The Great ‘Bankster’ Robbery

 

Bank Buildings

 

 

Never in the field of human enterprise
Has so much been owed by so many to so few

 

 

THE BERMONDSEY AND OLD SOUTHWARK
 2010 GENERAL ELECTION

THE FIGHT GOES ON

 

 

INTRODUCTION  

 

I had the honour and privilege of standing in the 2010 general election in defence of London South Bank University and in support of trade unionism, democracy and socialism. One hundred and twenty trade unionists and socialists made financial contributions and a smaller number participated in our campaign activity. Standing as a candidate would not have been possible without their support and encouragement. So this is my opportunity to thank them.  

 

This review aims to summarise the political ideas and organisation of the campaign and assess its strengths and weaknesses. Some supported the campaign out of solidarity, others in recognition of the need to defend our university, and still others for ideological reasons. There is no intention to rewrite history and imply particular motives to any individual supporter or agreement where none existed. The aim is to build on what we have started. We live in a time of crisis when politics is set to take some surprising turns. The Con-Lib coalition government is the first but by no means the last.

 

Steve Freeman

 

Parliamentary candidate for Southwark and Old Bermondsey

 

 

1.    WHY STAND IN THE GENERAL ELECTION?

 

2.    A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

 

3.    SOCIALISM IN THE WORKPLACE

 

4.    DEFEND SOUTH BANK


5.    BANKSTERS VERSUS THE PEOPLE

 

6.   STANDING AS AN INDEPENDENT

 

7.    END OF THE BEGINNING 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.   WHY STAND IN THE 2010 GENERAL ELECTION?

 

During the last ten years New York has witnessed two events of global significance. Each epoch-making event has had a major impact on the United Kingdom. On 11 September 2001 the destruction of the Twin Towers led to a shift in Anglo-US foreign policy and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Nine years later the UK remains bogged down in the costly unwinnable Afghan war. On 15 September 2008 a major financial crisis hit Wall Street. Lehman Brothers, a large US bank, went bust. A decade of cheap credit and easy profit had produced the sub-prime mortgage scandal and a mountain of bad debt. Lehman’s collapse triggered a banking crisis as the credit crunch spread to UK banks and the financial markets in the City.

 

The US, British and European governments stepped in to bailout the banking system. In the UK around £1 trillion was spent saving Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley Building Society, Lloyds-TSB-HBOS and RBS. As crisis turned into recession, unemployment rose to two and a half million. Public spending was expanded to plug the gap in falling private consumption and investment. The UK budget deficit, estimated at £167 billion, was the highest since the Second World War. The 2008 financial crisis was a prelude to an economic catastrophe. This would ensure that May 2010 would be no ordinary general election.  

 

The special relationship between Wall Street and the City of London is the foundation for UK foreign and economic policy. But the impact on British people is through the prism of politics. Major global events and their consequences are shaped or mitigated by the actions of government. In the UK political power is concentrated in Whitehall and the executive. Parliament has little or no control over government. Parliament could not stop the invasion of Iraq. It failed to regulate the banks and the financial markets. In 2009 popular disillusion with parliament reached new heights with the MPs expenses scandal. People have little or no influence over parliament except momentarily, once every five years, in the polling booth.  

 

Should trade unionists and socialists fight?

 

The 2010 general election was the first opportunity since the banking catastrophe for the electorate to consider the political options facing the country. What should be done about the Afghan war, the banks, the recession, government debt and the failure of parliament? What were the policies of the various parties on immigration or global warming? Which party should working people vote for? Does the trade union movement have any alternative policies? Should socialists fight the election? Should they stand candidates when the outcome is predictable, even if the exact configuration parliamentary seats are not?

 

The main problem was the weakness of the socialist movement. There is no recognisable independent socialist party. Divisions and rivalries across the movement conspired to keep socialism low down on the national political radar screen. In many constituencies there were no socialist candidates and in others, such as Peckham, there were three in competition with each other. In some places there was too much choice and in others the option was whether to fight, even though there was no chance of winning, or not to fight at all.

This lack of a party faced socialist activists in Southwark. In the few months before the election a new national initiative, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), was being set up. This prompted socialists to think about standing a TUSC candidate in Peckham (Southwark). A meeting was held but produced no decision. However this encouraged trade unionists and socialists to go on to consider the possibility of standing a candidate in Bermondsey (Southwark). A discussion document, ‘The Case for Standing’ was produced by socialists at London South Bank University. (1)

 

This assessed the political situation as follows; “On 6 May 2010 the general election is expected and a new government will be elected – Tory, Labour or hung parliament coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The three parties are all committed to major cuts in public spending. They will spend the election campaign convincing the British people that there is no alternative than severe cuts. Whoever wins will claim a democratic mandate for cuts. Soon new Ministers will be in office and attacks on pay, jobs and pensions will commence. A possible crisis budget will bring more cuts carried out with renewed confidence and authority”. (2)

 

South Bank and Bermondsey

 

London South Bank University can be thought of as a ‘village’ within the constituency of Bermondsey. It has a long tradition of trade union organisation. In the last year the three unions (GMB, UCU and Unison) had been involved in a struggle to defend national pay bargaining and oppose plans for so-called Performance Related Pay. The funding situation facing the university was about to get very much worse after the election. The fate of the university would soon be in the hands of the new government. It would need an ongoing political campaign to defend it. There is no better time than a general election to begin such a campaign.         

 

The ‘Case for Standing’ argues the opportunity presented by an election to put a socialist case must be taken up. “It is a relatively limited time in which awareness and interest in politics rises. The struggle between parties is reflected in the media. People are drawn into the political debate. People take time to think more about fundamental questions on where the country is going and what kind of future we want. There could be no better time to run a political campaign when all politics is vying for a public hearing. The election gives us a platform and opportunity which does not normally exist”. (3)   

 

A distinction is drawn between a political campaign and a trade union campaign to defend LSBU. A political campaign “seeks to bring people together and unite them on issues and policies regardless of whether they are staff or students, regardless of union membership or political affiliation……. whereas trade unions tend to defend the existing terms, and conditions and bargaining rights”. More importantly a socialist political campaign must go beyond saying “no” to an employer’s attacks. “Instead of a narrow trade union focus on threats and dangers, a political campaign must identify the causes of the current crisis and who was responsible. South Bank is becoming a victim of the collapse of the banks and the failure of government and parliament to regulate or control them”. (4)   

 

A campaign to defend South Bank is not viable as special pleading. A general defence of LSBU must be part of defending the wider community.  “It is possible to conceive of two political campaigns in the general election. The first is focused on South Bank people and the defence of higher education. The second relates to many issues affecting the people of Bermondsey - a subset of issues affecting England, the UK and the world”. If South Bank is not a parochial ‘parish pump’ campaign it must be linked to the wider politics. “Most South Bank workers like Bermondsey residents face the same economic crisis and the same failure of parliamentary representation”. (5)   

 

Winning votes

 

Elections are a special kind of political campaign because the focus is on winning votes and seats in parliament. Votes are the main measure of the level of political organisation and popular support. It would be wrong to dismiss the vote or imply that our campaign did not want as many votes as possible. But votes were never the main consideration. We had a realistic assessment of our potential votes. The important thing was to run the best campaign possible in the circumstances and not be derailed by the fear of a low vote.   

