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Editorial: The austerity chickens come home to roost – in Britain and in Europe

PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron is in a double bind. Whoever comes out on top in the forthcoming French legislative elections it isn’t going to be his faux-liberal coalition of neoliberal austerians.

His first response to coming second to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement Nationale (NR) in the Euro elections was to try the previously successful tactic of presenting his outfit as the best vehicle for assembling a coalition against the extremes.

This necessarily entailed dragging big elements of the Socialist Party establishment into his governmental majority and now these people are losing out along with him.

Where he came unstuck is that a multifaceted left in French politics overcame their divisions — most clearly on display in the Euros over foreign policy and Nato — and have put together a common programme which is in sharp contradiction to the neoliberal conventions that underpin the economic orthodoxy of 21st century capitalism.

The leading element in this process was the fact that the united trade unions and the political left — willingly, it seems — responded by overcoming provocations and diversions to endorse an alternative economic and political strategy.

Where the French bourgeoisie is divided over whether to stick with Macron’s diminishing chances or take a punt on Le Pen’s gang, the left seems intent on making a serious challenge to both.

Here in Britain 13 national trade unions and campaign groups have called on party leaders to end austerity. 

What makes it especially timely is that it coincides with the 14th anniversary of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s austerity programme.

As Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey was reminded on Thursday in his Question Time grilling, young people have not forgotten the betrayal of his party’s pledge to end tuition fees.

Of course austerity is the constantly available instrument that ensures that the working class bears the burden of capitalist instability. In Britain a mechanism for ensuring this was perfected when Gordon Brown privatised the Bank of England and it is this bunch of unaccountable bankers and economists who decide month by month just how much of our wages finishes up in the pockets of bankers and landlords.

Rishi Sunak has less chance of coming out on top of our election contest than does Macron does in his. Where Macron faces the prospect of several years of uncomfortable cohabitation with his opponents of one kind or another, Sunak must be longing for the moment when the British people call time on his administration.

Perhaps his worst fear is that he might just win in his constituency and then face a decade or so as the humiliated ex-leader of a parliamentary rump that has no further time or use for him.

Sir Keir Starmer faces a different future. Despite his assiduous effort to downplay the prospects of radical change if Labour is elected, a Labour win will encourage expectations among working people that things can only get better.

This ain’t necessarily so. 

Labour is wedded to the same Treasury orthodoxy that eventually presented New Labour with such big problems. Where Gordon Brown resorted to dodgy PFI schemes to shift public-sector spending off the government’s books, these particularly diseased chickens are coming home to roost in the form of schools and hospitals that are encumbered with ruinous debt servicing and extortionate servicing charges.

This presents union leaders and politicians who need to respond to working-class expectations with a choice.

Either act as conduits for Establishment policies that place the inevitable burdens of capitalism’s continuing crisis on workers or become energetic tribunes of the people and advocates of an levelling up that tackles the wealth and power of the rich as the foundation of Britain’s social and economic crisis.

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