Bankers, bye-byes, and bad grammar

[Thursday]

On the World Bank leadership crisis, Blair in Africa, and the Tories faux war.

Bob… you’re hired!
The news broke on Wednesday that Robert Zoellick is to replace Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank. It was unlikely that Bush would nominate outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but the choice of Zoellick is no less embarrassing.

Ignoring calls to appoint someone from “the developing world”, Bush went for one of his cronies – a typical US imperialist, like Wolfowitz – in an act of defiance, to both the world and to the European powers that backed Wolfie’s “resignation”. Zoellick has served under both Bushes and was a managing director at the investment bank Goldman Sachs and was a signatory to the letter from the Project for A New American Century to Bill Clinton calling for war with Iraq in 1998.

As I said before, this whole charade will benefit the Venezuelan plan for a Bank of the South to compete with the World Bank. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is sure to make a meal of the Wolfowitz saga in promoting an alternative development bank: now that George W. Bush has replaced one Yankee imperialist with another, it makes the case even stronger. The very fact that the decision was made by the President of the United States of America points to the true nature of the international economic institutions.

The imperialist powers will not welcome a competitor bankrolled by socialist and anti-imperialist governments: they might praise competition, but they do not want more countries to end their subservient relationship to oppressor nations. A Bank of the South would allow countries to develop without becoming dependent or dominated and would be a boost to the struggle of the working class internationally.

Mad dogs and Englishmen
Tony Blair has had a busy week. Already he’s been to Libya to meet Colonel Gaddafi and help seal a deal for BP worth $900 million (in reality, it could be $26 billion). The two leaders met in a tent, and celebrated Blair’s role in welcoming the Mad Dog Gaddafi, erstwhile anti-imperialist bad boy, into the sphere of imperialism.

Ostensibly, Gaddafi is a good guy nowadays because Libya has dumped its weapons programme and no longer supports terrorist movements around the world. More importantly, however, is the privatisation of the Libyan economy and the re-admittance of oil companies like BP, who were kicked out in 1974. Gaddafi’s Third Way has turned out a lot like Blair’s.

After his trip to Libya, Blair travelled to Sierra Leone to commemorate British intervention in the country, and to pour scorn on critics of his hard power approach to Africa. From there he travelled to South Africa, to call for African nations to help oust the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and install a “reforming” (though presumably not land reforming) government.

The tour has shown that Blair does not wish to retire from public life when he leaves Downing Street. He will continue to be a cheerleader for Anglo-American imperialism and British capitalism – for “humanitarian intervention” and “globalisation”.

I’m Tory Plan B
Meanwhile, the Tories have announced that they are the heirs to New Labour, not Gordon Brown. Only they can carry on with Blair’s “reforms” in health and education. No sooner have they said Brown is the same as Blair and part of the New Labour project from the start than they claim he’s “lurching to the left”.

What is the opposite of “lurching to the left”? “Reeling to the right”? Because this is what Brown is doing. The party line is not straight – is he or isn’t he New Labour? The Tories won’t pick either way, this is triangulation. It’s also about demonstrating to the bosses that the Tories can deliver on privatising heath and education.

Tory leader David Cameron has stated that as PM he would back military intervention in Iran. This is signal to US imperialism and British capitalism that he’d be a better candidate for PM than Brown, who is saddled with having to move away from the Blair legacy in this respect. It’s not for the ruling class to decide, but the impact that media presentation can have on public opinion cannot be discounted.

Blue man group
In another show of strength, Cameron has conducted an internal war against the party’s historic support for grammar schools and academic selection. Shadow education secretary David Willetts gave a speech making the case that grammar schools do not help the poorest pupils, though he did not seem convinced of his own argument. A hue and cry erupted from the Tory backbenches and the row has been building for the past week, threatening to derail Cameron’s lengthy honeymoon period.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was wheeled out yesterday to reiterate the new party line and further suggest that the Tories will drop the big one on grammar schools. This play fight might get out of hand: the traditionalists are taking it seriously, and one member of the Shadow cabinet, Europe spokesman Graham Brady, has quit his post in protest at the policy change.

The point has been made, both to the electorate and the ruling class, but if the argument over grammar schools drags on much longer Cameron will look like a bad leader – unable to unite his party or heed opposing views. Interestingly, there has been little coverage of Cameron’s hawkish stance on Iran. The state-corporate media have worked assiduously to promote Cameron and to help him reinvigorate the tired Tories; they have let him off the hook again by passing on the issue of his support for the Iraq war and another in Iran.

Personalisation is privatisation
Back to “choice” in the provision of public services, the call for “personalisation” is in fact a call for privatisation. In the 2005 election the Tories used dog-whistle politics – innocuous statements which are aimed at certain groups who will pick up on the connotations of the remarks. Back then it was on immigration, now it is on public service reform. The bosses might have been alarmed to see Cameron jumping on the NHS protest bandwagon – the Tories have joined demonstrations against cuts in services and in staff.

Majority public opinion favours public funding and provision of healthcare through the National Health Service. Cameron has managed to win support in the polls for the stand he has taken, and the Tories are apparently more trusted on health than Labour. The Tory position on health has shifted under his watch, from a national insurance scheme to supporting “patient choice” and “personalisation” within the NHS.

Frank Luntz, a pollster for the Republican Party and big business, pioneered the use of the term “personalisation” in the US. It is an ideological mystification – everyone wants services tailored to their needs, but the term obscures the issue of provision and cost. Private healthcare does not cost less than public healthcare. The NHS is in effect paying the dividends to the shareholders of the private health providers – money that could otherwise pay for more staff or equipment. The outcome of the reforms will be an end to public healthcare: the NHS has produced a surplus this year by under-spending. Why else have a surplus if not to make the NHS profitable?

This laddie is for turning
Breaking news (for those behind the times, like myself) Dominic Grieve, a senior Tory frontbencher, has written an article for his local paper contradicting party policy. But the leadership has done a swift U-turn to stem further losses, and now the Tories look like a right-wing debating society… Whereas Graham Brady was “severely reprimanded” for talking out of turn, Grieve has been let off the hook by Cameron’s reversal of policy.

It is worth noting that Cameron was trying to steer the Tories towards Blair’s city academy scheme – an effective privatisation of state education – rather than revisit an old debate about academic selection. The intention was to show Cameron had moved the Tories forward; instead they look mired in a futile dispute and have taken attention away from the divisions within Labour.

In future the Tory message might be more effectively managed. Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World has been appointed as the new Tory spin doctor – sorry, “chief of communications”. Coulson quit as editor of the tabloid when Clive Goodman, a royal correspondent, was jailed for hacking into the mobile phones of the royal family but this is only a minor embarrassment: the prize sought is the blessing of Coulson’s former employer, media baron Rupert Murdoch, who is viewed as the king-maker of British politics.

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