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Editorial: A carefully crafted exercise in political opportunism 

YESTERDAY’S announcement that a “radical” shake-up of further education is on the way is part of the government’s response to the rising anxieties about unemployment.

That a tsunami of job losses is coming our way is one rare example of the unusual situation where ruling class worries are also those of millions of workers.

For workers, the fear is that the ending of coronavirus crisis wage support means financial disaster, eviction possibly and drastically straitened circumstances in any case.

For the Tories, the worry is that electors will see beyond the Covid-19 dimensions to this crisis and begin to grasp the underlying character of the capitalist system. 

In “normal” times, the fear of unemployment is always there but kept in proportion by the cyclical nature of these crises. 

Now the fear is much more widely spread and anyone who has bought into the benefit scrounger myths so assiduously promoted by the millionaire press and tabloid TV may find out just how difficult it is to survive on benefits.

And for anyone who thinks that their mortgage company is a philanthropic institution created solely for the purpose of providing a roof for the prudent will find that their debts are a traded commodity and the bailiffs knocking on the door care not a whit for their misfortune.

Boris Johnson’s statement is a carefully crafted exercise in political opportunism that is entirely in keeping with the Tories’ pressing political imperative to make a play for those parts of the working class — skilled, semi-skilled and those with not-so-marketable skills — who have lost faith with Labour.

Labour’s disengagement from its working-class base is a longstanding phenomenon and the Corbyn interlude began to recover parts of it with a well-thought-out policy portfolio. 

As a result of these years — on education, jobs and industrial recovery — Labour has a very good story to tell and it needs telling, most especially now that the Tories are stealing Labour’s clothes.

There is a sense that education and technical training is not quite fit for purpose. Or to put it another way, that the make-up of our economy — with its vastly reduced industrial and productive sector and its inflated service and financial services sector — does not serve the overall needs of society or meet the aspirations of many millions of people.

The disintegration of industry-based technical and trade training is a longstanding feature of our economy and, coupled with the underfunding of further education, has resulted in a connected series of skills shortages.

It is bizarre that there is a shortage of butchers and that the income qualification in the Tories’ points-based immigration scheme must be lowered by 25 per cent in order to attract migrant butchers whose training costs fell on some other country’s budget. 

It is ridiculous for an advanced economy like Britain’s to be forced to exploit migrant labour when our own attenuated further education system could do with a massive boost.

At so many levels the Tories’ policies fail the test of coherence. The scale of the crisis is forcing the government to take some actions but even these are incomplete and subordinated to their electoral project.

The individualised, market-driven, profit-seeking mentality of the capitalist class cannot grasp the necessity for an economy to be planned in order to meet the material needs of a mature society and the human needs of the working people who collectively produce the material foundations of modern life. 

Yet to argue that this is impossible when the means of production, distribution and exchange are privately owned might now get you sacked if you try teaching it.


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