Notes from the front – of the week 11/6/2015

All out for Saturday 20 June – Join the People’s Assembly Against Austerity national demo

Just one month on from the general election the new Tory government has wasted no time in announcing it is intensifying the austerity offensive.


In the past four weeks we have seen the start of what the next five years will look like: £12bn in welfare cuts confirmed, £3bn further cuts to government departments including education, health and transport, plans for a new wave of privatisation of government assets including Royal Mail and the Student Loan Book, alongside attacks on trade unions.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity national demo on Saturday 20 June will be the first national demonstration against this government. Building this protest is the crucial next step in building resistance to the offensive.

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott should be put on Labour’s ballot papers

The names of the candidates for Labour’s leadership elections and its London Mayoral selection will be determined on 15 and 13 June respectively, with party members voting from mid August.

In each contest only one candidate has come forward who opposes the austerity offensive; Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader and Diane Abbott for London Mayor. This is the most fundamental issue confronting Labour and underpinned its electoral defeat. Does Labour defend living standards or support the Tories’ austerity offensive?

The SNP and Greens respectively increased their share of votes in 2015 by 3.1% and 2.8% by campaigning against austerity, where as Labour only gained 1.5 per cent for supporting it. In Scotland Labour lost all but one seat by positioning itself as the main party on the right there.

The majority of voters do not support continued austerity. Labour members need to consider this as the contests for Leader and London Mayoral candidate unfold.

Jeremy Corbyn needs 35 MPs to nominate him to be on the ballot paper. Whilst today (11 June) his promised support still falls well short, Labour Party members on the centre and left will be urging MPs to put him forward so that the issues he raises, particularly austerity and war, are discussed.

Diane Abbott has secured eight CLP nominations, above the threshold of five, so can be considered for the shortlist to established on 13 June. If Diane is not on the ballot paper, there will only be one woman on it – the Blairite Tessa Jowell.

Labour has just gone through a General Election campaign in which it conceded ground to the Tories, so lost. Only the left is offering Labour a progressive and popular way forward.

Tory government will be weak, unpopular and faction-ridden

Part of the post-election propaganda to reinforce the Tory victory is to suggest that they are impossible to defeat in 2020. This is a myopic view based on spurious electoral arithmetic. And completely ignores the key political challenges ahead.

Open splits in the Tory party on the question of Europe are not a one-off and can be expected throughout this parliament irrespective of the outcome of the referendum. At the same time austerity is massively unpopular. The last Coalition government lost 14.8% of the vote by implementing austerity, the biggest swing against any government since before World War II. Without the LibDems to shield them the Tories’ resumption of austerity will mean that they bear the entire brunt of renewed hostility to cuts, wage freezes and attacks on pensions.

Cameron has already been forced to retreat on his threat to sack ministers who campaigned against a Yes vote on the EU referendum. This is because the split on Europe runs through the middle of the Tory party, which is why he was obliged to concede on the referendum in the first instance. The former success of the Tory party was built on an internal coalition which included the most reactionary and insular sections of British small capital, much of which has already defected to UKIP. But a strong contingent remains and they irreconcilably opposed to EU membership.

The propaganda campaign on Tory omnipotence cannot alter these fundamental factors. The aim instead is undermine opposition to the government and get Labour to adapt further to Tory policies. The collapse of the LibDem vote demonstrates the risks for Labour if it takes that route.

Syriza is right to refuse payment to IMF – showdown is looming

The decision by the Athens government to withhold a debt repayment to the IMF signals a wider breach with international creditors. The creditors have only made a series of minor concessions, while being completely intransigent on demanding further austerity measures and no debt reduction measures. On some important issues the IMF/ECB/EU Commission have set even more exacting conditions than before, such as their demands on the level of government primary surpluses (before debt interest payments).

The international institutions are united on the question of demanding more austerity. The IMF, representing US interests, is much more relaxed about debt reduction primarily because US banks have no outstanding exposures to Greece. At the same time, the US is the most fiercely insistent on privatisation where it believes its firms will have an advantage through its dominant investment banks. All efforts aimed at persuading these bodies that their best interests lay in abandoning or softening austerity have ended in failure because they are not concerned with growth, but with restoring profits through dismantling the post-World War II social settlement.

This is now a decisive period politically. A stubborn insistence on austerity could lead to Greece being forced out of the Euro Area. It is imperative that the Greek population is clear that it is the institutions that are responsible for such a breakdown. If Euro membership and ending austerity are ultimately incompatible this can only be because of the policy choices made by the Troika.

At the same time, comprehensive measures need to be enacted domestically in order to prepare for non-payment and possible default on €2,295 million owed to the IMF by the end of June as well as the inevitable punitive sanctions that will follow. As the terms of the 2010 bail-out of Greece’s creditors were designed to contain the effects of any default in Greece and its banks, decisive actions will needed to be taken in order to prevent a banking collapse and protect bank deposits. These are the key source of an independent programme of investment to revive the economy. The Troika has been ruthless in pursuing their interests and a similar response is required.

Turkey’s AKP suffers reverse

At the 7 June election Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002. It had been able to form a single party government after each of the previous three general elections.

In this election the AKP came first with 40.9% of the vote (down 9% on 2011) winning 258 seats. This is not a majority (276) in Ankara’s 550-member parliament and well short of the 330 seats needed to put constitutional changes to a referendum. There is no possibility now of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan securing more presidential powers.

