By Fiona Edwards
Britain’s economy is in dire straits. New figures released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which cannot be accused of anti-capitalist bias, estimate that the UK economy will shrink by 0.3 per cent this year, making it the worst-performing G7 economy.
This will have disastrous consequences for ordinary people already suffering from the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades amid soaring inflation and declining real wages.
That the Tory government’s savage austerity policies offer no way out of this crisis — indeed, are a major cause of Britain’s economic problems — is an issue that is well understood and debated within the labour movement.
What is less well understood and discussed, even on the left, is the interrelationship between the cost-of-living crisis and Britain’s belligerent foreign policy agenda.
This sees Britain waste tens of billions of pounds on military spending every year and make absurd threats to China, which poses no threat to Britain’s security and is currently one of the country’s largest trading partners.
It is vital that people see the link between the two issues. More than a million people have participated in the current strike wave against austerity and for fair pay in Britain.
Many millions more people across Europe have taken to the streets in similar struggles in recent months. In parallel a movement against wars in which Britain and Nato are involved is taking place.
The connections between the anti-wage cuts and peace movements, however, need strengthening.
No Cold War Britain is therefore hosting a webinar on Wednesday April 19 to provide a forum for peace activists, trade unionists, economists and journalists to discuss how Britain’s support for the new cold war is making ordinary people poorer and what can be done to forge greater links between those fighting against austerity and those fighting against war.
There is always a magic money tree for war
Britain’s excessive military budget currently stands at £48 billion — the world’s fourth largest. In 2021 Britain spent more on the military than Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the Czech Republic combined.
In March’s Budget the Tories announced that military spending would increase by a total of £11 billion over the next five years.
Britain is providing Ukraine with £4.6bn in military support, sending tanks and depleted uranium ammunition in a clear commitment to escalate Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine instead of backing negotiations and a political settlement to end the war.
In fact, Britain played a disgraceful role in helping scupper the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in April 2022 — negotiations in which an interim settlement seemed possible.
These huge sums are being spent on the military at a time when ordinary people are struggling to pay soaring energy bills, the NHS is starved of adequate funds and the government is refusing to give public-sector workers pay rises that keep up with the increase in the cost of living.
Research by the Socialist Economic Bulletin website indicates that Britain cutting its military budget to bring it more in line with the European average would cut it by a quarter and release £7-8bn a year to fund public services.
For economic co-operation not military confrontation
The government’s atrocious spending priorities are consistent with its aggressive foreign policy. The British people are paying a terrible price for Britain’s hawkish support for the US’s new cold war.
The British government’s latest policy paper, the Integrated Review Refresh 2023, outlines Britain’s foreign policy priorities. The paper singles out China as posing “an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see.”
Such a characterisation of China echoes the approach taken by the US. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it, stopping China’s peaceful rise is the US’s “biggest geopolitical test” of the 21st century.
The Integrated Review Refresh also accuses China of “threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division,” citing its “aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.”
Taiwan is part of China — a reality that the international community overwhelmingly recognises. “Aggression” on the question of Taiwan is emanating from Washington not Beijing.
The US has been moving to encourage Taiwan’s “independence,” talking up the prospect of war over Taiwan and eroding its own support for the One China policy — all of which constitute an attack China’s sovereignty.
As for “aggression” in the South China Sea, the presence of US and British warships roaming off the coast of China does indeed threaten to create “danger, disorder and division.”
Britain’s involvement in the Aukus military pact alongside Australia and the US is another threatening development that aims to strengthen the military encirclement of China.
Britain has introduced many anti-China policies recently including sanctions, censorship of China’s state media, banning Huawei 5G technology from the country, prohibiting TikTok on government phones and threatening further bans.
All these attacks on China inevitably lead Britain to have poorer relations with China which is damaging. While the IMF estimates Britain’s economy will shrink by 0.3 per cent this year, China’s is expected to grow by 5.2 per cent.
As the fastest-growing major economy, China is an important economic partner for Britain. Deteriorating relations will mean lost opportunities in trade, investment, jobs, access to the best and cheapest technology, science collaboration, people to people exchanges, education and much more.
Building a movement against the cold war
It is crucial to build a broad movement against Britain’s role in the new cold war against Russia and China. There is much work to be done in creating a better understanding of how Britain’s foreign policy is self-defeating and making ordinary people much worse off.
Unfortunately the Labour Party leadership is offering no opposition to the Tory government’s foreign policy agenda. Keir Starmer was clear on his recent trip to Kiev in February that Britain’s position would remain the same if he becomes prime minister.
There is unfortunately also currently confusion in the trade union movement. A policy supporting an increase in military spending was narrowly voted through the Trade Union Congress last September — despite the fact that this is obviously against the interests of workers in Britain.
Building up support for an alternative view to the cold war consensus is vital. No Cold War Britain’s webinar on Wednesday April 19, on the theme of “The New Cold War is Making us Poorer,” aims to take this task forward.
Join us and hear from an excellent line up of speakers including Kate Hudson (general secretary of CND), Roger McKenzie (Morning Star international editor), Bob Oram (No Cold War Britain), Micaela Tracey-Ramos (Unison activist) and Michael Burke (Socialist Economic Bulletin).
Register here: bit.ly/ColdWarPoor.
The above article initially was published here by the Morning Star.
Image: photo from CND