Editorial, Europe, BSE crisis, Italy, behind bars, postal workers, Labour divisions
Britain now falls below Chile and Finland in the world competitiveness league. According to recent figures Britain has slipped from 11th position seven years ago to 19th today. This latest bad news on the economy will only serve to increase the desperation of the Tory government to find something, anything, to regain some popularity. John Major's decision to disrupt the work of the European Union has all the hallmarks of a desperate man. But in his attempt to shift the blame for the British crisis over beef he has unleashed a predictable torrent of rabid jingoism in his own party which the tabloids have been only to keen to take up. This has created an atmosphere in which even Gillian Shephard felt able to comment that it is 'unbelievable' that Britain has chosen the music of a German composer (Beethoven) as the theme for the European football championship.
Major's tactic is a dangerous one - far from uniting his splintered party behind him, it may well make the divisions even harder to bridge. A recent editorial in the Financial Times warned how Major's high risk strategy is creating divisions at the top of the Tory Party: 'Several middle ranking ministers privately voiced alarm yesterday that Mr Major's policy of non-cooperation in Brussels is leading the government into a confrontation it cannot win.' It also points out that while Major was happy to count on the support of the centre left of the Tory Party in his defeat of John Redwood last year, since then he has been more concerned to appease the far right. Some MPs are so unhappy that they are threatening to resign the Tory whip. This is despite the fact that, with a majority of only one, any single defection could bring the government down. The barely concealed antagonisms amongst MPs who believe they have little chance of surviving the next general election have come to the surface. Their outspokenness reveals both this feeling of having nothing to lose and the real divisions that do exist in the ruling class about the way forward for British capitalism.
No one in the mainstream of big business believes that Little Englandism is a realistic economic alternative, particularly given the weakness of British capitalism. Making enemies of your trade partners simply does not make commercial sense. In this case it is also obviously opportunistic. Major is not calling for a 'war' with Australia, New Zealand, the US or Canada although all banned the import of British beef long before the European Union. The Tories' traditional supporters are nervous at the damage which the 'war' is doing to their interests in Europe.
A recent Daily Mirror front page had BT's Iain Vallance and the head of Northern Foods calling for Britain to stay in the EU - a clear sign that they believe Major has gone too far in his jingoism Tony Blair - normally quick to address the interests of big business - has failed to go this far or to distance Labour from the shabby tactics of the government. Labour has surpassed itself in its about turn on the beef crisis. In contrast to Harriet Harman's attack on the government when the 'probable link' between BSE and CJD was first announced, now the Labour leadership has jumped on the patriotic bandwagon. When Blair visited Italy last month, he admitted that he had made a pact not to criticise the government's stance on the beef ban in Europe and instead said it was his job to promote British beef.
No longer is there any talk from Labour of the Tories playing with people's lives, Blair's fear of being labelled 'anti-British' means that any effective condemnation is limited. Yet in the past month the number of people blaming the government for the beef crisis rose from 45 percent to 51 percent.
Major's misguided belief that a by-product of the 'Euro-war' offensive will be an increase in popularity with the electorate shows just how out of touch the government has become. Hatred of the Tories' policies and actions over the past 17 years goes too deep to be swept away by a bout of crude nationalism and a few waves of a tattered Union Jack. If Labour would only grasp this, it could both take a stand against nationalism and also make it harder for the most unpopular government in history to hang on to power a moment longer.
The air of 'business as usual' that pervades conventional politics, even as Britain's ruling party is tearing itself to pieces, could be blown away over the coming 18 months. Europe is facing a crisis and the latest report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns of 'a ticking social timebomb'.
The immediate cause is the need to meet the convergence requirements for a European common currency. These demand that countries converting to the Euro in 1999 must cut their public sector budget deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product by the end of next year. Underlying this requirement is a ruling class attempt to escape the economic cycle of shallow booms and deepening slumps that now leaves more than 20 million European Union workers on the dole. The latest downturn in this cycle may already be upon us. While John Major awaited the arrival of the 'feelgood factor', the Financial Times reported in May, 'UK manufacturing industry is technically back in recession.' And the OECD report predicted growth of a mere 0.5 percent in germany - stagnation, at best.
