Socialist Worker

What kind of unity do we need to stop the Tories?

The Tories’ U-turn on forests raises questions about how we fight back, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2240

The Tory government looks a little bit weaker after a series of small but significant U-turns over the last week.

There have been U-turns on forests, housing benefit and debt advice.

It seems that David Cameron is “for turning” when the opposition comes from close to home—when middle class votes are at stake.

That is certainly true of the decision not to close libraries in his constituency.

The department for environment, food and rural affairs’ plan to impose water meters on every home in England has also been quietly shelved.

Two thirds of government departments have fallen behind their cuts targets.

Cuts due by the end of January—covering council housing, the NHS, tourism, health and safety, and cutting “red tape”—were all missed.

The pace of the cuts is dizzying for those on the receiving end, but on its own terms the government is five months behind.

There are a number of points to make about this process.

First, the government is determined to push ahead with brutal attacks on every aspect of ordinary people’s lives—and it is determined to hack away at the welfare state out of ruling class spite.

It is also worth noting that the ruling class wants to use the economic crisis to further redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich.

The crisis drives them to push ahead with cuts and austerity—and that means coming into confrontation with workers sooner rather than later.

We can make a comparison between this government and the last Tory government under Margaret Thatcher.

The initial Thatcher years saw a number of reversals over policy.

Part of this was because the Tories chose their battles carefully—part of it was simply a fear of losing.

For instance, it was 30 years ago last Friday that Thatcher backed down over coal mines closures.

The steel strike and the inner city riots of the early 1980s meant the Tories retreated from confrontations with workers and from their planned assaults on welfare for a while.


However, the Tories today do not have the same luxury that Thatcher did.

Cameron’s government is weaker than Thatcher’s. Apart from anything else, the coalition with the Liberal Democrats puts a debilitating pressure on the government on a daily basis.

Labour MP Mary Creagh spotted something about this after the government backed off from selling off the forests.

She described Caroline Spelman, the environment minister, as “probably the only cabinet minister in living memory to have the Socialist Workers Party and the National Trust united in opposition to her plans”.

There is a certain truth to this. Importantly, any kind of united opposition is what the government is trying to avoid.

The government has deliberately put the process of making cuts onto local government.

It hopes that the anger will be directed towards councils rather than central government.

The Tories are terrified of a unified and militant movement that could mobilise to defeat the cuts.

Spreading the attacks is intended to thin the resistance to them.

There are some opposed to the government who believe that the weight of public opinion alone can stop the cuts.

Others think that if we can break off key Liberal Democrats, or even backbench Tories, perhaps we can push the government into crisis.

Sections of the Labour Party clearly hope that watching the government get more unpopular will be enough. But it won’t.

For all the government’s backtracking, jobs will still go at the forestry commission, housing benefit is still being slashed, and jobs and services remain under attack across the board.

However, it is important to emphasise that what the government fears is not the Archbishop of Canterbury or minor royals complaining.

They are worried about the mass of ordinary people having the confidence to fight back together.

We face a coordinated attack and we need militant action to stop it—a coordinated campaign of mass resistance to austerity, with workers’ strikes at the heart of it.

That is what the Tories really fear.

We should be looking to make those fears into a reality.

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Article information

Tue 22 Feb 2011, 17:52 GMT
Issue No. 2240
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