Socialist Worker

Not an alliance of 'dreamers'

Issue No. 1738

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee spent 1,200 words last week attacking the Socialist Alliance. That she had to do so is a sign of the resonance the Socialist Alliance is getting among thousands of people. Toynbee is a staunch defender of New Labour, although she sometimes criticises aspects of its policies.

In the 1980s Toynbee was part of the right wing split from Labour into the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Now she sees Tony Blair embrace many of the policies of the SDP, and she likes the result.

Toynbee claimed that the government had poured money towards the poor. 'How dare the Socialist Alliance speak of 'Labour cuts',' she wrote. But those protesting against privatisation in Birmingham last weekend know only too well of the harsh reality of New Labour's cuts. So too do people in Hackney in east London who face £50 million of cuts over the next three years, imposed by a Labour-Tory coalition.

Toynbee also claimed that the Socialist Alliance's figures do not add up. But it is New Labour's figures that are shocking. New Labour has spent less on education, health and pensions as a percentage of Britain's production than John Major's government.

  • New Labour has spent 5.4 percent of GDP on health. Major spent 5.5 percent.
  • New Labour has spent 4.6 percent of GDP on education. Major spent 5 percent.
  • New Labour has spent 5.2 percent of GDP on pensioners. Major spent 5.4 percent.

Britain has become more divided. When Tony Blair smiled into Downing Street, the richest fifth of people were grabbing 43 percent of all the incomes in Britain, and the bottom fifth had 7 percent.

After four years in government the top fifth have 45 percent and the bottom fifth have 6 percent. New Labour may look pretty good if you enjoy the comfortable life of a £2,000 a week newspaper columnist.

But life under New Labour looks a bit different to workers who live in terror of a redundancy notice or the arrival of one bill too many in the post. Blair's soothing words and Brown's 'prudence' aren't so great when you see your mum humiliated and in tears because she can't stand the pain and there's an 18-month wait for her hip operation.

The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party share the anger and the bitterness about New Labour's betrayals and failures. We know that socialist policies-taxing the rich, renationalising the rail, attacking inequality, stopping privatisation-are increasingly popular. Toynbee dismisses the Socialist Alliance as a 'coalition of dreamers'.

But even she has to admit that not all of the Socialist Alliance's policies are 'unthinkable'. 'A majority of Labour members may secretly yearn for many Socialist Alliance policies in their hearts,' she wrote. 'Growing numbers in the Commons and on the inner loops fear Labour's next manifesto will lack new vision. Why, they ask, is Labour always happier to disappoint its own ranks than offend those interests who will never support Labour anyway?'

The Socialist Alliance also asks that question. Our answer is to do something about building an alternative to Labour. The response to Toynbee's article in the Guardian's letters page shows the wide range of people who are seeking such an alternative.

'For the first time for a long while, ordinary people will have a party in which they are members and the subjects of policy, not objects to be treated with contempt,' wrote Geoff Barr from Exeter. And from Neil Harrison in Cardiff, 'Thanks to Polly Toynbee for setting out the policies of the Socialist Alliance. I now know who to vote for.'

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Article information

What We Think
Sat 10 Mar 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1738
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