The dominant section of the European ruling class has no answer save a blind faith in the single market, and the common currency is the final piece in their jigsaw. They see it as permitting business to operate across the EU unhindered by fluctuations in currency values and other complications. In turn, they hope the single market can hoist Europe to the level of the economic superpowers, the US and Japan. Of course, this strategic aim has become entwined with shorter term political considerations. Kohl of Germany and Chirac of France have staked their bullish reputations on meeting the convergence criteria, and they know U-turns can be damaging. Look at the Tories. Yet the whole project is looking increasingly shaky, because convergence means cuts and cuts could mean resistance.
France's Tory government faced enormous strikes before Christmas when it made a first attempt to slice jobs, welfare, wages and pensions which forced it to retreat. Now it is back on the offensive, hoping the militancy has died down and threatening up to £8 billion in cuts over 18 months. In Germany, the biggest economy in Europe and the third largest in the world, Chancellor Kohl has even more savage plans - a £32 billion cut in welfare and a two year public sector pay freeze. He blames the convergence criteria, though this is only part of the reason. German bosses have been arguing for the past three years for drastic action to raise productivity - to force workers to produce more for less - in order to compete with the US and Japan. This has already produced a reaction in Europe's potentially most powerful working class.
May saw an escalating round of strikes by bin workers, post workers, bus, tram and train drivers. There were walkouts by engineers, threats of action from bank workers and protests by students - 40,000 on a single citywide demonstration in Berlin. We should see such action as the stirring of a sleeping giant. No section of the German working class has fought an all out national strike since the workers' movement was smashed by Hitler in 1933.
Military occupation, the long postwar boom, and a set of legal restrictions that have given German trade union leaders a near stranglehold over their members, made strikes a peculiarity in the country for most of 60 years. It may take time, but we are witnessing the breakup of the 'German model' - praised by Tony blair - of consensus, not confrontation, between bosses and workers.
A similar process is at work everywhere in Europe. The Italian ruling class failed in its attempt two years ago to attack wages and welfare. A series of protests culminated in a one day general strike by 10 million workers that humbled the conservative government of Berlusconi. Now a new offensive is in the offing.
In Spain the incoming government of the right plans immediate spending cuts of £1 billion. In Belgium, teachers and students are fighting to defend school resources through strikes and protests. You could be forgiven for thinking such confrontation is passing Britain by, except that the ferment in the Tory Party is an expression of the same crisis.
The row is vicious because different sections of the ruling class have diametrically opposed interests. The dominant section fear the loss of profits that would result from being unable to trade on equal terms with the rest of Europe. The opposition point out that more than half Britain's total trade still goes outside the EU, along with two thirds of British capital's direct investment overseas.
Major's problems can only deepen. How can he deliver the tax cuts his party demands, when Britain's budget deficit is running at double the 3 percent convergence rate? And how can he hope to get away with the kind of cuts his class demands?
The same crisis is increasingly sending shudders through the Labour Party. The rows between Blair and his backbenchers, and between Gordon Brown and almost everybody, are not about personalities or style. Labour MP Alan Simpson spelt out the real source of conflict in a recent article in the Guardian. He quoted a leaflet he had co-written, pointing out that the demands of the Maastricht Treaty required 'a [Labour?] government cut £12 billion from today's public expenditure programme - the equivalent of the whole of the police and fire service budgets, or of closing half of all NHS trusts, or shutting all secondary schools and two thirds of primaries.' He went on to explain that this estimate was wrong. 'Figures from the Central Statistical Office show the actual figure for 1995 would have needed £18 billion in cuts. No Labour chancellor could survive such an austerity programme', wrote Simpson. Could a Labour government survive it?