 

The ‘Case for Standing’ says “The high point of our campaign will not be the vote…. Evidence suggests that an unknown candidate would get less than 1%. …We cannot win a significant vote. Any vote will be derisory. We are not strongly organised and will not get a strong vote. But it is the struggle that counts. We can still be ‘winners’ if our campaign makes a difference, educates people about the truth, raises morale and changes something that lives on after the election. Victory will be coming out of the election stronger than when we went in”. (6)

 

The big danger for the campaign was putting too much weight on the result or making over-optimistic predictions. The latter is likely because any campaign will try to motivate its activists and voters into believing victory is possible. Our campaign did not fall into this trap. At every step we gave supporters a realistic assessment of the vote. It would be a very low. This did not put off our core supporters. They were convinced the cause was just and the message truthful. When our result was announced supporters felt that under the circumstances we had done better than predicted.

 

Our election aims

 

The conclusion can be summarised as follows: Trade unionists and socialists should stand a candidate in Bermondsey. We have to be willing to fight in the current economic crisis when people are facing major attacks on their living standards. It is vital to put forward an alternative. The vote will be very low but this is not the point of our campaign. The election is an important opportunity to make a case to defend the university and the people of Bermondsey. This was even more important when support for the extreme right had been growing. The BNP were presenting themselves as the alternative to the three main parties.    

 

The ‘Case for Standing’ set ambitious but realistic and achievable goals. These included promoting a South Bank plan, encouraging workers to join a trade union, publishing and circulating a manifesto. It recognised our major limitations noting that “in Bermondsey the goal of a free post to all households would be very ambitious and probably unachievable”. But the main purpose of campaigning concerned the situation after the election. It says “if we can begin to build a functioning trade union and socialist organisation in Southwark that would be a major step forward.” The election campaign was not an end in itself. It is about what comes next when the election is over.   

 

 

  

 

2.   A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO FOR 2010-11

 

Who should pay for the economic crisis - the people or the banks? This was the central issue of the 2010 election. In our globalised world “corporate capitalism with its ruthless pursuit of profit as its single overriding imperative has brought the world to the brink of disaster. Profit and greed decides everything and corrupts everything. This is especially true for the banks in the financial heartlands of the City of London”. (1). More than any other sector the City represents and symbolises global capital. It has built itself a unique position in the UK economy. This is now proving very costly for the British people.

 

Our manifesto says “The last two years have highlighted some major issues facing the British people. The economic crisis, the failure of parliament, the war in Afghanistan, immigration, the environment and global warming are all different aspects of the same problem. Our world is organised and managed for the benefit of the few not for the benefit of the wealth creating majority”. (2). In this election the economic question dominates all others.

 

Socialist economic policy is built on “the knowledge and experience of the millions of working people who make our economy and society function. People already know what works and what doesn’t. To find the best policy for the health service, the railways, education or building houses, then listen to the people in the front line who actually do the job. The real ‘People’s Manifesto’ is there. If that experience was organised and mobilised through co-operation instead of competition the world would be a much better place. The world has to change”. (3)

 

Great Bankster Robbery

 

The City and the major private banks have massive economic power. This is widely recognised. But the secret of their success is the enormous influence they wield over political institutions. This is not simply because they can resist interference by the UK government in their internal affairs. The City’s power survives and grows through its continual involvement in politics. This is felt in the Bank of England, the Treasury, over the political parties and in the heart of government. Political power concentrated in the corridors of Whitehall is more than amenable to City interests.  

 

‘Bankster’ was a term used in the US senate in the 1930s to describe the powerful men who controlled Wall Street. (4) It combined ‘banker’ with ‘gangster’ because of the gambling, swindling, fraud and other dubious practices that went on. The same sorts of people are in charge of the same kind of financial system in London and New York today. In the last twenty years free market ideology and neo-liberal politics have given the green light to risky lending, speculation and profiteering.   

 

Today’s banksters’ have the power to hold the country to ransom. Currently they are extracting £42 billion in interest payments. This is expected to rise to £78.8bn by 2014-15. The screw is being turned ever tighter. The “Great Bankster Robbery” is the plan hatched by bankers and politicians to make working people pay the cost of restoring their profits and bonuses. A similar battle was being fought in Greece where workers were protesting against being made to pay for the debts created by their corrupt politicians and ‘fat cat’ bankers.

 

The House of Thieves

 

The House of Commons is controlled by government not the people. It serves as political theatre, keeping up the pretence of democracy. The British constitution and the sovereignty of parliament is camouflage for the autonomous power of the City and the banks. In constitutional law sovereignty lies with the “Crown in parliament”. This gives legal sanction to the concentration and centralisation of power in the hands of Whitehall ‘Mandarins’ and Ministers of the Crown. It is not that parliament has no influence of affairs. But it is so circumscribed and limited by law, convention and culture as to be ineffectual. It is no match for the overweening power of the City.   

 

The 2005-10 House of Commons was seen as a ‘House of Thieves’ because of the MPs expenses scandal. But the corruption of parliament goes deeper than expense claims. Successive governments have served the banks and corporate interests. Parliament failed to exercise any effective regulation. Now the bankers and speculators are determined to make the people pay for the bank bailouts, the recession and the mountain of government debt. Unless the political system is radically reformed, parliament will act as a rubber stamp for the ‘Great Bankster Robbery’. It will remain a ‘House of Thieves’.

 

Reforming parliament and controlling banks

 

A people’s government is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The principle of popular sovereignty is the power of the people to control parliament and government and not, as present, the other way round. There has to be radical reform of the present parliamentary system. A new kind of government would end the unaccountable power of the banks by bringing them into public ownership and democratic control. Ending the private monopoly of finance would change the relationship between the banks and the people. It would enable the welfare, the rights and interests of the people to come first.

 

Without radical political reform this general election will inevitably produce a banker’s government. The priority will be to save the banks, nationalise their debts and restore their profits. Polices which ensure that working people are forced to pay for the banking crisis and recession will be implemented. Such a government will disguise itself as a friend of the people. It will criticise the banks. It will present itself as the referee between the competing claims of the banks and the people. But the policy outcomes are decided. The referee is bought and paid for by the City. Without political reform, vested interests will continue to rule the roost.     