A key shift at this election was that for the first time the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) stood as a party and successfully surmounted the 10% threshold needed to secure seats in the Parliament. The HDP is part of the broader Kurdish movement led by Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). The 10% threshold was originally set to keep Kurdish parties out of the Parliament – except when they run as independents. This is the first time a party rooted in Kurdish nationalism has been in the Turkish parliament.

The success of the HDP is what deprived Erdogan of an overall majority. With 13.1% of the vote the HDP has 80 MPs. If the HDP had secured less than 10% all its vote would have been become a winner’s bonus for the AKP, as votes for parties below this threshold are redistributed to the winning party. Instead the AKP no longer has a majority of MPs.

The HDP’s key focus is on issues of peace and autonomy for the Kurds in southeast Turkey, but it also campaigned on a broader left of centre platform emphasising workers’, women’s and minority rights. It won the support of Muslim Kurds, who had previously supported the AKP who are angry at Erdogan’s passivity in the face of ISIS attacks on Syrian Kurds.

Whether the AKP will be able to form a minority government or any party assemble a coalition will be established in the coming days.

This political shift at the election reflects the growing discontent resulting form Turkey’s economic slowdown. GDP growth has slowed from 8.8% in 2011 to just 2.9% last year. Investment is stagnant, unemployment is rising and the lira has lost about 40% of its value since 2013.

On the political front AKP’s policies have undercut its electoral support, whilst it has to contend with the USA intervening against it within Turkish politics.

The USA objects to Turkey, a NATO ally, pursuing the semi-independent foreign policy course charted by the AKP. Turkey under the AKP has challenged Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, given support to Hamas and denounced the Egyptian military coup. It is not going along with the West’s offensive against Russia in Ukraine and is ignoring Western sanctions. Instead it plans to build a natural gas pipeline with Russia that will bypass Ukraine and is working with Russia on its first nuclear power plant. Turkey is also negotiating with China on the supply of a $3.4bn air defence system, despite strong US and European opposition.

The US wants Turkey to return to being the reliable NATO vassal it was prior to when the AKP first took office. So it has assisted the opposition political forces, including the right-wing Gulen movement which is influential in Turkey’s security forces, judiciary and media.

But the AKP government has isolated itself from potential allies in the region and from the left in Turkey.

While standing up to the West on some issues, it is actively backing imperialism’s campaigns to overthrow Assad in Syria, fragment Iraq and weaken Iran. Working alongside the US it is training pro-Western rebels and is militarily assisting the sectarian Islamist militants fighting in the north of Syria. In Autumn 2014 it blocked assistance to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani when it was attacked by ISIS.

Among progressive domestic opinion it lost support when it repressed the Gezi Park protests in 2013, attacking them with heavy force and making arbitrary arrests.

The HDP was the beneficiary of the support among the forces that supported the issues raised by the Gezi protests and among Kurds that turned away from the AKP in response to Erdogan’s policies.

Whilst the electoral shift in Turkey was greater to parties standing to the left than to the right of the AKP, the US will also see this election as a significant gain. Whatever government is now formed the 14 year long advance of the AKP has been halted and a period of instability has been entered.

Tackling climate change: G7 inertia vs China’s action

India’s worst heat wave in recorded history came to end last week, with high temperatures leading to at least 2,500 deaths across the nation. This is just the latest humanitarian crisis caused by climate change.

Yet, the 8 June G7 declaration calling for a global phasing-out of fossil fuels by the end of the century – 85 years from now – revealed just how inactive the most advanced countries are being in the face of this threat. The world cannot wait until the end of the century to decarbonise the global economy. Serious measures are needed in this next decade to avoid dangerous climate change.

The G7’s inertia stands in stark contrast to China’s action to tackle climate change. A new report published by the LSE points out that China’s greenhouse gas emissions could start to decline within 10 years – five years earlier than expected. China is making a huge commitment to renewables and is the world’s top investor in wind and solar power. China’s economic development plans place an emphasis on efficiency, air pollution and clean energy.

Humanitarian disaster in Yemen

The Saudi-led war upon Yemen has created a humanitarian disaster in that country. 80% of the population are in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. One million people have been ‘internally displaced’ since the bombing commenced and 12 million have become ‘food insecure’.

This is because the bombing is being supplemented by a siege of the country, the Saudis having created a blockade by land, sea and air. Yemen normally imports 90% of its staples – current estimates are that it is receiving 15% of this total.

The Saudi assault is enthusiastically supported by the US and British governments. The USA is providing logistical and intelligence support, and has undertaken joint military planning with the Saudis. Phillip Hammond, British Foreign Minister, has boasted that the British government will support the Saudi war ‘in every possible way short of engaging in combat’. The Saudis are using F16s, as well as British built Tornados, and dropping cluster bombs.

Before the Saudi bombing a peace deal could have been struck. UN Envoy, Jamal Bin Omar, provided a report for the Security Council on 27 April 2015 stating that ‘there was an agreement between all the Yemeni parties, and popular committees, however the Saudi aggression stopped this agreement’. The Saudis want a compliant regime in Yemen. They are insisting upon the legitimacy of former interim-President Hadi, who had been imposed upon the Yemenis under the Gulf Initiative to suppress the popular rising in 2011. Even under this debased agreement, Hadi’s mandate expired on 21 February 2014.

Given the serious situation, it is vital that the anti-war movement in Britain and the US continues to organise for an end to support for the Saudi assault upon the Yemeni people.