Such is the scale of the difficulty now facing the European ruling class in general, and British capitalism in particular. It is the reason Labour leaders have begun backtracking from their commitment to a single currency, at the same time as the future chancellor lays the groundwork for Labour's opening round of cuts.
Everything is up for grabs in the coming months and years. The outcome will depend on the level of working class resistance. Socialists should be in no danger of mirroring the split among the bosses over Europe. We reject the nationalism of the anti-Europeans, but oppose the EU and its single currency because they mean attacks on workers. We are for workers' unity across borders in the fight to stop those attacks.
Interestingly, only one country in Europe meets the EU's convergence criteria right now - and that is Norway, which is not in the EU. But do not think this means Norway may escape the fallout from the general crisis. May saw workers at 500 Norwegian engineering factories walk out over wages - their first action in 70 years.
A concerted attempt by government and the food industry to claim that beef consumption is back to normal in Britain has been shown as a lie by recent figures.
Figures from the Irish Food Board about Europe's own beef market indicate that, though Germany has been the worst hit with a drop in sales of up to 70 percent, France and Italy have seen falls of between 30 and 50 percent. While government figures still claim that sales in Britain are up to 95 percent of 1995 levels, other figures contradict this well publicised optimism showing an average drop of between 30 to 40 percent.
Beef sales have slumped across the globe. Before Stephen Dorrell's announcement on 20 March about links between BSE and CJD, Britain exported beef to around 139 different countries. Now the foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, admits that only one or two want to continue to buy British beef. The propaganda from the government, farmers, supermarkets and the burger chains proclaims that this lack of confidence in British beef is because of the effect of and the publicity surrounding the world ban, rather than having any scientific basis.
But figures show that over 160,000 cattle in the UK have already been infected with BSE and young people are still being diagnosed with CJD. During surprise checks in the four months to April the state veterinary service found 'unsatisfactory' controls at 67 slaughterhouses. This has led to 22 service officials being subjected to full disciplinary investigation since meat which had been marked as safe for consumption still contained traces of spinal cord.
Since the government's own minister made the announcement that there was a 'probable link' between eating contaminated beef and the new strain of CJD, there has been no new evidence or research which challenges this view. Yet the Tories are whipping up a campaign which accuses people of 'ignoring science' when they refuse to buy British beef.
Far from ignoring the facts, the reaction of the public here and in the rest of Europe is a perfectly rational reaction to the very real fear of becoming infected with a terminal illness with no cure or treatment, the details of which still remain unclear. A survey by the Consumers' Association showed that 71 percent of people questioned believed that the government had withheld information on the risks associated with BSE. That these risks are still a reality is occasionally revealed by the government itself which, the Guardian wrote at the end of last month, 'repeatedly describes British beef as safe to eat, but officials qualify the statement when pressed.'
Recently published figures show that the ministry of agriculture (MAFF) is spending £1 million a week less on scientific research now than it was in 1985 when BSE was first reported. On top of that there are plans to semi-privatise the former Agricultural and Food Research Council. A New Statesman article describes complaints by researchers about government interference. Dr Harash Narang, a former researcher in the Newcastle public health laboratory, claims that some of his research was stopped and that he was continually harassed by officials. One vet who saw BSE symptoms in cattle as far back as 1985 was told by an official from MAFF not to compare the disease to scrapie in sheep in a public lecture he was to give.
The crisis caused by BSE is not a natural disaster but is a direct result of the pressure to make more profits from ever intensified farming. While the government continues to see its job as restoring these profits regardless of the consequences, the crisis will not go away. Until vets and scientists are given the resources to find answers to such basic questions as whether BSE can be passed from cow to calf in the womb - this is still unknown - it will need a lot more than a publicity campaign to rebuild people's confidence in the safety of British beef.
