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   Vol. 69/No. 16           April 25, 2005  
UK rulers push 'Britain First' in election campaign
Communist League candidates promote working-class alternative
LONDON—Days after Prime Minister Anthony Blair declared that the UK general election for Parliament would be held May 5, and that the Labour Party would be standing on its economic record, Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced that the car manufacturing company MG Rover had gone belly up, threatening thousands of jobs.

“This shows that when the profit-seeking bosses and capitalist politicians speak of growth, it means one thing for them and another for workers,” said Celia Pugh, Communist League candidate for the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in London. Pugh was speaking on BBC Radio London April 10 in a debate between candidates in the constituency. “It shows why the League’s campaign advances the need to organize and strengthen the unions, and use union power to meet the bosses’ attacks,” Pugh said. “This is not something that’s limited to an election debate. No matter who wins the election, working people will face the challenge of the capitalist rulers seeking to offload the effects of the crisis onto our backs through attacks at home and wars abroad.”

MG Rover employs 6,000 workers at its plant at Longbridge in Birmingham. It is the last British-owned volume car manufacturer. In addition to the Longbridge jobs, another 15,000 jobs in the West Midlands car components industry are threatened by the collapse. Adding his voice to the nothing-can-be-done reaction, Stephen O’Brien, the Conservative Party’s Shadow Industry Secretary, described the car company’s failure as a “deeply depressing day.”

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, which organizes the production workers at MG Rover, was at Hewitt’s side when she made the bankruptcy announcement. The government could not have done more to protect the workers’ jobs, the union leader said. He and Hewitt spoke of the Labour government’s backing for the company’s negotiations aimed at securing a deal with a Chinese company, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). The terms of the proposed deal have not been made public.

“MG Rover’s books should be opened so that workers can see what’s been going on behind their backs,” said Peter Clifford, Communist League candidate for Edinburgh East. “Through shining a spotlight on what’s been going on, workers can chart a course forward.” Clifford pointed out that last year the MG Rover bosses had pocketed more than £16 million (£1=US $1.89), including salaries and pension contributions, when the company reportedly lost £89 million.  
British imperialism’s decline
The end of the British-owned car industry is a reflection of the decline of British capitalism, which has generated a debate in ruling circles. The Blair administration strategy is to hold firmly onto the coattails of U.S. imperialism, using the alliance with Washington as a lever in competition with rivals in the European Union. London has committed British troops for the occupation of Iraq for the long term, making it clear that any reduction of the force will be closely coordinated with Washington. The government is also planning to commit more troops to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led operations in that country. The troops will be part of NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

Meanwhile the government is pressing ahead with its reorganization of the UK’s armed forces to bring them into line with the transformation of the U.S. military. The first week of April, Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon announced the formation of a new UK Special Forces Regiment. The unit is aimed at ensuring improved support to international expeditionary operations and will come under the command of the Director Special Forces. It will be part of the UK Special Forces group. This sort of initiative was provided for in the 2002 Strategic Defense Review. “Large operations, against foreign states, can only be plausibly conducted if U.S. forces are engaged, either leading a coalition or in NATO,” said a government document published last year. “Our armed forces will need to be interoperable with U.S. command and control structures [and] match the U.S. operational tempo.”

This orientation is favored by decisive sections of the ruling class and backed by the Armed Forces’ top brass. It has put a squeeze on the space available for the Conservative Party, for well over a century the main party of the British rulers. Following its huge defeat in the 1997 election, the Conservatives have been thrown into crisis. The party was again trounced in the 2001 elections. Now led by Michael Howard, the party has had four leaders over the last eight years.  
Coarsening of political discourse
The shifting sands of the two main capitalist parties, Labour and Tory, the weakness of British imperialism, and the lack of confidence within the ruling class that either party has a way out of London’s decline are factors in the coarsening of the debate in the bourgeois election campaign. The Labour Party has issued posters with the heads of Tory leaders Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin grafted onto a pig’s bodies and questioning whether the Conservative leaders can be trusted by Muslims.

Howard and Letwin, who are both Jewish, have also been associated by the Labour posters as Shylock or Fagin figures—classic anti-Semitic stereotypes. This poster campaign was attacked for its anti-Semitism and withdrawn.

The Tories, for their part, have waged a months-long campaign targeting Blair as a liar who can’t be trusted.  
Britain First framework
The sharper the invective against one another, the more strident the common “Britain First” policies of both parties have become. Chancellor of the Exchequor Gordon Brown has delivered a series of speeches defending “Britishness,” the “United Kingdom,” and the British Empire itself. “The days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over,” said Brown, who chose Tanzania as the place to make these statements, with no hint of shame. “I think we should celebrate much of our past rather than apologize for it and we should talk, rightly so, about British values.”

Each of the three major capitalist parties—Labour, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats—have upped the ante on proposing tightened immigration controls. Under the banner, “It’s not racist to talk about immigration,” Michael Howard has sought to occupy the center stage of the debate. The Conservatives’ proposals, however, are in line with those advanced by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Home Secretary Charles Clarke claims success in the government having cut asylum applications by 67 percent since October 2002, while strengthening border controls and the stepping up of immigration raids. In response to Howard’s campaign, Labour gave the stage to a former Conservative Party immigration minister who congratulated the government for having prevented 1,000 people a day from coming into the United Kingdom and for the rise in deportations.

The anti-immigrant campaign can be expected to improve the fortunes of rightist formations like the UK Independence Party, the newly formed Veritas, and the fascist British National Party. Each of these groups is presenting election campaigns that center on British nationalist and anti-immigrant themes.

Joining the Britain First chorus is former left Labour Member of Parliament George Galloway, now leader of a new formation called Respect the Unity Coalition. Galloway is contesting the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency and has declared his organization—which involves the British Socialist Workers Party and other left-wing groups— the “ghost of Labour’s past.”

“The Royal Navy ships should be brought back from the Gulf to patrol our shores in order to stop the entry of drugs into our country,” Galloway said during the BBC London Radio election debate that featured Bethnal Green and Bow candidates. The war against Iraq should be replaced by a “war against drugs,” the Respect leader stated.

“The campaign against immigrants has been joined in an attempt to scapegoat foreign-born workers for the crisis of the profit system,” Celia Pugh told a packed audience of 150 at an April 3 assembly organized in London’s Elephant and Castle by the Frente Latino (Latin Front). Also addressing the assembly were Labour MP Harriet Harman and local councillors.

“Through threats of deportation, the bosses and capitalist politicians aim to intimidate immigrant workers from fighting back against low pay,” Pugh added. “But they’re failing in their efforts.” The Communist League candidate described the victory of cleaners employed at the giant Canary Wharf office building complex in London’s docklands area who have recently won union recognition. Office cleaners in London are overwhelmingly immigrant, principally from Latin America. “The fight by the cleaners shows how immigration strengthens the working class as a whole,” Pugh said. She explained that her party calls for an end to factory raids and deportations.

“There are an estimated 400,000 immigrants from Latin America in Britain,” said Frente Latino organizer Gloria Gómez, about 40 percent of whom are estimated to be undocumented. “We have to stop being invisible, we must lose our fear, and fight openly for our rights,” Gómez said to applause. She announced that the new organization, formed just six months ago, is growing rapidly.
Related articles:
Socialist Workers organize to get candidates on ballot  
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