WHAT PLANET are Tony Blair and New Labour on? One thing's for sure - it's not the one the rest of us inhabit. There are top-up flats for their kids and top-up fees for ours. As the Cheriegate furore grew this week, Blair again lashed out at public services and the workers who keep them going.
He chose to give an authoritative interview to the bosses' Financial Times. In it he made clear that New Labour was going to continue to proceed on every front - attacking higher education and forcing 'modernisation' on the public sector.
He said, 'There are lots of different ways in which we can involve some of the disciplines and innovation of the private sector.' He talked of getting rid of 'old ways of working' that suppress 'a genuine entrepreneurial spirit' which is 'waiting to be liberated' in the public sector. 'That is the same with the fire service, with public service reform, and it's the same with the questions to do with the universities.' For health workers, teachers, firefighters and the rest, Blair's 'fundamental reforms' mean working harder for longer.
Blair compared himself positively to Maggie Thatcher at the height of her destructiveness in 1984. 'You would not have been sure that two or three years later that would have happened,' he said of the effects of Thatcher's onslaught on working people. 'I think we will be in the same position if we keep up with reform. 'We must not fall for this idea that the Labour Party should slip back into the old ways.'
The Financial Times took this as a sign that Blair is planning to push through top-up fees in universities. The government's policies are bad enough to prompt Bill Morris, the normally Labour loyalist general secretary of the TGWU union, to say, 'It is difficult to find the dividing line between Labour and the Tories.' The Financial Times, which has called for mass sackings to smash the Fire Brigades Union, found Blair's words 'admirable'. 'He must now expect others to hold him to them,' it said Trade unionists should hold Bill Morris to his words too.
There is a gulf between the government and millions of trade unionists and Labour voters. Nobody should fall for the claim that we should back Tony and Cherie because they are victims of the nasty, millionaire-owned Daily Mail. New Labour has honed nasty, pro-millionaire policies in order to attract the support of papers like the Mail. Blair and New Labour should expect no sympathy. For all his bluster, Blair is weak.
He faces unprecedented opposition over war on Iraq. There is support and potential solidarity for the firefighters. Bonds of loyalty between hundreds of thousands of active trade unionists and the Labour Party are under unprecedented strain. Rows over foundation (two-tier) hospitals and student fees bite even into the parliamentary Labour Party.
Now is not the time simply for words from trade union leaders. Now's the time for the people who are meant to lead seven million trade unionists to stop hiding behind the anti-union laws and show solidarity with workers in struggle. This is what can bring Blair down to planet earth with a bang.
Vampire's exit shocks Brown
THE SUDDEN departure of the man in charge of the US economy was not a shock at all, business commentators assure us. It was a shock to US Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill when George Bush demanded his resignation last week. Gordon Brown must have been surprised too. Only two weeks ago he shared a platform with O'Neill at the bosses' CBI conference in Britain.
Brown praised O'Neill, saying he was among the US's most successful businessmen, a great philanthropist and 'a most effective finance minister'. O'Neill loved up to Brown. He said, 'When I look at the editorial pages and see the attacks on Gordon Brown it makes me wonder, what is it people want? 'The prime minister and Gordon are doing a good job.'
High praise from a man who is responsible for sending a whole industrialised society into a devastating slump. O'Neill starved recession-hit Argentina of loans from international banks.
He has, through the International Monetary Fund, demanded that Argentina imposes more free market policies, throwing millions out of work and plunging hundreds of thousands into malnutrition. He helped Bush oversee greater inequality within the US itself.
Bush dumped O'Neill to shift the blame for the gathering recession in the US, the biggest economy in the world. The next two biggest economies, Japan and Germany, are already in deep trouble. This will affect the economy here.
It makes a mockery of Gordon Brown's claims to have ended the 'boom-bust cycle'. He is already saying it is ordinary people and not the rich who will have to pay for the crisis.