'It is time for a second phase of New Labour, defined less by reference to the old Labour Party.' That is how Tony Blair spelt out his vision for New Labour's second term in government last week. He said he would move even further from 'Old Labour' policies such as redistribution of wealth. Corporate profits are soaring, and the share companies contribute in taxes is falling.
But Blair placed the demands of business and 'enterprise' at the centre of his speech. He pledged to slacken bankruptcy laws, making it easier for 'entrepreneurs' to open up new companies after having gone bust. Blair even described public sector nurses, teachers and doctors as 'social entrepreneurs'. He said, 'Open more markets to competition by removing damaging regulation. We need to reform radically not just the relationship between business and government, but how we encourage small business and how taxation affects the business environment.' That sounds like more privatisation, more tax breaks for business, and cuts to regulations which protect workers.
There was not a word about the responsibilities of big business, but repeated demands on the rest of us. So Blair's 'baby bond' scheme means children from poor families will get extra state help only if their parents put money into a savings account. But the Citizen's Advice Bureaux say working class households are in record debt as people turn to credit to make ends meet. There is a simple way to provide working class people with the opportunities Blair claims he wants to see. It is to massively redistribute wealth by taxing the rich. Instead, Blair wants higher profits and lower taxes on business.
Good for your reputation?
Some 20 local education authorities across England have privatised services or are in the process of doing so. City tipsters predict that profits for Nord Anglia, one of the main education contractors, will 'grow at more than 30 percent over the next two years'.
Another firm, Cambridge Education Associates, has the contract in Liberal Democrat controlled Islington council, north London. It is worth £100 million over the next seven years. Other corporations are getting huge advertising for paltry sponsorship schemes. Robert Halhead of telecom giant NTL says, 'We get the reputation for being a good corporate citizen. But it's not an esoteric, holier than thou thing. We're in business.'
Roads get it too
Services in Scotland are also being privatised. The Scottish Executive has sold off the maintenance of all Scotland's trunk roads to private companies Bear Construction and Amey Highways. The jobs of around 3,500 council workers, who currently do the work, are under threat as a result.
There has been much hand wringing and some genuine outrage among Labour councillors and backbenchers over the sell off. A big meeting of workers in Glasgow recently expressed anger at this betrayal. After years of being told to moderate demands over pay and conditions for fear of privatisation, these workers must now unite across Scotland and strike. They should also call for the solidarity of all council and other public sector workers facing the threat of privatisation.