How do you deal with the deepest recession for nearly a century? According to the Tories, ignore the real cause – a massive lack of demand within the economy – and instead hammer the under-class whose fast-shrinking incomes contract further still the level of aggregate demand on which growth depends. Dole out £3bn to those with incomes from £3,000 to £100,000 a week, whilst at the same time chopping disabled persons’ benefits by up to 70%, socially cleansing 80,000 families from inner London by housing benefit restrictions, and introducing a modernised version of wage slavery by bringing in unpaid and unlimited work experience placements as a condition of benefit. Never was it clearer that this government believes that the rich will only work if you pile ever greater rewards on them, while the poor will only work if you kick them ever harder.
It is hard to take in the enormity of what the Tories are doing. To impose draconian penalties on people who fail to get jobs or take up ‘work-related activity’ (the WRAG group) is harsh enough when it includes persons diagnosed with terminal cancer or afflicted with strokes, mental ill-health or paralysis is harsh enough, but to do so at the pit of a recession when on average at least 8 persons are chasing every job is punitive beyond belief. The Tory Right trumpets an ‘alternative economic strategy’ based on even deeper cuts (another £10bn or more) combined with more deficit-enhancing tax cuts for the rich – the exact opposite of what the economy needs and wrong on every count. It would weaken demand still further, raise the sense of injustice to explosive levels, and likely provoke violence on the streets.
But where is Labour in all this? The reason the Tories are able to go to such previously unimaginable lengths of social brutality is that there is next to no resistance from the only bodies with the potential power to block them – the Labour Party and trade union movement. Thirty years ago Labour would have been out on the streets throughout the country with repeated meetings, marches and demonstrations to rouse the conscience of the country to fight back. Until such organised resistance is put in their way to cause them to draw back, the Tories will continue ruthlessly and relentlessly to push the boundaries of injustice and oppression ever further. If rioting and mayhem, which is inevitable sooner or later on the present course, is to be avoided, the Labour Party now has a duty to give a lead on behalf of half or more of the population which is currently leaderless and disenfranchised.