21st November 2020
Tanks again – military bosses win out while frontline workers see freeze on pay
Nothing should surprise us any more about the brazen desire of the Tories to promote the interests of their class, while wrapping themselves in the Union Jack flag and telling the rest of us that they are acting in our interests. Nevertheless, there is still cause to wonder at times, who is in charge of their public relations.
On Wednesday this week UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a massive £16.5bn increase in the military budget. Taken together with existing military spending commitments the announcement amounts to a staggering £21.5bn increase in the period to March 2025. In spite of the additional needs of the country to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson insisted that “the defence of the realm must come first.”
The headlines suggest that spend will include the creation of a National Cyber Force, basically a group of hackers to conduct cyber war; a Space Command, able to launch rockets from 2022, a nod to the Star Wars days of Thatcher and Reagan; and an agency dedicated to artificial intelligence. Some genuine intelligence would suggest that over £20bn could be more usefully spent on tackling the pandemic, supporting those who have lost jobs and livelihoods as a result and developing socially useful infrastructure investment to rebuild the economy.
In spite of Johnson’s recent announcement that he would steal Labour’s clothes and invest in a ‘green revolution’, the military establishment are cleaning their rifles and stamping their boots in glee. More so because the cash bonanza appears to be baked in, with Labour suggesting that the military spending increase represented “a welcome and long overdue upgrade to Britain’s defences after a decade of decline.”
While boosting the weapons budget Chancellor Rishi Sunak is at the same time proposing to cut the UK Overseas aid budget by £4bn, a reduction from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP. Overseas aid goes to those parts of the world that UK capital has successfully exploited in the past and are now left under resourced, economically restrained and generally impoverished. In short it is guilt money for past transgressions and an ongoing down payment for continuing influence in developing nations, described by former PMs Tony Blair and David Cameron as a key strategic part of the UK’s ‘soft power’ influence.
While the rationale behind the overseas aid budget is less than altruistic it remains symbolically significant that, faced with the choice of spending on the military or supporting programmes of social development, the Tories have leapt significantly in one direction while back pedalling on the other.
By Thursday the government had clearly lost the PR plot altogether when it was widely leaked that, in his mini-budget next week, Rishi Sunak would be announcing a freeze on public sector pay increases as a means of contributing to paying for the costs of the pandemic. Sunak attempted to sweeten the pill by suggesting that this would not affect NHS staff who have been in the frontline in fighting COVID-19, while blithely ignoring the fact that thousands of local government workers, teachers, police and firefighters, all of whom have made their contribution to the fight against COVID, would be swept up in the pay freeze.
There was never going to be any doubt that the Tories would look to pass on the burden of the costs of the pandemic to the population at large, in a further round of austerity that would make the George Osborne years look like a walk in the park. Protecting the economy for the Tories always means protecting the banks, corporations and the City of London at all costs, however abject their performance, while telling the rest of us that “we are all in it together” and must all row in the same direction, no doubt putting the defence of the realm first.
This is only the story so far. We have yet to have the final signoff on the £150bn spend on weapons of mass destruction, in the form of the replacement of the Trident nuclear submarine fleet, or to have a real assessment of the likely economic cost of the Tories mishandling of the Brexit negotiations, which will no doubt hit already hard pressed consumers harder still.
That the government is incompetent, even in its own terms of managing the capitalist system is self evident. What is becoming increasingly clear to many however is the fact that the system itself does not function in the interests of the working people of the country and needs to be overhauled.
It is the many, not the few, who need to be at the helm, deciding spending priorities and putting the country on the road to a socialist future. Anything less is merely taking us on a journey down the road well travelled and for most, that is a road to nowhere.