 

Put people first

 

The campaign had three main slogans on the website - “Put the People First”, “Make the Banksters Pay” and “For a people’s parliament not a House of Thieves”. The slogan “Put People First” has a political and economic aspect. As a political slogan its means “People before parliament” or “for the People not the Crown”. As an economic demand “People First” means putting “People Before Profit”. Jobs, pensions, pay, education, health, welfare, housing, and the environment must not be sacrificed for the profiteering and greed of corporate bosses and the speculation, gambling, fraud and loan sharking of the bankers.

 

“Put People First” is a call for popular unity against the common enemy. The working class and middle classes must unite in defence of democratic rights and universal social welfare. We need an alliance of workers and consumers to defend public services. The old slogan ‘the people united will never be defeated’ is still a powerful message. 

 

The new bankers’ government will inevitably use divide and rule tactics to justify their economic policies. They will target the alleged “privileges” of this or that section of people. Setting private sector workers against ‘privileged’ public sector workers is now a common theme. Younger people will be encouraged to resent paying for the ‘privileges’ of current baby boom pensioners. State benefits should be taken from ‘privileged’ middle classes and ‘concentrated’ on the poor. But the poor will find themselves on the receiving end of major cuts. The unemployed, migrant workers and asylum seekers will be in the firing line.    

 

New England 

 

Our election campaign called for a ‘New England’. This slogan looks forward to England becoming a democratic country with new political institutions, constitution and national identity. New England is the people organised and mobilised as the sovereign power in the land. A new democracy founded on the power of the people – as a democratic secular republic. This would enable a sovereign people to establish better and closer relations with the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the rest of Europe and the world. A new epoch of economic and social reforms would begin.

 

The project for ‘New England’ is not a demand for the House of Commons to reform itself. MPs are part of the problem not the solution. We must look to the people of England mobilising outside parliament in their localities. Real political change comes ‘from below’ by a mass movement for democracy. No such movement exists today. But the circumstances are ripe for its birth. The disillusion with parliament and the MPs expenses scandal has created a desire for political reform.

 

The campaign produced a red, purple and green tricolour flag to symbolise the New England. We adopted red, purple and green as our campaign colours. The tricolour is a republican flag we associate with the ideas of “liberty, equality and solidarity”. The red stands for working people who produce the wealth. It recognises the importance of work and the welfare of the people in the social life of the country. The purple stands for equality in general and women’s equality in particular. Green represents the global environment and need for internationalism. 
 
The flag connects with important popular struggles in England’s history. The green was the colour of the Levellers the democratic party of the English revolution. The Chartists had a horizontal tricolour of red, white and green. The Suffragettes had a tricolour of purple, white and green. These three strands of English democracy connect our past with a future people’s democracy that will shape England’s social republic. It is not New Labour or New Politics we need but a new country. 

 

 

 

 

3.  SOCIALISM IN THE WORKPLACE

London South Bank University began life as Borough Polytechnic with its roots in working class communities around the Elephant and Castle. It was an “access university” before the phrase was invented. In the 1970s as South Bank Polytechnic it offered opportunities for bright and ambitious young working class people when the doors of universities were largely closed to them. Today South Bank is a world university still rooted in the local community. With over 2000 workers and 23,000 students, it is one of the biggest employers in Bermondsey.

 

Borough Polytechnic was founded in 1892 as a charitable project to support working class self improvement through education or emigration. The South London Polytechnics Institutes Act (1891) set the aim as "the promotion of the industrial skills, general knowledge, health, and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes" and the "instruction suitable for persons intending to emigrate". (1) At the launch of the new Polytechnic one speaker hoped that "the Polytechnic would do its share towards perfecting many a valuable gem found in the slums of London". (2)

 

In Britain’s class divided society higher education has long been organised along class lines. Traditionally top universities, like Oxbridge, educated the elite for posts in the Empire, civil service and the professions. Before 1960’s the universities were still largely the preserve of the upper classes. They were organised as a non-profit making public service. There was a democratic component in their structure, for example, elected Chancellors, Deans, Academic Boards, Staff Governors and student representatives. These democratic, social and public aspects of upper class universities identify them as part of the architecture of ‘socialism for the rich’.

 

In the late 1980s government began to establish more central control over Higher Education. In 1988 the Polytechnics were removed from local authority funding. In 1992 the binary divide between the two classes of higher education, universities and polytechnics, was formally ended. South Bank became a university, legally designated as a Higher Education Corporation, under the newly formed Higher Education Funding Council. The sector was thus ‘nationalised’. Central government was now in the position to drive the major expansion of HE over the next twenty years. The class divide between rich and poor universities remained.

 

State corporatism

 

Since the 1960s HE has been transformed from a service for the elite into a major industry at the centre of the new global information economy. There are now an estimated one hundred million people in higher education across the world. (3). In advanced capitalist economies an average fifty six per cent of school leavers are being processed through larger Higher Education factories. In the UK successive governments have expanded student numbers in an effort to catch up with internationally competitive levels. Between 1988-1994 the number of 18-21 year olds in full time higher education rose from 15 to 30%. Ten years later thirty six per cent of 18-19 young people now enter HE (4).

Today the UK Higher Education industry generates over £16.9 billion in revenue. This includes £2 billion in exports as revenue from overseas students. It has a significant impact on other parts of the economy. An additional £25.6 billion of output was generated outside universities because of their expenditure. HE employs 330,000 people and generates around 276,400 jobs in other sectors. For every £1 million in Higher Education output a further £1.52 million is created elsewhere (5). In 2003/04 the volume of off-campus spending by international students amounted to £1.5billion. Cuts in university spending will have similar negative ‘knock-on’ effects transmitted to the private sector.

Higher Education is organised along ‘state capitalist’ lines. It is directed from the centre by government planning, state funding and regulation. Universities are public property. Each Higher Education Corporation employs its own wage labour. Management command and control operates through top-down bureaucracy. Trade union organisation provides a voice for the workforce and a means to influence decision- making. As publicly funded bodies there is a measure of democratic accountability through parliament.

 

Privatisation and markets   

 

A report from the University and College Union (6) describes the step by step ‘Americanisation’ of British universities. It shows “there is a now a dangerous cross party consensus over the fate of the UK universities which will lead to the privatisation of the university sector”. The aim is to transform it into profit driven, market orientated private business. Increasingly the criteria of profits and prices are creating a market place. Higher education has become a commodity sold to fee paying customers.

 

The future of Higher Education is being fought out between the ‘state capitalist’ and ‘free market’ models of organisation and funding. This is reflected in election campaigns and in day to day struggles between government, management, staff and students. Successive Tory and New Labour governments have embraced neo-liberal ideology hostile to public ownership and public spending. A steady extension of pro-market reforms has moved HE onto a new bureaucratic management agenda.
 
