Blair is preparing to declare the general election.
But a phoney election war has been raging for weeks. And if the campaign so far is anything to go by, even more people will decide to stay at home this time than the 41% who did so in 2001.
Desperate to prevent another New Labour landslide, Michael Howard has zoomed in on issues like asylum and immigration, gypsies and crime, exploiting people’s fears and prejudices already whipped up by The Sun and the Daily Mail.
His strategy, masterminded by Lynton Crosby who helped another Howard (John) to victory in Australia, seemed to be working. New Labour were on the back foot and some commentators who had written off the Tories began to raise the previously unimaginable prospect (for them) of a Tory win.
Then Thatcherite Tory deputy chairman Howard Flight sent a torpedo through the Tories election strategy, declaring that if they were elected they would make even bigger cuts in public services than the £35 billion they had publicly signed up to. For most people, already angry about Blair’s deception over the Iraq war, this will have just reinforced their feelings that all politicians are ’lying bastards’ and can’t be trusted.
Even before this own goal, a Tory victory was not most likely. The polls have been very volatile, with the gap between New Labour and the Tories fluctuating from 12 points one day to two points the next – nowhere near enough to guarantee a Tory win. However, given the deep disillusionment that exists towards all main parties, a Tory victory cannot be completely ruled out.
Blair’s main fear is that, with former Labour voters voting with their feet, the Tories and Liberal Democrats will eat into his majority, giving confidence to public sector workers in particular to fight back against his post-election plans to further attack their jobs and working conditions and hand over more of the public sector to his big-business friends.
But with so many people deserting New Labour, Blair would probably prefer a narrow lead over the Tories in the polls, so that he can use the ’scare factor’ of a Tory victory, to mobilise former Labour voters turned off by war in Iraq, tuition fees, privatisation etc.
Like Howard, he has specifically targeted sections of voters – the over 65s, who are likely to make up more than a third of those voting, and women, who have turned away from Labour in droves.
However, it’s unlikely that a few election bribes will be enough to overcome the cynicism and disillusionment that so many feel towards Blair and New Labour. With all of the three main parties competing over who can slash the most jobs in the public sector, all signed up to an agenda of privatisation of public services and none offering solutions to the real concerns of working-class people, the ’abstention party’ is once again likely to be the biggest winner in this election.
The Socialist Party will be standing candidates in 15 seats. (see page 5).
Where we are not standing we are calling on people to vote for other socialists and anti-privatisation candidates.
The election campaign gives us an opportunity to reach wide numbers of working-class and young people with socialist ideas, including promoting the need for the trade unions to take the initiative in creating a new workers’ party.
We saw a glimpse of the potential power and influence of the trade unions when the threat of strike action forced Blair to temporarily backtrack over attacking public sector pensions. However, Blair will be sharpening the knives ready for another assault after the general election. The unions need to prepare now for further action, both industrially through co-ordinated strikes and politically by breaking with New Labour and building a new party which can provide a real alternative to the three main big-business parties.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales