related policy of; 

(a) using debt to subdue some 

and 

(b) undermining any potential zone of economic competition among others. 

Yet the ruling order in the West persists with this twin-track policy, with the obvious intention that debt burdens will crush, contain and confound the social-democratically inclined states of Europe while creating chaos elsewhere, preventing the emergence of a rival economic powerhouse.³ The cynical unifying calculation in this strategy is that, with the absence of an alternative economic bloc, the indebted have fewer options and the BRICs have fewer outlets. Those who believe they won the “Cold War” by threatening mutual self-destruction now seem to feel they can retain influence by a stratagem of “We’ll rule or we’ll wreck.” 

And the evidence to substantiate this assertion? The proof lies in the absence of any other possible or plausible explanation for the behaviour of those world leaders who have imposed economic misery on vast sections of the European and American working class, while bringing bloody chaos to the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine. No rational market economist has demonstrated that austerity can achieve anything other than deflation and loss of production. No sane individual has ever argued that western intervention in North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria or Russia can lead to anything other than world-engulfing catastrophe. 

The adage that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism, or worse, has never held more validity than now.

Tommy McKearney

 

1. Sam Jones, “NATO warned to prepare for move on territory,” Financial Times, 21 February 2015. 

2. Chris Green, “British troops to ‘train soldiers in Ukraine’,” Independent (London), 24 February 2015. 

3. For those who may argue that China disproves this contention it would be worth their while reading Martin Wolf’s article “How addiction to debt came even to China,” Financial Times (24 February 2015). 

 

© Tommy McKearney 2012                                                                                      email:    tommymkearney@me.com