The victory of the Olive Tree Alliance in the Italian elections last month is being hailed as a breakthrough for the left. In Britain the New Statesman was jubilant, and in Italy itself there were street parties, though not on the scale of the celebrations for Mitterrand in France in 1981.
This was a vote for change, a vote against the austerity and racism of the Freedom Alliance which unites Berlusconi's right wing populists with the neo-Nazis of the National Alliance. It buries the myth that Berlusconi's media influence made him impregnable. What is more, Rifondazione Communista (Communist Refoundation) won 8 percent of the vote, standing as part of the Olive Tree Alliance on a platform of nationalisation, increased social spending and protection of wages.
But before we join the celebrations we need to take a closer look at the Olive Tree Alliance. It contains most of the remnants of the Christian Democrats, the main postwar governing party. Romano Prodi - the prime minister - is an ex Christian Democrat economist who used to run IRI, the main industrial conglomerate. All the signs are that Lamberto Dini, banker and ex prime minister, will get a key cabinet post. Many of the Olive Tree's local candidates were openly right wing. In Florence, for example, it stood Cecchi Gori, an ex Christian Democrat who owns the local football team and two television stations.
The reformed Communist Party, the PDS, provides the organisational backbone to the Olive Tree Alliance as well as its left colouring. Since the war, the Italian Communist Party PCI has pioneered the drive towards cross class alliances and respectability in the international Stalinist movement. It has an appalling record of fighting for workers' interests. After the war the PCI leadership managed to contain mass militancy in the interests of 'national unity' and concentrated its efforts on holding together an alliance with the US-backed Christian Democrats - who turned on them once the situation stabilised.
During the 'Red Years' of 1968-72, when Italian capitalism seemed on the brink of collapse, the PCI was 'the great absentee', desperate to distance itself from worker and student militancy. It was only when the mass revolt of those years faltered that PCI leaders took the initiative, and relaunched an alliance with the Christian Democrats under the grandiose title the 'Historic Compromise'.
Olive Tree is the Historic Compromise in action. The right wing is calling the shots. The PDS and its Communist precursor have long felt the need for an alliance with 'progressive sections of the bourgeoisie' to win elections, but bourgeois politicians have finally consented to the match only because they know they are in control. For Prodi, this will be a government of 'capitalism tempered by public initiative'. The Alliance's programme seeks social cooperation, but cooperation in the pursuit of increased worker flexibility and financial rigour. Investors are confidently predicting the complete privatisation of the state telecom industry and the sell off of the state's share in the insurer INA.
The PDS has ditched the rhetoric of old style reformism, let alone socialism. Its leader Massimo D'Alema gave his recent book the inspirational title A Normal Country. Under the previous Dini government the PDS showed it would go to any lengths to establish its 'social responsibility' by signing up to a decree which made expulsion of immigrants much easier at a time of rising anti-immigrant feeling. PDS leaders have become enthusiastic advocates of austerity in the run up to European integration, with a finance bill coming as soon as possible 'that will contain a lot of cuts'.
The only progressive element in its programme for a 'return to normality' is a commitment to restore democracy. The implication is that the Olive Tree Alliance will tackle the corruption in public life exposed by reforming judges. It looks as if the most prominent of those campaigning judges, the rather shady right winger Di Pietro,will be given a leading cabinet post. His agenda is unclear, but it's unlikely that the Olive Tree leadership will have much enthusiasm for a real clean up in case investigators end up knocking on their own front doors. D'Alema himself has already been implicated in illicit funding activities.
It is not surprising then that the currency strengthened sharply when the election results were announced and shares rose in a mood described by the Financial Times as 'euphoric'. The markets are delighted at the prospect of stability after years of political upheaval. The Olive Tree Alliance has positive advantages for the ruling class. Olive Tree's strong links with the unions will be an advantage in pushing through austerity measures in sensitive areas such as health care.