Monies from private sources now amount to 27% of all higher education income. This will increase significantly with variable tuition fees (7). The rise of market Corporatism has its own impact on universities. The invention of an artificial education market creates new bureaucracies in finance, debt management and marketing. The market brings new inefficiencies and bureaucratic costs. Whilst corporate management centralises power, the academic and support staff are transformed into a new increasingly alienated proletariat. The class divide is reflected in a widening pay gap and bonus culture. Disruptive serial reorganisations, cuts and redundancies are a deliberate strategy to police the hopefully cowed proletarians. 

 

London Metropolitan University provides a nightmare vision of the new corporate reality. Under the previous Vice Chancellor, Brian Roper, the senior management team were in the forefront of the onward march of market-corporatism. With unchecked power, fuelled by greed and sanctified by free market religion, LMU was left with £36m in debt to the government. Roper and the Governors were eventually forced to resign. As usual it was the ordinary staff that had to pay the price. Three hundred and fifty lost their jobs to pay for the management’s mess. World class courses were closed with enrolled students arriving to find their lecturers had gone.     

 

The same methods of management are spreading. It was reported that performance related pay worth £1m was paid out to senior staff. Max Watson chair of the Unison branch said “Staff are sick and tired of hearing about the need to tighten belts and make savings when our overpaid senior managers award themselves these banker-sized bonuses” (8). He added “our pay offer currently stands at a pitiful 0.4% with further cuts on the horizon and we’ve got our workload doubled to cope with the job losses last year”.

 

Social and democratic university   

 

The choice between state or private bureaucracy is not the only future for Higher Education. There is a social and democratic (or socialist) alternative based on public ownership and funding combined with democratic and co-operative principles of organisation. Publicly owned universities should be financed from progressive taxation and public spending and organised as a not-for-profit service, free at the point of delivery. Access to a university education would be on ability to benefit not ability to pay. Co-operative principles would transform the workforce into partners in public enterprise. Management at all levels would be elected to serve the collective effort and not act as its masters. Bureaucracy is replaced with democracy.

 

In the struggle for a social-democratic future LSBU has much strength to draw on. It has a long tradition of providing valuable education for generations of young people. It has a public service ethos and dedicated and loyal staff. It has forms of participatory democracy and a tradition of recognised trade unions as an independent voice for the workforce. These social, democratic and co-operative values from the past must be mobilised to defend LSBU against cuts and redundancies. If not the employers will divide and demoralise the workforce and pave the way for eventual privatisation. Following the US ‘free’ enterprise model like American health care will prove very expensive.   

Socialists have no illusion that we can create ‘socialism in one university’. Higher education does not exist in isolation from the rest of capitalist society. But we live and struggle for democracy and socialism where we are, in life as it confronts us. The struggle between organising universities on market-corporatist, state capitalist or social-democratic lines continues. It is a battle within the university and in the wider national educational and political environment. It is a debate at election time in the educational policies of the different parties.

 

Struggle for the future

 

Across the Higher Education sector, government, employers, management and workers are engaged in a constant struggle over workloads, productivity, pay and conditions. Cutting costs, imposing redundancies and regular reorganisations have become the norm in university life. At LSBU the trade unions (GMB, UCU and UNISON) are battling to cope with these pressures and attacks on jobs, pay and conditions. Over the last year there have been struggles over the academic contract, appraisal and PRP, the pay freeze, the exit from national bargaining and redundancies.

 

Whatever the immediate issues of the day, the future of LSBU and the kind of university it will become, depends on political decisions. These affect and are influenced by the struggle on the ground. The triumph of market-corporatism is by no means inevitable. The failure of the banks in the crisis of September 2008 has shaken faith in the theory that private greed leads to public welfare. American universities, which provide the model for British policy makers, are, like their health care system, facing serious difficulties.  

 

A socialist case to defend LSBU is distinct. It is not merely defending the existing rights of workers and supporting their trade unions. It is putting the case for an alternative future for higher education based on values of democracy, co-operation, public ownership and public service. It is providing answers to the economic and banking crisis and the failure of parliament, all of which impact on staff and students at LSBU. In making the case for an alternative to market corporatism and state capitalism, socialists strengthen resistance to the cuts. We do not have to go along with reactionary policies. There is always an alternative.

 

4.   DEFEND SOUTH BANK

“Defend South Bank” was the main slogan of our campaign at LSBU. It called on staff and students to unite and organise to defend the university. Our aim was to identify and raise awareness of the main threats. By far the most serious came from the cuts in public spending. Leaflets warned that “the consequences of cuts, redundancies and higher tuition fees will be severe”. Another danger came from the BNP organising in Bermondsey. Growing support for the BNP would pose new dangers to a multi-racial university like LSBU. However the problems facing staff and students are not just external. The dangers in the Governors’ Corporate Plan must not be underestimated.

 

Opposition to the Great Bankster Robbery

 

Our election leaflet addressed to South Bank staff and students says “we are being robbed to pay for the greed and profligate behaviour of the banks and the abject failure by successive governments and parliament to control them. All the three major parties, Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, are committed to doing what the banksters demand”. (1) These parties have been given “the job of getting us to vote for cuts. All are signed up, ready and willing to do the dirty deed. The new government will then claim a mandate for cuts plus whatever else they have hidden up their sleeves”. (2) Consequently “the future for banksters looks good. Bonuses will be rising and the champagne corks popping”.

 

The election hustings at LSBU were addressed by Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat), Val Shawcross (Labour), and Loanna Morrison (Conservative), and Steve Freeman (Independent). None of the candidates of the three main parties mentioned their plans for the ‘Great Bankster Robbery’ through cuts and redundancies. They did not call for organised resistance. None of them had proposals to take power from the banks. Simon Hughes spoke about liberal values and civil liberties. Ms Shawcross said things would get better in the long run under Labour. All three candidates supported private banking. Only one candidate, Steve Freeman, explained the serious threats we faced and the need to organise against the banks and their government.     

 

Opposition to the Corporate Plan

 

The 2009-12 Corporate Plan, subtitled “Students First”, is the strategic plan approved by LSBU Governors. It is a comprehensive scheme to make LSBU more profitable. This includes reducing the wage bill through redundancies, local pay bargaining, cutting pensions and introducing ‘performance management’. LSBU has already been removed from national pay scales when the Governors refused to honour the 0.5% nationally negotiated increase. The Governors aim to put staff on so-called Performance Related Pay.     

 

‘Students First’ is a marketing slogan reflecting a populist appeal to educational consumerism. The fate of the university is tied to competing for rankings in the artificially created League Table market. Neither HEFCE nor management will give real power to students. In practice educational consumerism concentrates more power in the hands of the government and university management at the expense of staff. Becoming “consumers” of HE services is very expensive for students and staff alike. It will cost students higher fees. Staff will pay in redundancies and pay cuts.   

 

The ideological foundations for the Plan are in free market economics. This theory claims the anarchy of markets, with competition and privatisation, creates efficiency and social welfare. It does neither. Market competition is very expensive. It requires bureaucratic regulation plus marketing expenses and transaction costs. Markets fail to deliver because they concentrate more power in the hands of the few and forces many into a race to the bottom.   

