British Labour leader Ed Miliband says he is 'reaching out' to the Tory voter. At the same time, a major new study has concluded that three out of ten people in Britain today are trapped in poverty. Little has changed since George Orwell wrote about the shocking conditions he found in working class communities in the Britain of the 1930s.
IN 1937 THE LEFT BOOK CLUB published The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell. Orwell wrote of the shocking conditions in the mining communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire at a time of deep recession and mass unemployment.
The Road to Wigan Pier is perhaps one of his most important works although it has largely lived in the shadows of the much more well known Animal Farm and 1984. In a nation scarred by vast economic and social inequality, poverty, homelessness and unemployment, the book was Orwell's own personal call to arms, a declaration of war on an unjust and cruel economic system. Orwell was in no doubt of the solution:
"Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already', he writes. " No one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system."
Orwell, as he often did, had managed to capture the mood of the times. When he died in 1950, only forty six years old, the Keynesian managed economy and the welfare state - social democracy's solution to the inequities of capitalism had emerged.
There were those who conceived it as the first step on the gradual and gentle road to socialism. Capitalism could be reformed out of existence or so the theory went. There was no need for a fundamental and decisive break with capitalism. We were all socialists now.
But it was, of course, in the 1980s that the social democratic project collapsed in the face of the neoliberal solution to the problem of capitalism's declining rate of profit. And political parties that had once been the defenders of the managed economy embraced the policies and values of 'the free market'.
In 1980s Britain New Labour architect Peter Mandelson professed to be “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” Meanwhile his mate Tony Blair set about creating 'New Labour', scrubbing it clean of its social democratic traditions. Something similar was happening to the New Zealand Labour Party as well.
In 2013 writer Stephen Armstrong retraced Orwell's steps for his book The Road To Wigan Pier Revisited. He found that life in working class Britain was as grim as it had been in Orwell's day. Any gains it had been made in the immediate post war period had been wiped out by the neoliberal assault.
In a newspaper interview Armstrong commented:
"In the six months I spent travelling, the only people under 30 I met who had a job worked for charities or the police. Everyone else was on short-term contracts, agency contracts, zero-hour contracts, training schemes or benefits - and the government is cutting funding to the police and to charities."
A major new study of poverty in Britain was published earlier this year.
While Prime Minister David Cameron, in election mode, talks of "an economic recovery" that can be felt in the lives of “hardworking taxpayers”, Breadline Britain paints a different picture.
The study, by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack, reveals that three out of every ten people in Britain are now stuck below the minimum living standard. In other words, they are trapped in poverty. This represents 20 million people, a doubling of the numbers in just three decades. Whereas the rich have got richer, the reverse has happened to everyone else.
Who speaks for working people in modern Britain today? Watching the progress of the election campaign you cannot help but be struck by how much the interests of ordinary people are only considered in relation to what is good for business and 'the market'.
As Richard Seymour of the Lenin's Tomb blog notes:
"States are increasingly left with very little room to manoeuvre, while the growing domination of government discourse by neoliberal doctrine tends to suppress policy choices which are not ‘market-friendly’. In this situation, mild market interventions such as temporary energy price freezes might be possible, but nationalising energy companies will not be seriously considered. This narrowing of democratic choice renders Westminster politics increasingly irrelevant to the lives of citizens."
While there is much to admire abut the fledgling Left Unity, it is presently a small party with limited resources. It's anti-capitalist message is one that the corporate media ignores because Left Unity does not obey the neoliberal narrative. The corporate media would rather give more time to the reactionary policies of UKIP.
Moussa Haddad, economic justice officer at Oxfam GB notes: “The problem is, most opinion formers have jobs – proper, stable jobs. They have no experience of the fact that things have changed, that it’s just not like that for millions of people.”
Where is the Labour Party? Answer - in the pocket of the corporations. Leader Ed Miliband said this week that he was 'reaching out' to the Tory voter. His late father, a revolutionary socialist of some prominence, would be appalled.
Labour's proposed budget contains £30 billion in cuts. In January it voted with the governing Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition to push through the Budgetary Responsibility Bill, committing all future governments to what amounts to permanent austerity.
Poverty, says Labour, is not the result of an unjust economic system but the result of an over- reliance on an indulgent welfare system, This can only be resolved by a further dose of 'market discipline'.
In 2013 Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said that Labour would be tougher than the Conservative Party when it came to 'restructuring' benefits. Last month Reeves, a former banker, added that Labour did not speak for people on benefits. She was not corrected by her leader.
It is little wonder that voter participation in Britain, as in New Zealand, continues to decline - with the largest non vote occurring in areas of severe unemployment and social deprivation. People understand that the Labour Party does not represent them. It is Russell Brand's dismissal of representative democracy as a sham that only perpetuates the rule of the one percent that increasingly resonates today.
Brand says that Britain needs a revolution. George Orwell, if he was alive today, would agree.