Brown Premiership: New Leader, Same Agenda

On 27th June, Gordon Brown finally reaped the reward for 10 years of loyal service to the Blair regime. The much-anticipated handover of power has generated considerable excitement in the popular press that the Brown premiership will herald a change of direction and that Brown represents some sort of return to traditional Labour social democratic values. As the second most important minister in the Blair government and the only one to retain the same position since 1997, it is clear that Brown has played a pivotal role in the Blairite New Labour project. By and large, the much publicised friction between Brown and Blair has been a manifestation of the power struggle between the two rather than any profound difference in policy so that in reality any debate about whether Brown is more social democratic than Blair is rather like a discussion about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

However, after serving the interests of the bourgeoisie well, in recent years Blair became somewhat of a liability. Within the machinery of government Blair upset the civil service mandarins by parachuting in Labour appointed special advisors over the heads of the civil service big wigs. More significantly Blair’s uncritical support for the US invasion of Iraq has been a disaster for Britain’s imperialist ambitions rather than the boon that Blair hoped for. As well as the British military becoming bogged down in a hopeless but ridiculously expensive no-win situation, the Iraq adventure has de-stabilised the whole of the Middle East, and increased the likelihood of terrorist reprisals on British soil, whilst the spoils of war go overwhelmingly to US corporations and the British only being tossed a few consolatory crumbs.

The International Stage

So will anything change under Brown? At his first meeting as Prime Minister with George Bush, much was made of Brown’s restrained demeanour compared to Blair’s sycophantic toadying. But that really sums it up; the main difference with Brown will be one of style rather than substance. Of course, Brown will be looking for an opportune moment to scale down British operations in Iraq, but this will not constitute any significant shift away form the US and the UK will continue to play a significant role in other US-led interventions such as that in Afghanistan. After the less than glorious conduct of the British Navy (once called the Senior Service!) in the Shatt al Arab, Brown had to sack Margaret Beckett. He has skilfully brought in David Miliband who actually opposed the original decision to invade Iraq. Predictably he has received much praise in the press for taking a tough line with the Kremlin over the Russian refusal to extradite their secret agent Lugavoi responsible for the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a British citizen. Whether this persists when Briitish business interests in Moscow are threatened remains to be seen. Brown has also grabbed the headlines with his role in getting a UN resolution through to finally send a force to protect the citizens of Darfur from a massacre which has scandalously gone on for years. The fact that the resolution does not allow the UN forces to actually fight the Sudanese Army and their surrogates when they attack civilians does not inspire confidence. This concession however was necessary to avoid a Chinese veto of a resolution which would be unacceptable to their allies in Khartoum. (1)

But More Problems at Home

On the domestic front, Brown will continue to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. So for example, Brown has made it clear that the tax rules that enable the private equity parasites to pay no income tax by setting off loan repayments against tax liability, (funny how workers aren’t allowed to set off their mortgages and credit card debts against income tax payments) will not be changed2. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that it was Chancellor Brown who imposed a three-year below inflation pay freeze on public sector workers, many of whom are some of the lowest paid in the country. So no change there, workers will be expected to pay for the capitalist crisis through lower wage settlements, and the Bank of England will be free to continue to raising interest rates which effectively serve as a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Indeed, this is the real secret to Brown’s honeymoon with the press. Despite the Tories’ efforts to portray him as “Old Labour”, his pro-finance actions over the last decade have endeared him to the City (where the media moghuls make their real money).

But Brown has to grapple with the classic dilemma of the bourgeoisie of how to make the working class pay for the capitalist crisis whilst maintaining social peace. Only days after Brown came into office, a report published by the Rowntree Foundation found that Britain now has the highest level of wealth inequality for 40 years. Whilst in some urban areas over 50% of households are classed as “breadline poor”, the proportion of personal wealth held by the richest 1% of the population has increased from 17% to 24% between 1991 and 2002. With even the Tories making noises about a “broken society” it is clear that the bourgeoisie fear the social consequences of growing inequality. Before the summer recess Brown announced a legislative programme that features social measures more heavily than its predecessor. Measures have been promised to deal with amongst other things, building more “affordable homes” (affordable by who?) to deal with the housing crisis, new education and training opportunities for children up to 18, workplace pensions, protection of children in care as well as various environmental measures. Like most social measures under capitalism this will be largely window dressing with marginal benefits for a few, to be financed though taxation of the working class as a whole. Significantly, measures began under Blair to increase the power of the state over individuals such as ID cards, increasing the period for detention without charge in alleged terrorist cases and more restrictive immigration control will almost certainly not be cancelled by the Brown government.

Under Brown the Labour government may appear more substantial and socially concerned than under Blair’s regime of spin-driven arrogance, but for workers there will be few if any gains. For workers the only way ahead is to forge unity through class struggle, force the bourgeoisie onto the defensive, and ultimately to get rid of this vicious system of exploitation, poverty and war.

(1) For the background on Darfur see “Behind the Smell of Blood in Darfur Lie Imperialist Interests” in Revolutionary Perspectives 40.

(2) For an expansion of this theme see the article on private equity in this issue.

Revolutionary Perspectives

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