So-called “free” competition linked to the profit motive has proved an economic and social disaster. Economic warfare between countries, businesses, universities, faculties, department and individuals rests on base motives appealing to selfishness and greed. This evil ideology has long justified “corporate management with rigged markets and the bonus culture”. It “failed spectacularly” (3) in the banking crisis of September 2008. Corporate greed and the bonus culture had no place in a university. Importing such practices will prove to be divisive. It will divide staff from each other and from the students. It will pit one Faculty, Department or group against another.

 

Management response

 

The election campaign put the Corporate Plan into the public arena. The future of a publicly funded University is not an internal matter. The move to local bargaining was condemned by Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat), Val Shawcross (Labour) and Steve Freeman (Independent) at the LSBU hustings. Ms Shawcross, speaking from her own experience in the role of local authority employer, explained the huge time consuming cost that local bargaining imposed on staff representatives and employers.

 

LSBU management responded to criticism of the Corporate Plan. Their letter (4 May 2010) to our parliamentary candidate warned that particular statements criticising the Plan might constitute a “breach of trust and potential defamation issues” and could lead to disciplinary action. Management did not accept that “rotten” free market ideology underpinned the Plan. LSBU objected to the claim that cuts and redundancies would “worsen the education service South Bank provides its students". A concern that savings from cuts might produce increased bonuses was rejected. The LSBU letter said this “potentially amounts to defamation of character of members of the senior management team”. (4)

 

The issue is not about the morality of individuals but a market system which has its own powerful logic. Common practices in the business world are being imported into the public sector. Sir Fred “the Shred” Godwin, the former boss of failed RBS, was infamous for shredding jobs and boosting his bonuses. The problem comes from the pro-market policies of successive governments from Thatcher onwards. Labour government policy pushed the public sector and Higher Education further down this road. The banking crisis exposed its fatal flaws. But far from this halting the ambitions of private greed, the policy on the bridge of the Titanic was full steam ahead.    

 

Opposition to racism

 

There is no Chinese wall between LSBU and the local community. The economic disaster is the ideal time for organisations like the BNP to promote racism. They are not alone in blaming foreigners, immigrants and Muslims for the problems caused by the banks and the recession. The major parties have tried to out bid each other in appearing tough on migrants. A growing climate of racism impacts on staff and students. Limiting foreign students by tighter immigration controls panders to and placates fears whipped up by racist politicians. This will have a serious impact on university funding and adversely affect the fees charged to domestic students.

 

Investment and expansion   

 

LSBU is central to the local economy providing jobs and attracting thousands of students and their spending power. In a recession capital goes into reverse gear and more jobs are destroyed than created. Whichever way you cut the cake there are not enough jobs to go round. The logic of capital is to save itself by cutting jobs and investment and building a pile of cash. Making cuts to save cash permeates policy across the private and public sectors.   

 

Higher Education is a peculiar industry because it is ‘naturally’ counter-cyclical. When youth unemployment rises there is the possibility that more people will consider the option of higher education. From a social perspective this is far better for young people individually and society as a whole. Cutting or restricting university places and opportunities for young people goes against any rational economic and social policy. It is reactionary.   

 

Education, including Higher Education, should be a right for all citizens. A progressive policy for Higher Education would start from the education needs of the people. In the present economic conditions it would require new investment and the expansion of educational opportunities. It would require urgent reform of university governance so that staff and students can make the key decisions about the future of LSBU. 

 

A South Bank Plan        

 

The campaign argued for a social and democratic university embodied in a South Bank Plan. The University of the future will not be hierarchical and bureaucratic. It will be a co-operative partnership of staff and students. The production of knowledge requires an atmosphere of freedom and enquiry. This is best achieved through public ownership, combined with the values of co-operation and public service, harnessed by the energy and discipline of democracy. This is the best model for improving the quality of higher education for young people and mature adults.

 

A South Bank Plan has to come ‘from below’ through staff and students working together. This can begin from a common policy to defend LSBU against the cuts. We cannot be defended by simply saying “No”. LSBU needs progressive change which benefits staff and students and not just those at the top. LSBU must continue to serve the public, support and encourage those who provide the teaching and research and those who benefit from it.   

 

South Bank Socialists

 

There are a small number of socialists amongst the thousands of workers and students at the university. Some are actively involved in the different unions. But they do not organise together as socialists. In part this reflects the fragmented state of the movement and the decline of workplace organisation. The global crisis from September 2008 was a sharp reminder of the serious failings of market capitalism and the danger this poses for working people. It was a wakeup call for independent socialist politics in the workplace.  

In LSBU socialist staff and students must begin to organise together as comrades and citizens, not simply as workers or students South Bank needs an organisation of socialists. This should be an alliance of socialists with supporters from different parties and no party, co-operating under one umbrella. Socialist staff and students must unite to defend LSBU and make a case for the public sector, for democratic and social ownership and for democratic trade unions. We need a South Bank Socialist Society.

         
5.   BANKSTERS VERSUS THE PEOPLE

 

 “My Lord Mayor, Mr Governor, my Lords, Aldermen, Mr Recorder, Sheriffs, ladies and gentlemen. Over the ten years that I have had the privilege of addressing you as Chancellor, I have been able year by year to record how the City of London has risen by your efforts, ingenuity and creativity to become a new world leader”. (1) Gordon Brown addressed these remarks at Lord Mayor’s Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London. Of course the subtext was ten years of New Labour.

 

Brown continued “Now today over 40 per cent of the world's foreign equities are traded here, more than New York, over 30 per cent of the world's currencies exchanges take place here, more than New York and Tokyo combined…… So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London” (2). Thanks to New Labour’s ‘light touch’ regulation the City had prospered as the world’s greatest casino.

 

In thirty years of globalisation and free market ideology the City, representing the banks and financial services, has become the UK’s major industry. Yet it is no ordinary industry. The City is more like a state within a state, akin to the Vatican special position within Italy. It is “the fastest growing destination for international tax avoiders. The world's super-rich and an elite cadre of financiers working in the Square Mile are increasingly using non-domicile tax status to sidestep paying tax on their fortunes”. (3). Canary Wharf is Europe’s main offshore tax haven – the Cayman Islands on Thames.

 

The City has not only come to dominate economic life but it has established a cultural hegemony over society. David Kyneston explains that “in all sorts of ways (short term performance, shareholder value, league tables) and all sorts of areas (education, NHS and the BBC to name but three) bottom-line City imperatives had been transplanted wholesale into British society.” (4).The supremacy of the City is not just economic or cultural. Finance has overwhelming political influence. As John Lanchester notes “successive governments gave the City more or less everything it wanted” (5)  

 

Politics of the City

 

In many ways the City is the modern equivalent of a medieval monarchy. The kings of money have built awe inspiring ‘Cathedrals’ of high finance which tower above the Canary Wharf skyline. These glass and steel monuments testify to the power of the banks. All subjects must pay homage in the court of banking. Every party with ambitions to govern must win their favour. Any government must have the ‘royal’ seal of approval. Woe betides any party that threatens the monopoly power of money. 

