“Yeah, five more years of Tory cuts”, I answered disconsolately.
“They’re all the same”, he said.
A common enough view. Certainly the view of the left who stood for election, hoping for a vote while realistically knowing that they had no chance of being elected and discounting the effect of taking votes away from the Labour Party.
But not the view of others.
‘The Guardian’ reported that once the result became clear bank shares went up as the threat of more restrictive regulation receded and higher taxes on bankers’ bonuses loomed less large.
Around £1billion was added to the value of the energy company Centrica with the disappearance of the prospect of tougher rules in the energy sector. The share value of companies that provide outsourced services (privatisation to you and me) also rose, as did those of Sports Direct, whose shares rose by £95m without a Labour threat to their use of zero hours contracts.
“Enquiries came in just after midnight” said one London estate agent, from prospective clients who no longer had to ‘worry’ about Labour’s ghastly mansion tax. Even bookmakers did well, with Ladbrokes share value rising as the plan to crack down on fixed odds betting terminals, the ‘crack cocaine’ of the industry, disappeared, as Labour’s promise of a crackdown became a ripped up betting slip.
But the report in the ‘Financial Times’ on Saturday put it best, beginning its article like this. .
“. . as the surprise exit poll results came in shortly after 10pm on Thursday night, the mood in the Cavalry and Guards club on Piccadilly turned from funereal to one of incredulous celebration.”
“Earlier in the evening , diners at the Mayfair gentlemen’s club had wallowed in gallows humour as they declared that the election result could mark a fin d’époque for the wealthy in London. . . This stiff upper lip turned to genuine joy as it transpired that the fortunes of the Conservative party had exceeded both the opinion polls and the party’s wildest dreams.”
“This could turn into the biggest celebration ever”, said one Tory supporter. . “We can cancel the removal vans. Non-doms watching the exit polls are unpacking their bags”, said his friend.”
All overstated of course, but those who won’t acknowledge any truth in the report are blowing out of the wrong end.
In some ways I find such reports reassuring. The super-rich, the real capitalist class, are daily invisible and even the reports of their reaction to the result are through their minions who sell their shares for them or sell them houses or advise them and the rest of us that higher taxes for the rich are a jolly bad thing.
These reports reveal the existence and power of those behind the system, who benefit most from its inequality, and provide glimpses of the class structure within the capitalist mode of production.
While the thought of champagne-popping celebrations in London gentlemen’s’ clubs are valuable because they provide an instinctive and visceral view of what the election victory means it really is no more than that. The existence and power of the capitalist class, which can appear rather abstract and esoteric in Marxist analysis, is impersonal and largely invisible not only because we don’t run across the mega-rich every day but because it is the system itself which is the problem. The super-rich are just the personalised expression of the social relations of the system, just as the rich hangers-on of these people such as the estate agents, city dealers and tax advisors represent themselves as the appearance of their mega-rich clients.
Understanding the system and how it works and what the alternative to it is are therefore fundamental. Understanding the class nature of society and what side you’re on is what’s called class consciousness and it is oddly reassuring that at least one section of society understands theirs.
However the impersonal and systematic nature of capitalism makes this difficult for workers and in so far as they do recognise their own interests this is often expressed in distorted ways. Sometimes very distorted ways, as shown in the election results.
So a lot of the explaining of the election result takes off from the appearance that, for example, Miliband was a bit of a geek and Cameron much more Prime Ministerial. While Sturgeon, a career politician in the Scottish parliament since 1999, is genuine and sincere and not like the other career politicians; one who could be trusted not so much despite the record of the SNP in Government but sometimes in more or less total ignorance of it.
At only a slightly more sophisticated level of analysis it is claimed that the election was lost because Labour did not have a coherent narrative. They allowed the Tories to get away with lying that the recession was a ‘Labour recession’ caused by excessive Government spending instead of a financial crisis that affected the world. They had a confused message that promised to reduce the deficit but also to protect public services and they appeared to both stand for and not stand for robust social-democratic politics. All very true of course but hardly convincing by itself.
After all, if Labour sent mixed messages the Tory story was beyond belief. They waved the big scary deficit monster in everyone’s faces while promising to pass a law that appeared to prevent them from putting up taxes.
They were going to cut welfare, and not in a nice way either, but nobody would really get hurt, or rather they refused to say who would get hurt. They had done it before they said and therefore could be relied upon to do it again. Their record spoke for itself they said, except their record on welfare cuts didn’t at all support their claims.
While the deficit was their number one priority and hard choices had to be made they were still going to cut taxes and give the NHS an increase of £8 billion! Was anyone supposed to believe this rubbish?
If they looked like they were confident of winning, while almost no one believed they would, it had to be because Eton and all the other posh schools they go to teach smarmy self-confidence and born to rule self-belief, while their management of the economy would appear to reflect that PPE at Oxford now means a piss poor education.
At a more persuasive level it has been argued that the improving economy allowed the Tories to claim that their austerity policies were working, and Labour appeared to have no convincing rebuttal to such claims. In some respects therefore the Tories got lucky. The recent upturn is very likely to be very temporary as the most recent figures for economic growth herald the downturn to come. The recent upturn has therefore been based on short-term cyclical movements and one-off factors.
To really be able to rebut the Tories on this point would therefore have required a more advanced understanding of economic development than Labour was ever going to argue for, and frankly a more advanced understanding than many workers show themselves ready for at the moment.
It is nevertheless true, that despite these problems, the fact is that for many austerity has not ‘worked’ and has still led to the longest period of falling living standards for a very long time regardless of the latest limited improvement.
Finally it has been argued that the Labour party was caught between competing nationalisms in Scotland and England. This would appear obvious but if you really believed the claims of the SNP it’s not. This is because the SNP stated that the general election was not about independence. They stated this because despite all the hype, the SNP lost the referendum, they might lose it again if they tried to have another one soon and they know they have perhaps only one more chance. The sharp drop in the price of oil since the last one means the independence sums don’t add up.