The fog of class war

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Gordon Brown's government is waging class war against the rich, so claim the Tories - and the rich.

They cite Alistair Darling's one-off 50 percent windfall tax on bankers' bonuses over £25,000 (not in fact paid by the rich but by the companies they work for) and Brown's jibe in the House of Commons last month that Tory policies were dreamt up on the playing fields of Eton. One front page article in the Financial Times, headlined "Who Wants To Be In The UK?", declared that "bankers were fuming" about the tax rise.

But it has played well with the majority of the electorate who are fed up with seeing the obscenely wealthy laughing all the way to their champagne bars regardless of the recession.

Polls showed that 71 percent supported the bankers' tax and in the week following the pre-budget report in December the gap between Labour and the Tories shrank to single figures for the first time in a year.

This class war is a feint to cover the real assault. Behind all the fog of talk of toffs and defending frontline services, Labour's sights are firmly set on a package of brutal attacks on public services, and the pay and pensions of millions of working class people. The public sector wage freeze and national insurance hike are just the start. Schools, hospitals and police budgets will be protected, says Labour, yet cuts are still planned in these areas. Politicians on all sides are united on one thing: pain has to be inflicted. The only debate between Labour and the Tories is about who is going to inflict the pain, how much and when.

But Labour is caught - there is a general election in the next few months. Alistair Darling says he wants to claw back half of the £178 billion deficit in the public purse over the next four years. The debt is scheduled to rise from 44 percent to 77 percent of national income in 2014-15. Some financial commentators predict that interest payments on this deficit will rise to £56 billion per annum by 2013, greater than the current budget for defence, transport and home security.

But it is difficult for Darling to convince bankers that he is serious about a plan to bring down the debt with eye-watering cuts in public spending, while at the same time winning the votes of millions who will be most badly affected by such cuts.

The Tories are also caught. They don't want to get painted as the friends of the super-rich during a recession, but they are weak and without a cohesive alternative plan for economic recovery. They lack the ideological zeal that characterised the Tories under Margaret Thatcher. "We are all in this together," from shadow chancellor George Osborne, is hardly a convincing rallying call.

So far the Tories have stayed ahead in the polls, not because of any surge in support for their policies, but because of the painful and sharp decline in support for Labour.

Recent months have seen the bitterness about the impact of the recession turning into resistance. Despite the calling off of the post strikes in November, which threw away the opportunity to inflict a significant defeat against Royal Mail management and the government, sections of the working class are showing they are still willing to fight back.

Whoever wins the general election the outcome of such struggles will be critical in 2010 as bosses try and protect their profits at the expense of workers' pay, conditions and pensions.