 

Coutts, the City bank whose logo is Three Crowns, looks after the financial secrets of the Windsor family. Of course the City is not Britain’s official monarchy. This role remains securely in Buckingham Palace. This is the great advantage of the British political system. Whilst government is conducted by Ministers of the Crown, the monarchy, with its accumulation of royal pageantry, keeps attention well away from the banks. Yet together the City and the Crown are the central pillars of the British Establishment bound together by mutual interests. 

 

The interests of the City are represented by Centre-Right politics combining political conservatism with economic liberalism. Support for constitutional monarchy and the union of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are bound up in the alliance with Wall Street, membership of the EU and NATO. The policy of economic liberalism has pushed free market deregulation, privatization, low taxes for the rich combined with social welfare for the deserving poor.

 

Bankster parties

 

A ‘Centre-Right’ government is a banker’s government. The City needs and supports Centre-Right politicians and parties which can secure a parliamentary majority and form a government. ‘Bankster parties’ must of course win support from other social classes. In the face of popular anger against bankers, these parties have to reflect and appease public opinion. They are quite capable of engaging in empty anti-banker rhetoric to conceal their role protecting City interests. To-day the litmus test for the City is commitment to major public sector cuts.

 

Historically the Conservative Party was the party of the City, the landed aristocracy and business. In the 1980s the City was given a huge impetus by the Tory government’s removal of exchange controls, the “Big Bang”, the arrival of US and foreign banks and the profits from managing the major privatisation programme. By the mid 1990’s the Tories were an electoral busted flush and little or no value to the banks. Something new was needed. The New Labour project was aimed at winning the support of the City for a Blair government. Blair met City leaders to woo and reassure them of the backing of his government.

 

In 1997 one of the first acts of the New Labour government was to make the Bank of England independent. It was a popular move with the bankers. New Labour replaced the Tories as the banker’s government but with a popular mandate enabling them to implement the policies demanded by the City. Low inflation, cheap credit, favourable taxes and a minimalist system of light touch regulation fitted the bill. New Labour worked closely with the City throughout its term of office. After the crisis of 2008 New Labour delivered all bailouts the bankers required.

 

Liberal Democrats are the third part of the three party system committed to the Crown and the City. But the Lib Dems positioned themselves as a left alternative to the other two main parties. Vince Cable was most critical of the failures of the banks. Nick Clegg stressed his differences with the Tories and New Labour. Nowhere was this approach more cultivated than by Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey. As a ‘peoples’ MP he supported radical causes such as civil liberties, opposition to ID cards, and the war in Iraq etc. 

 

The “Banksters Nasty Party”, as our campaign called the BNP, stood a candidate in Bermondsey. Its purpose at a time of social crisis is to promote racism. By fermenting race war the BNP seeks to divide the people and weaken trade union resistance to the banks. Their intention is to mobilise those alienated by capitalism as a political force directed against the organised working class movement. With the backing of right wing financiers the BNP hopes to win power when the people become more desperate. British fascism, traditionally identified with small businesses, is hostile to the banks. Despite fascist propaganda against Jewish finance, the BNP supports the Crown, the City and the armed forces.

 

People’s Parties

 

In the UK ‘people’s parties are relatively small and occupy the political fringe. They stand for popular sovereignty and the welfare of the people. They oppose cuts in public services and are critical of the banks. The range of parties includes the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, and the Scottish Socialist Party, Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition etc. The socialist parties oppose public sector cuts and the war in Afghanistan, and emphasise working class and trade union struggles. The Green Party criticises the banks saying that “it’s unfair that these irresponsible bankers continue to earn extortionate salaries and bonuses, while 330,000 hard working people still earn less than the low minimum wage”. (6)

 

Election campaign

 

Our election campaign concentrated on the Liberal Democrats, New Labour and the BNP. None of these parties could be trusted. At the Southwark Pensioners’ election hustings, Simon Hughes argued his party was a radical party of the left. We explained that all three major parties were not to be trusted. All three were united in supporting the bankers’ plan for public sector cuts. They behaved like rival factions of one big party. Experience in Southwark, where the Liberal Democrats had run the council, had shown this in practice. All three parties supported major spending cuts to the tune of £50 billion or more.

 

The Labour Party had failed the people. As an inner city working class constituency Labour is the main alternative to the Liberal Democrats in Bermondsey. But New Labour is discredited in the eyes of socialists and many trade unionists. The Labour government has an appalling record. It supported privatisation and encouraged free market economics. It maintained and tightened anti-union laws. It supported the right wing Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. It attacked civil liberties and planned to bring in ID cards. Last but not least was its cosy relationship with the City which led to national economic disaster.        

 

Hanging parliament  

 

The struggle between the banks and the people was highlighted by the issue of a hung parliament. The Financial Times (7) headline explained that “Investors fear the effects of a hung parliament”. Ten leading investment funds worth £4,570 billion were worried about an indecisive result. They were reported to be largely indifferent as to whether this should be a majority Labour or Tory government. Both parties were committed to cut public spending. Differences over the initial size and speed of the cuts were not decisive. The Tory hare would go faster than the Labour tortoise. But the latter could still reach the bankers’ winning post first.

 

Public opinion took the opposite view. Polls conducted by ComRes and YouGuv showed that a hung parliament was the people’s preferred option. No overall majority was a real possibility. Many people wanted this for the opposite reasons to the banks. New Labour had lost people’s trust. But people feared to give the Tories too much power. People did not want all power to go to one party. The situation was ripe for the Liberal Democrats. Bank profits would be saved. At South Bank the storm clouds of cuts and redundancies were brewing.     

 

 

 

 

.
6.   STANDING AS AN INDEPENDENT

 

Standing as an independent trade unionist and socialist candidate in Bermondsey is not a desirable option. In many ways it goes against our traditions of collective, cooperative and democratic organisation. Socialists recognise the need for people to organize themselves for political aims, not for individuals to substitute themselves for the collective effort. In a society that promotes individualism and celebrity culture, independents may be presented in heroic light – like small shopkeepers taking on giant supermarkets. For socialists this is at best a necessary evil. If it is to be justified it is because there is a need for a message of struggle in the absence of party.

 

In Bermondsey the electorate was not offered a real choice. The main parties broadly agreed with each other. The rhetoric of liberalism replaced alternative policies. Which party offered most freedom from the state? This “freedom” would mean privatisation and cuts, less democracy and the ‘freedom’ to join the dole queue. No party represented working people. There was no republican party standing for the sovereignty of the people. There was no socialist party standing for democratic public ownership. There was no pro-trade union party opposing the anti-union laws or the war in Afghanistan.   

