That, on the day an ailing Margaret Thatcher was being treated in a private hospital, British Tory chancellor George Osborne was rising at Westminster to wield his ideological axe was highly ironic.
While the woman who wreaked such bloodshed and destruction in occupied Ireland, in British mining communities, in the Malvinas and elsewhere is weak in body, her hateful policies are very much alive and well in the halls of power in Westminster, Leinster House and Britain’s papier-mâché parliament at Stormont.
While British New Labour adopted Thatcherism by stealth, leading the woman herself to claim that party’s reincarnation as her greatest achievement, the current British Tory-Liberal Democrat government has no such qualms about being publicly Thatcherite in its policies.
Osborne & Co have set out a plan that will cripple public services, leave millions in poverty and working class communities in despair.
Among the most significant points of what the British government labeled its ‘spending review’ are: nearly 500,000 public sector jobs to be axed across the British state; an average 19 per cent four-year cut in departmental budgets; £7 billion [€7.9 billion] in additional welfare budget cuts; the retirement age to rise to 66 by 2020, which will impact particularly on low-paid workers who start work earlier in life; the increase of the NHS budget by just 0.4 per cent is de facto the biggest cut since the early 1980s.
In terms of the Six Counties, these cuts translate into: a £4 billion [€4.5 billion] cut in public expenditure over four years, which is effectively a 40 per cent cut in the British government’s subvention; the loss of up to 30,000 public sector jobs, which it is estimated will consequently cost 16,000 jobs in the private sector; the education sector, the health service and social housing will all be hit hard by the mass withdrawal of public money.
The alleged opposition of the establishment parties at Stormont to these viscous attacks on working class people amounts to posturing of the weakest kind. While they have described Osborne’s proposals as “unacceptable”, the reality is that their policy of appealing to the better instincts of a British Tory government has failed completely. A British Tory government does not possess ‘better instincts’ when it comes to dealing with Irish people or workers.
Indeed, some Stormont politicians who should know better had the audacity to feign hurt and offence at the “broken promises” of the British government in relation to what capital it was going to provide in the Six Counties. Any politician, particularly one who claims to oppose Britain’s presence in Ireland, who takes a British government at its word is guilty of breathtaking naivety.
Stormont first minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness weren’t even in the country to lend their desperate howl of opposition to the British government’s financial holocaust. Instead, they were out with their begging bowl in Washington, seeking the benevolence of another imperial power due to the miserly attitude of the British one.
Britain’s Stormont administrators have two choices in the face of Osborne’s announcement: they can either implement the cuts or they can resign and let the British government do its own dirty work. They can no longer claim the role of opposition while dutifully carrying out the role that Britain designed for them – that of local administrators.
The chances of these establishment politicians doing the right thing and resigning is next to none; they have invested too much of their careers and credibilities in a ridiculous set-up they like to pretend is a real government.
Therefore, it falls on working people to do both the right thing and the only viable thing according to their interests – to actively oppose these cuts and the politicians, both native and foreign, who will implement them. This is the alternative, the only alternative, to meekly bowing down in the face of upper-class Tory ministers whose sole aim is to protect the interests and wealth of the business class.
Starting this Saturday [October 23] in Belfast, people must take to the streets and make it powerfully clear that anyone who dares to implement these cuts is signing their political death warrant.
Public sector workers, the low-paid, the unemployed, community workers, young people, pensioners – everyone who stands to lose in this crisis has a role to play in fighting for a future without poverty and greed.
This is our last chance to ensure that the hateful legacy of Margaret Thatcher and her disciples dies with her – grab it with both hands.
The Irish Congress of Trade Union’s march and rally against the cuts will assemble at the University of Ulster Arts College, Belfast city centre at 12.30pm on Saturday [October 23]. Bígí Linn.