The supposedly hardline Communist Refoundation is unlikely to have any influence on government policy. Its leaders will undoubtedly make some radical noises, but they are effectively hostages of the right. As a PDS deputy pointed out, in electoral terms Refoundation has 'nowhere else to go but to support the "moderate right".' Despite holding the balance of power, having helped to sow illusions in a centre left government, the last thing it will do is cause too many problems or bring down a government that people have been waiting for for so long. In any case many PDS deputies seem prepared to consider an alliance with sections of the right if Refoundation does cause problems.
In the meantime, the logic of the elections has pulled Refoundation away from organising on the ground. In February its militants organised a 200,000 strong demonstration against budget cuts in Rome, but it has done nothing to follow that up.
Turning away from rank and file mobilisation and supporting a government committed to cuts is particularly dangerous at a time when the right is still strong.The racist Northern Leagues did very well in their strongholds winning 59 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies with 11 percent of the national vote. Fini's National Alliance won 15 percent of the vote, not as much as it had hoped but still its best result ever. In some areas like Molise in the South it is the biggest single party. The openly Nazi 'flame' organisation which split from the National Alliance also made important advances.
Racism has become respectable in official politics. One particularly poisonous candidate of the Northern Leagues recently advised against sending immigrants home on planes 'because they might rape the stewardesses'. Not surprisingly reports suggest an alarming growth of racist attacks across the country.
Both the need and the potential for genuine socialist politics in Italy are frustratingly obvious. As elsewhere in Europe, Italian capitalists are committed to massive assaults on wages and on the welfare state. At the same time, the strikes that crippled Berlusconi's government just two years ago proved to millions of workers that they have the power to beat any employers' offensive, and even whole governments. Tangentopoli - the judges' clean up campaign - has exposed corruption at the very base of Italian capitalism, without actually dealing with it. Unemployment is out of control in many areas, reaching 50 percent among young people in parts of the south. Refoundation is in danger of simply tying the best workers to this decrepit system instead of mobilising them against it.
There is significant discontent within Refoundation at the electoral pact its leaders made to get on board the Olive Tree Alliance. In some areas local branches stood their own candidate rather than vote for a right wing Olive Tree deputy in the second ballot. But Refoundation is rooted in the Stalinist politics of the old Communist Party. Its leaders split from the PDS because they could not stomach open capitulation to the bosses, but they will not break from their traditional zigzag between electoralism and limited mobilisations and strikes.
More than ever Italy needs an organisation that will clearly and openly oppose a system so obviously in crisis.
Brian Roberson is due to be executed by lethal injection by the state of Texas on 10 July. This is the latest date he has been given, having had four stays of execution since his first date was set last year. But time is running out. Brian is poor, black and working class. He had the unfortunate luck of being in the vicinity of a murder of a white man that took place nine years ago. There were no fingerprints on the murder weapon, no positive identification, yet Brian and his friend Darryl were arrested the next day. Darryl died in police custody of a brain tumour, and ever since Brian has been languishing in jail. He has now spent eight years on death row.
Brain's mother, Betty Roberson, is fighting for her son's life. She writes to us from the US:
'Every day I have lived with that threat for the past eight years - the threat that my child will deliberately and unjustly be put to death! This is the true torture of the death penalty... I believe this is a racially motivated conviction.
It is difficult to understand why the white man who murdered my husband only got 13 years and was released after only three years, while my son, who is black, got the death penalty. I don't think there is anyone who can really explain this to me. I believe that Brian's conviction was racially motivated.'
The state of Texas has now executed over 100 death row prisoners. Since 1976 there have been more executions in Texas than any other state in the US. The racial breakdown of inmates in Ellis No 1 unit, where Brian is held, shows a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics, highlighting the embedded racism of the judicial system.
Brian's case first came to our attention when he wrote to us early last year. Since then he has received messages of support, petitions and donations from many people across the world. There is also a campaign to try to raise money for a defence lawyer. He has regularly written to us about racism in the US (or AmeriKKKa as he calls it) and the inhuman treatment he receives in prison.