In 2010 there was a new initiative for trade unionists and socialists to put up candidates in the general election. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has its origins in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union expulsion from the Labour Party and campaigns over rail privatisation. This coalition, supported by various socialist groups, first emerged in the 2009 Euro elections under the banner “No2EU - Yes2Democracy”. Subsequently in 2010 a similar configuration of organisations formed TUSC. The new possibilities formed the background to the decision to stand in Bermondsey.  

 

Deciding to stand

 

At the beginning there was no intention to stand as an independent. The possibility of standing was being considered in late March 2010. The discussion document says that “to run a serious parliamentary campaign we need the support of the trade union movement. Labour supporting unions such as Unison and GMB are closed to independent candidates. But TUSC opens the possibility of financial support from RMT and other unions.” (1) The aim was to see if there was sufficient local support to become a TUSC candidate in Bermondsey.

 

Three criteria were agreed. First we set a target of one hundred five pound financial pledges from LSBU workers. Second we would seek endorsement as a TUSC candidate. Third we had to be nominated by ten Bermondsey electors, a legal requirement to become a candidate. The first step was to gain support from the Socialist Alliance and a majority of the South Bank UCU branch committee. The Socialist Alliance was one of TUSC’s supporting organisations. Their national secretary wrote to TUSC requesting support for our candidature.

 

Unfortunately this request was turned down. The discussion document says “without TUSC support any campaign will be much more limited. It weakens the possibility of trade unionists and socialists presenting a challenge to the major parties and the BNP in Bermondsey”. (2) The immediate impact was to divide our campaign just as we were trying to get off the ground. Some supporters felt this was a fatal blow and we should not carry on. Others wanted to carry on regardless saying that TUSC wasn’t decisive. Whatever the reasons for the TUSC decision it put a question mark over whether to continue.

The TUSC decision had consequences. We would have to stand as an ‘Independent’ without any political description on the ballot paper. We then spent some time trying to get the TUSC decision changed. This proved to be fruitless. It slowed us down and created a degree of uncertainty about whether we would continue. This set back was mitigated by a local group of Respect members who got in contact and offered to give as much support as they could. Supporters now agreed we should stand an Independent candidate provided we could meet the other two targets.

 

The uncertainty delayed the start of our campaign proper. On April 20, the deadline for submitting nomination papers, we had over eighty financial pledges from South Bank workers. We felt we could soon meet our target of one hundred. With the signatures of ten local residents on the nomination papers a lunch time meeting of South Bank supporters voted unanimously to submit the papers. They were duly handed in before the 4pm deadline. Uncertainty ended. The actual campaign was just over two weeks long.

 

Bermondsey and South Bank 

 

There was no organisation in Bermondsey three weeks before polling day. Neither was there any possibility of building one in such limited time. We had only one supporter living in the constituency. Without party organisation there is no means of winning Bermondsey votes. The campaign in Bermondsey was no more than a token or symbolic effort. We leafleted ‘the Blue’ shopping area where the BNP held a regular stall. We leafleted the Rockingham estate at the Elephant.

 

However at South Bank we did have supporters. One hundred and seven workers contributed funds. The South Bank “party” had more reality to it. It had its roots in the South Bank trade unions including members of the branch committees, union reps and rank and file members. Working in Bermondsey but living in other constituencies meant we could not win their votes. But in measuring our support the South Bank ‘party’ won 107 ‘votes’ from workers and students who contributed money and activity.

 

The South Bank ‘party’ had to construct some organisation from scratch. It was an almost impossible task. But we did make some progress by building a website, raising money and organising meetings. The website was built in double quick time. Work was done to build a system to email staff and students. Facebook and Twitter accounts were set up. We made an election broadcast video and put it on YouTube. After the election we did a radio broadcast to the Latin American community through a local Spanish speaking radio station.

 

Two leaflets were produced and distributed mainly to staff and students. We considered using the free post to all households but we did not have sufficient time to organise it. The candidate spoke briefly at the Department of Health PCS branch committee. We were invited to two hustings organised by Southwark Pensioners Forum and the LSBU UCU branch. The issues were debated with Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrats), Val Shawcross (Labour) and Loanna Morrison (Conservative). Our candidate was interviewed by Southwark News, the main local paper and was profiled on the SE1 website. Overall our campaign was a steep learning curve. We learnt what was possible but did not have the organisation to fully exploit the opportunities. 

  

Election results

 

On 6 May the general election campaign ended. Forty six million electors split three ways. The three main pro-banker parties gained over 26.1 million votes. Sixteen million did not vote. About 35% of the electorate did not think any party was worth voting for. The people’s parties won 332,000 votes, compromising of the Green Party’s 286,000 votes and 56,000 votes won by eighteen socialist and communist organisations. This included Respect with 11 candidates and 33,000 votes, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition with 42 candidates and 12,000 votes, the Socialist Labour Party with 23 candidates and 7000 votes. (3)

 

In Bermondsey the four ‘bankster’ parties won an overwhelming 97.8% of the votes cast. Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrats, took 48.4% of the votes, Val Shawcross, Labour, won 29.2%, Loanna Morrison, Conservative, who gained 17.1% and the BNP took 3.1% (1,370 votes). Standing in opposition to public sector cuts, redundancies and wage restraint was Tom Chance of the Green Party with 1.6% (718 votes) and our campaign with 0.3% of the votes. The national result produced a hung parliament and a Con-Lib Coalition

government.  

 

New party 

 

Over one hundred years ago the Labour Party was established by trade unions to support trade union rights and struggles. It staked its claim as the people’s party. Labour has long since abandoned that role. It embraced the twin pillars of the British Establishment – the Crown and the City. New Labour reconfirmed this. After 1997 Labour formed a Centre-Right government working hand in glove with the City. It continued with the most draconian anti-union laws and tightened them. For thirteen years Labour was soft on the banks and tough on the trade unions. It did not support trade union rights or struggles. It kept the backing of the City and lost the support of the RMT and the Fire Brigades Union.

 

It is perhaps surprising to discover that there were at least one hundred and fifty socialist candidates. This estimate includes twenty nine socialist candidates standing for the Labour Party and one hundred and twenty one candidates standing for eighteen different socialist groups. (4) This does not include socialists standing as candidates for the Green Party. So a small but significant number of socialist candidates did enter the fray. Yet this effort was greatly undermined by the failure of socialists to form a united party.   

The political vacuum on the left in England continues. There is no republican socialist party campaigning for radical parliamentary reform and public ownership of the banks. Over the last decade there have been a number of attempts to recreate the old Labour party – beginning in 1996 with the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance and Respect. The TUSC is the latest in a line of initiatives. The left in England continues to exhibit the fundamental flaw which undermines or disables its effort to lead the people. It has no understanding of the importance of democracy and no commitment to fighting for radical parliamentary reform. 

