Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Assumes Office in Britain:
Through the Neoliberal Looking Glass with Tweedledum and Tweedledee...
When Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government swept into power in Britain in 1979, the country faced its first round of neoliberal transformations – massive public service cuts, de-industrialisation, a vicious onslaught on Trade Union rights and blatantly racist immigration policies. Tony Blair, the New Labour prime minister who will go down in history as the man who declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan, continued and accelerated Thatcher’s policies of deregulation, privatisation, dismantling public services, and handing yet more power to finance capital. Blair was glorified by the tabloids as ‘son of Thatcher’. David Cameron, the new prime minister emerging out of a hung parliament, against a background of the implosion of neoliberal capitalism, has nothing like the electoral mandate which either of these predecessors enjoyed, but the centrist facade of his party’s ‘cosy’ coalition with the Liberal Democrats is already showing signs of cracking revealing a particularly vicious brand of right-wing politics.
With the new government in office, the UK’s overwhelmingly right-wing mainstream press largely owned by Rupert Murdoch is baying for the blood of two of the Pakistani students, Abid Naseer and Faraz Khan, who were arrested last April and have been incarcerated as Category A prisoners ever since. What is their crime? No one, not even they themselves or their lawyers have been told. The Special Immigration Appeals Court (SIAC) which discusses cases behind closed doors and deals with secret evidence had claimed that an email discussing girls and a prospective wedding was in fact a coded message about explosives and an imminent terrorist attack. Now the SIAC claims that Abid Naseer was actually linked to ‘Al Qaida operatives’ while the other knowingly helped him in making plans to blow up a shopping centre. And yet these young men whose presence, according to the new Home Secretary, Theresa May, ‘posed and still poses a serious threat to the National Security of the United Kingdom’ cannot be charged with any crime because, as the judge acknowledges, there is not enough evidence to charge them.
At the same time, under the Human Rights Act they cannot be deported to Pakistan because they are likely to face torture and possibly death – torture incidentally which, as was recently exposed, was carried out on British orders. The legal impasse, and the construction by the judge of Abid and Faraz as dangerous terrorists, followed by frenzied reiteration by the media, however, now provides the government with an opportunity to push through the Human Rights policy which they had promised in their manifesto and which their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats had opposed strongly: withdrawal from the European Human Rights Convention and scrapping of the Human Rights Act in favour of a UK ‘Bill of Rights’.
The Liberal Democrats have compromised on almost every other issue: gone is their opposition to the Trident Nuclear warheads, submarines and missiles costing an estimated £100 Billion, gone are their plans to join the European Union, and even their cherished plans for a system of proportional representation have been shelved, all for the sake of four seats in the Cabinet and the Deputy Prime minister’s post for Cameron-look-alike Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems have even embraced the Tory ‘cap’ on non-EU immigration which they had earlier opposed - this aims to reduce the number of highly skilled workers from Asia, Africa and Latin America entering the UK from around 150,000 to around 70,000 and also inevitably to make it far more difficult for relatives and friends of those already settled here to visit them. If the Lib Dems give in to Tory human rights policy too, as they appear to be doing since they have already agreed to a review of the Human Rights legislation, it will remove even the few remaining means of appealing for justice in a new and far more ruthlessly racist and right-wing judicial system. The position of refugees will become far more precarious than it is already under the existing harsh asylum laws and policies. What is particularly ironic is that the Conservatives fought this election on a platform which included reversing New Labour’s attacks on civil liberties.
The scrapping of the Human Rights Act will also have other far reaching effects including preventing the Right to Assembly, further facilitating the banning of protests, including strikes. In fact, in tune with the new political climate, the courts appear to be already ignoring the Act in this respect. Using the flimsy excuse of a few spoiled ballot papers, an injunction has already been issued against a planned strike by British Airways workers. The union has of course appealed against the injunction terming it a ‘landmark attack on trade unionism’ which ‘brings into question whether we have the right to strike in this country’. Already London Underground company Tube Lines are attempting to challenge the legality of a planned strike by maintenance drivers on the same basis.
With Nick Clegg capitulating to Tory demands that four-fifths of deficit reduction should come from cuts in government spending, and a £6bn cut in spending planned for this financial year alone, already deeply entrenched inequality in Britain will reach unprecedented levels.
If these are some of the new domestic policies brought in for David Cameron’s ‘big society’, his government’s proposed foreign policies are equally ominous. While support for Israel will continue, international ‘aid’ will now be far more focussed on security concerns – in other words DFID’s current role in counter-insurgency in Afghanistan will be expanded and probably extended to Africa and other parts of the world targeted by imperialism.
While the Labour Party scrabbles desperately for a leader who can help it regain its cherished centre right ground, the intensified class polarisation and increasingly repressive climate heralded by the new government brings both new challenges and new possibilities for left and progressive forces to organise and resist.