The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, tells us that austerity is coming to an end. But there was little sign of that in his budget statement to parliament this week. Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell rejected his claim, saying that more welfare cuts were come. He also said that prisons, schools and local authorities would not have much to celebrate about the new budget, and should be preparing for more difficult years ahead.
Hammond said this was a budget for "strivers, grafters and carers". But it was, as usual, a budget for the capitalists, bankers, industrialists and landowners who really run this country. The Chancellor doled out some sops to provide the mainstream media with more fake news about a “give away” budget for “Middle England”. But robbing Peter to pay Paul seldom fools anyone these days.
The bourgeois media trumpeted Hammond’s decision to lift some low-paid workers out of income taxation by raising the personal allowance to £12,500. But raising the higher tax band to £50,000 will benefit the high-earners whose loyalty the Tories need to retain at the next election.
A one-off £400 million “bonus” for schools to buy “little extras” goes nowhere to compensate for a decade of cuts, whilst the much vaunted £4 billion for mental healthcare comes out of the existing £20 billion already earmarked for the NHS, which everyone who works in the health service thinks is woefully inadequate.
Hammond says that austerity will end but “discipline will remain”, which means the same in Tory-speak. No wonder the Labour leader has called this a “broken-promise budget”. Jeremy Corbyn points out that the spending plans bring no benefit to poorer people and will only lead to further cuts to many public services.
Corbyn deplored the decision not to reverse the benefit freeze, saying: “The benefit freeze takes £1.5bn from 10 million low- and middle-income households. A low-income household with children will be £200 worse off. For them, there is no end to austerity. Labour would have ended the benefit freeze.”
Corbyn told parliament: “This government is harsh on the weak and feeble on the strong… This budget won’t undo the damage done by eight years of austerity and doesn’t begin to measure up to the scale of the job that needs to be done to rebuild Britain.”
That job can only be done by Labour. Corbyn’s overwhelming support within the trade union movement and the rank-and-file of the Labour party shows that Labour is still a potentially strong weapon for our class. Although the New Communist Party has never confused Labour with a revolutionary party, nor imagined that we can build a people’s democracy through parliamentary elections, a Labour government, with its organisational links with the trade unions and the co-operative movement, offers the best option for the working class in the era of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
Our strategy is for working class unity. We struggle to defeat the right-wing within the movement, and campaign to strengthen the left within the Labour Party and the unions. We support Labour’s demands for the restoration of trade union rights, progressive taxation, state welfare and a public sector dedicated to meet the people’s needs.
The shaky Tory coalition is riven with dissent over the European Union. It can and must be brought down to pave the way to a new general election. Mass pressure from the labour and peace movement is needed to speed the day and ensure that Labour gets a big enough mandate at the next general election to govern without the dubious assistance of the Scottish National Party or the Liberal Democrats.