 

Standing as an Independent candidate is no substitute for a party. It may be ‘fighting talk’ and sometimes this is necessary to encourage people to defend themselves. But ‘fighting talk’ is still talk. What we need is political organisation. Without this there is no effective political fight-back. The main lesson from the election is that next time we need to be much better organised. Between now and the next election we have to build a new party. Only then will the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats recognise they have a real battle on their hands.     

 

 

7.   END OF THE BEGINNING

 

The 2010 general election was won by the City and the Banks. There is no other sensible conclusion. A new Centre-Right Con-Lib government took office, presenting its ‘New Politics’ as progressive. The financial markets and banks secured a government committed to their aims. There would be no financial crisis and no run on the pound. It wasn’t necessary. Simon Hughes was returned as Bermondsey MP. He was given a pivotal role for the Liberal Democrats. He would act as the official Lib-Dem critic and apologist for the government.

 

The Coalition government will push through policies which serve the interests of the banks, claiming the legitimacy of a democratic mandate. The best opportunity to implement reactionary policies is during its ‘honeymoon’ period. Opposing cuts will be presented as mean spirited and selfish. If people think that sacrifice is necessary to make things better, they will queue up and offer what little they have. Ordinary people have a generosity of heart and spirit which reactionary governments always exploit.

 

No time was wasted planning the Great Bankster Robbery. An emergency budget was delivered in June. There would be unprecedented cuts. Ministers assured us that vulnerable people would be spared or ‘protected’. Nobody should have illusions in the protection rackets of the Banksters or the promises of Ministers. Challenged on Radio 4 to justify the massive cuts Nick Clegg pointed to “an economic firestorm across Europe”. The banks and speculators had poured petrol over Greece, Spain and Portugal and were threatening to light a match. Ominously he warned “the Markets are knocking at our door” (1)

The Treasury had taken the powerless and clueless ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ aside and told him the Liberal Democrats had to dump their fake radicalism for the sake of the country. No problem. Clegg and Cameron opened the door to Number 10 and invited the banks in to take away all the country’s best furniture. Soon the results began appearing in the press. “Robbed by the banks we own” declared an outraged Daily Mail headline. (2) The front page explained that “banks are fleecing their most cash strapped customers by charging massive overdraft rates”.

 

The government kept interest charged to the banks very low. Banks can borrow from the Bank of England at 0.5% and from each other at 1.4%. But they are selling at 19%. No surprise to find that bankers’ profits have shot up and now reached £15 billion. The Independent Banking Advisory Service explained that “banks have been allowed to increase their margins despite bank rates being so low”. (3) Their spokesperson concluded that “the level of profiteering is completely out of control”. On page eight of the same edition the headline proclaims “Workshy face another £4 billion in welfare cuts”. This was announced by the Chancellor on top of the £11 billion cut in June’s emergency budget. The direction of government policy is clear. It will support the banks and squeeze the people. 

 

The legitimacy of the government must be challenged from the start. The Coalition programme has been cobbled together in a back room deal. It has never been put before the electorate. It has no mandate. The outcome of the election was not democratic nor is parliament representative. It is not just that there should be a new election with the actual Coalition programme put before the people. But there needs to be radical parliamentary reform so that a sovereign people can exercise real control over government. Opposing the Great Bankster Robbery is more than just saying “No”. The whole political system must be reformed otherwise the banks will continue to hold effective power behind the scenes.

 

In Bermondsey we have our own lessons. We were right to oppose Simon Hughes, a relatively popular left leaning MP, who has now morphed into a key prop for a reactionary government. People who voted for him had no idea they would help to bring the Tories to power. We were right to reject New Labour, which was thoroughly bankrupt even in the eyes of its own supporters. New Labour was compromised by thirteen years in office which had left the country in such a mess. It was right to stand against and speak out against both parties regardless of how many votes we got.   

 

By the end we confirmed what we knew at the beginning. It is very difficult to mount a real challenge for votes as an independent or non-party candidate, and impossible if we start only a few weeks before the election. We were right to make a stand against Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Tories. But to succeed we have to have political organisation rooted in the community. This cannot be built at the drop of a hat. An election is the culmination of a party’s political work invested months and years before the votes are counted. There is no point in socialists repeating our experience by starting a few weeks before the next election. Building a party in Bermondsey has to begin now. In this sense our election campaign did not end on 6 May. It has just begun.   

 

 

 

 

Notes

Chapter 1
1.   The Case for Standing  5 April 2010
2.   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010 
3.   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010 
4.   The Case for Standing 5 April 2010

Chapter 2
1.  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
2.  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
3.  Bermondsey Election Manifesto
4.  http://www.southbankbermondsey.org.uk/banksterarticles-thepress.html (3 January 2011) Harold Evans on Banksters BBC New 30 January 2010

Chapter 3
1.  Geddes and M. Smith, The Origins of South Bank University.
2.  F. G. Evans, Borough Polytechnic 1892 -1969.
3.  The world wide expansion of Higher educations in the 20th century Evan Schofer and John W Meyer - http://iis-db.stanford.edu/evnts/3822/Schofer-Meyer_Tert_1.91.pdf.)  (15 August 2010)
4.  http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2010/trends.htm.  (17 August 2010 )
5.  Universities UK - The economic impact of UK Higher Education Institutions http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Publications/Documents/economicimpact3.pdf). 20 August 2010 These figures refer to 2003-4. The size of the sector is more than this but for our purposes it serves as the best estimate for today.
6.  Privatising Our Universities - UCU February 2010
7.  Universities UK - The economic impact of UK Higher Education Institutions http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/Publications/Documents/economicimpact3.pdf. 5 September 20101
8. Richard Garner Independent 21 August 2010.

Chapter 4
1.   Election leaflet to South Bank staff
2.   Election leaflet to South Bank staff
3.   Article on the Website
4.   Letter 4 May 2010

Chapter 5
1.   Speech to Bankers & Merchants Dinner Wednesday 20 June 2007 The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
2.   Speech to Bankers & Merchants Dinner Wednesday 20 June 2007 The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
3.   Nick Mathiason The Observer, Sunday 8 July 2007
4.   Kynaston “The City of London” Vol. 4 A club no more p79.
5.   John Lanchester “Whoops – Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay” p14  Penguin Books 2010
6.   http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies.html (July 2010)
7.   Financial Times 19 April 2010

Chapter 6
1.  The Case for Standing 5 April 2010
2.  The Case for Standing 5 April 2010
3.   Pete McLaren’s analysis 12 May 2010.
4.   Pete McLaren’s analysis 12 May 2010.

Chapter 7     
1.  Radio 4 Today Programme 24 June 2010.
2.  Daily Mail September 10 2010.
3   Daily Mail September 10 2010

 

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