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Editorial: Mass action is the antidote to Labour-Tory policy consensus

“LABOUR and the Tories move closer on economy.”

Thus a headline in the Financial Times last week. The FT speaks not just to and for British finance capital, but to capitalists worldwide needing a steer on British and international politics.

Unlike the bought-and-paid-for Tory press, it usually does so without demagogy or partisan point-scoring. Its conclusions are therefore to be taken seriously.

It writes: “Despite being the official opposition, Labour has signally refused to oppose many of [Jeremy] Hunt’s recent economic policies…” including the cuts to National Insurance.

Further: “Hunt set out 110 measures to boost the economy in his 2023 autumn statement and Labour opposed none of them. The same applied to all of the policies announced in the chancellor’s spring budget this year.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has also agreed with all Chancellor Hunt’s financial services reforms, has accepted his target of ensuring falling debt as a share of national income within five years, and adopted his corporation tax rate.

The Tories have repaid the compliment up to a point, stealing Labour proposals on taxing non-doms and the North Sea oil and gas industries.

But this convergence is mainly on Tory terms, with Labour dumping any proposal, like its green investment plans, which sit outside the consensus around a new austerity.

For that is what is on offer at the general election. It is a further squeeze on public services and wages to help improve the competitive position of British capitalism.

Reeves and the Labour Party pretend that their approach represents “change” because it offers “stability” after years of Tory chaos.

In fact, Tory policy has been relatively consistent and purposeful since 2010. Admittedly it plunged into genuine chaos in the brief Liz Truss interregnum, but the markets soon sorted that out on their own terms and since then Hunt and Rishi Sunak have charted the course which Keir Starmer and Reeves have pledged to follow.

So the “stability” is essentially Tory stability and the “change” is no change at all. Labour’s logic is to stick within the parameters of what works for capital accumulation and growth through the production of value.

Any policy or objective that capital cannot easily afford is discarded. In conditions of intensifying international competition very little room for manoeuvre is left.

When one factors in the other major area of complete bipartisan agreement — an imperialist world policy, including rapid increases in military spending — then it reaches vanishing point.

A Starmer administration will thus become the second Labour government in a row to operate on the basis of an agenda handed down by the Conservative Party. 

This should be called what it is — a significant victory for the capitalist class. Small surprise that the Financial Times seems so pleased with what it calls “the inconvenient truth” of Tory-Labour convergence.

The labour movement needs to reject this logic entirely. It must start from the other end of the problem — the need to satisfy working-class and popular needs.

Social requirements must be imposed on capitalism, rather than shrivelled to acceptable dimensions.

It is unlikely that the movement will impose such a perspective on Starmer and Reeves before a general election now just a few months away.

But it should inform their actions thereafter, assuming that Labour comes to office. The only way the Labour-Tory unity on economic policy can be broken is by mass struggle around demands arising from people’s needs.

From a struggling health service to polluted rivers to rip-off energy bills to collapsing local authorities, society is choking on the detritus of neoliberal governance. Absent political initiative, mass mobilisation, often union-led, is the only way forward.

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