Recently he wrote:
'Prior to being sent to this prison I had absolutely no idea that human beings were treated so cruelly. Now I have been affected myself beyond description. This is an experience that no human being should have to go through. I feel ostracised because I am a poor African-American. It is often hard for me to keep faith and I hope I will survive this place.'
But there is little time left to save Brian's life and stop another act of brutal state racism. He needs messages of support, petitions and, if possible, donations. As he says, 'I am incapable of combating this justice system alone without support and resources...please help me.'
Write to: Brian Roberson, TDCJ No 886, Ellis No 1 Unit, Huntsville, Texas, US. Send donations ($US) to: Bettie Roberson, 1218 Adelaide Drive, Dallas, 75216, Texas, US.
Send letters of protest to the prison governor at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Petitions for Brian's defence can be obtained from Socialist Review.
The result of a strike ballot among 140,000 Royal Mail workers was to be announced as Socialist Review went to press.
The vote on national action comes at the end of more than two years of bitter guerilla warfare in post offices around Britain. Postal workers have been the most militant section of the working class since 1992, and the curve has been rising.
Official figures notified to the Department of Employment do not give the full picture because many walkouts last less than a day and therefore are not recorded. But in his evidence during a court case against the union last year Royal Mail's industrial relations strategy manager, John Fisher, spoke of 'an ever increasing tide of unofficial action'.
He said that in 1993 there were 32 'significant' stoppages and in 1994 there were 65. Last year that figure rose to 88 - almost two a week. Many of these go entirely unreported and postal workers even in the next town may not know they happen. Typically a local manager does something particularly obnoxious, a shift stops and generally the workers win. There is no ballot, no anti union laws and no interference from head office.
Such strikes have always been denounced by the national CWU union officials, if they get to hear of them. But they have been the crucial block to Royal Mail's plans to increase exploitation through speedups, job cuts and more discipline.
In addition a high profile dispute in Scotland at the end of last year gave a great fillip to activists everywhere by winning through mass picketing and defying the anti-union laws. Despite the CWU leaders' desperate manoeuvres to avoid calling a ballot, the pressure from below eventually forced the postal executive to call the strike vote.
The central issues are Royal Mail's insistence on pushing through its 'Employee Agenda' - teamworking and job cuts - and workers' demands for a shorter working week without strings.
One interesting result of the level of unofficial strikes during the last two years is the emergence of the glimmerings of rank and file coordination. A meeting in London in March saw 150 activists from 40 CWU postal branches (half the national total) come together for a discussion on the way forward. This was despite Royal Mail trying to sabotage the meeting and the union's officials condemning it.
The campaign for a strike has seen not only the union's national officials forced to argue for action, but also a significant number of local branches producing their own propaganda. Such initiatives, and rank and file organisation, will be crucial if the vote goes for a strike. The union officials want to return to talks. They will be encouraged by Tony Blair to get a deal and avoid an 'embarrassing' strike in this pre-election period. But it is possible that the Tories will try a desperate gamble and instruct Royal Mail to stand firm and try to face down the workers.
If a battle starts, it may not be easy for the national officials to control. It will certainly not be easy for the Tories or big business to ignore it. Postal workers move 68 million letters a day. No management is going to be able to arrange scabbing cover for more than a tenth of that. There are many other scenarios than an all out national postal strike. But if it does happen it will be very significant.
The avowed aim of those close to Tony Blair of 'leapfrogging Thatcherism' is causing havoc inside the Labour Party. Divisions which it was expected would be covered up until the general election was over keep spilling out into the open. Attempts to pre-empt Tory policies have led to more attacks on working class people. In the last month New Labour has been even more enthusiastic than the Tories in arguing that we can no longer afford the welfare state and care 'from the cradle to the grave'. Chris Smith, Labour's social security spokesman, has been set the task by Blair of 'thinking the unthinkable' about benefit reforms. 'Reform' for New Labour means welfare cuts, so much so that even the Guardian has called Labour's proposals 'the end of the welfare state'.
The most vicious attack from Labour is against pensioners. Working people at present pay 24 percent of their earnings in direct tax and a further 10 percent in National Insurance contributions to ensure that they do receive adequate pensions and long term care when old. Labour is echoing Tory calls to scrap such benefits and force workers to pay towards private pension funds - the equivalent of a huge tax increase but which goes directly into the pockets of the insurance companies. Already pension levels in Britain are pitifully low. Pension spending as a percentage of GDP is just 6 percent in Britain, compared to 12 percent in Germany and 16 percent in Italy. 'Surely it is time', argues Smith, 'to get away from the sterile battle lines of public and private, and instead look at how the two can work together.' This was echoed more explicitly by Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell, who said, 'The government believes that the principle responsibility for making [pension] provision rests with the individual.'
Both Labour and the Tories now accept the myth that pensioners cost too much and cannot be supported by the state. Since 1979 the Tories have successfully shifted the burden of taxation from rich to poor, which Labour, when it comes to power, is not prepared to reverse. This alone could provide the money for a decent pension for all. The Child Poverty Action Group concludes that if the levels of taxation were restored to what they were in 1979 the state would have an extra £31.4 billion at its disposal. And the argument that we have an aging population that can no longer be guaranteed state support fails to take into account the fact that labour productivity from those at work increases over time. This means we have greater output and more wealth in society to support those who can no longer work, but it is a question of where those resources go.
Not content with attacking the old, Labour is also to deny students a grant when they go to college. Labour's education spokesman, David Blunkett, revealed that Labour will end the grant system for 1.6 million students. This would force them to fund all their education from a loan which would take half a working life to pay back. Combined with the continued talk from Gordon Brown that Labour will end child benefit for 16 to 18 year olds it is clear that working class families face continued attacks when the Tories are kicked out.
No wonder that these and similar attacks have caused discontent in Labour's own ranks. Every time a shadow minister speaks out for slightly more fairness or equality, they get stamped on by Blair. So Michael Meacher had to disown an article written in his name which said that Labour would abolish the hated Jobseeker's Allowance, just as Clare Short was pilloried for suggesting that the richest 10 percent in Britain should pay slightly more tax. At the same time, Blair's close adviser Peter Mandelson is able to tell a bankers' dinner that Labour welcomes entrepreneurs.
The unease among Labour MPs is reflected much more widely. One poll last month showed that Labour's support stood at 52 percent, but only 14 percent believed what Blair said. These figures underline the discrepancy between what people want from a Labour government and what they can expect. In Britain today 11 million people - 20 percent of the population - are living below the poverty line. Working class people have suffered cuts in housing, health and education. New Labour's solution to all this lies in redefining poverty. Smith says, 'If you are highly skilled, earning a reasonable wage, and have a modicum of savings, when you are thrown out of work you may become technically poor but you may well have a reasonable chance of re-establishing yourself out of poverty in a short period of time...our national assessment of what poverty means needs to take that into account.'
So the idea that we are witnessing the end of the welfare state is not just another scare story. Nor is a Blair government likely to have much room to manoeuvre with manufacturing industry once again facing recession. With the continuing poor state of the British economy it is pensioners and working class people, rather than the rich or company profits, who are made to suffer. The choice under a Blair government will be accepting further cuts or beginning to organise a fightback. The signs are already there that many who were prepared to give Blair the benefit of the doubt find their patience stretched thin. In particular, the union leaders who have delivered so much to Blair - especially the vote to abandon Clause Four - are now kicking against Labour's rightward move.
The TGWU's Bill Morris said recently, 'We look forward to having a government we can work with but we do not expect any favours and we will not be giving any either.'
The disquiet felt by much of Labour's mainstream even at this stage shows just how narrow Blair's base of positive support really is. Many of those looking to Labour expect much more than New Labour is planning to give.