Election shows growing numbers have had enough of Tony Blair
Articles from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales. Includes article on Respect, Socialist Party results and press release.
Loyalty to Labour snaps – time for new Left party
The election result clearly shows that growing numbers have had enough of Tony Blair and this New Labour government. Big swings have seen prominent government ministers lose their seats and Labour’s overall majority dropping by around 100 seats – to between 60 and 70 as the socialist went to press. This clearly reveals the smouldering anger against Blair, which threatens to further ignite at any time.
Had there been a more coherent, viable alternative for working-class people to vote for in many areas this government would have been finished. Although there was a bigger than predicted swing against Labour, Blair was fortunate to face the Tories led by Howard. Time and again Labour desperately resorted to the only trick left up their sleeve – the fear of ‘Hatchet Howard’ and the Tories coming back to power.
But, even then masses of voters weren’t falling for that. The big swings to the Liberal Democrats in formerly solid Labour areas – posing as an anti-war party that would abolish tuition fees – shows how desperate some former Labour voters were to give Blair a bloody nose.
The many credible votes for anti-establishment and anti-war candidates who gained a higher media profile – particularly Reg Keys, whose son was killed in Iraq and who stood against Blair, and others like Rose Gentle and George Galloway – shows how the Iraq factor and hatred of Blair came into play.
Labour was given a bloody nose even in its strongest heartlands. Its loss in Blaenau Gwent to an Independent Labour candidate, who stood against New Labour control freakery, showed how a century of loyalty to Labour could be rapidly overturned.
Although turnout was slightly higher than last time, it was mainly higher in areas where contests were closely fought. As well as suffering an 8% swing against him, David Blunkett – one of Blair’s most despised henchmen – saw turnout plummet to only 38% in his Sheffield constituency.
In other formerly solid Labour areas a similar story unfolded, showing that the class loyalty that existed towards Labour has snapped.
But the potential for a working-class alternative is only partially shown by the votes in this election result, though many anti-establishment and socialist candidates achieved creditable votes.
But, as well as the loosening of Labour’s support, the election of George Galloway and other results show the potential for a viable and serious Left challenge to Labour at the next election. Inevitably, this will be a government that comes into collision with the working class – particularly those organised in trade unions – and through those class battles significant sections of workers will conclude that their unions must defend them and to do that more effectively requires building a new mass party of the working class.
Tapped into the mood of radicalisation and anger at New Labour
The high-profile victory of George Galloway, standing for Respect in Bethnal Green and Bow, will be welcomed by many around the country – as an antidote to an election campaign which, at national level, has been completely dominated by the free-market policies of the three parties of big business – Tory, New Labour and Liberal.
George Galloway’s campaign has undoubtedly tapped into the mood of radicalisation and anger at New Labour – in particular amongst the Muslim community (around 40% of the electorate in the constituency) many of whom have entirely broken with New Labour as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the increased repression suffered by Muslims here in Britain.
The Socialist Party welcomes this victory and called for a vote for Respect – a party that stands to the left of the big three – and that demands bringing the privatised utilities back into public ownership, an £8 an hour minimum wage, and the ending of occupation of Iraq. However, we would have preferred Respect to have been launched as a more inclusive and democratic party that aimed to build a base amongst all sections of the working class.
New Labour’s third term – whether Blair or Brown is in the driving seat – is going to see a massive escalation in privatisation and attacks on the working class. In facing this onslaught the working class will have a burning need for a new mass party that represents its interests. Regrettably, George Galloway has not, at this stage, clearly drawn the conclusion that a new party is needed and has mistakenly raised the prospect of Respect possibly playing a part in a process of “reclaiming” the Labour Party.
This is utopian, as Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT (railway workers’ union) recently declared, “the Labour Party can’t be changed. We need a new party to represent working men and women.” Whether George Galloway and Respect play a positive role in the process towards forming such a party will depend on the approach they adopt in coming struggles.
Unfortunately in this general election, unlike the Socialist Party, Respect did not stand on a clearly socialist ticket. Respect hoped that, by not being explicitly socialist, they would broaden their appeal. And it certainly true that, in addition to George Galloway’s victory, Respect achieved some good results in other areas including over 8000 votes in East Ham and over 6000 votes in West Ham. However, in areas without large Muslim communities their votes appear comparable to those previously achieved by the explicitly socialist Socialist Alliance and to those achieved the Socialist Party in this election.
To give one example of the negative consequences of not standing on a clear socialist programme; during the Rover crisis, while the Socialist Party called for the trade unions to lead a struggle for the nationalisation of the plant under democratic workers’ control, Respect’s leaflet limited itself to demanding that the government hand over the £100 million loan that the asset-strippers Phoenix had demanded – effectively calling for the corrupt bosses to be further subsidised.
Of course socialists should work together with, and attempt to win the support of, Muslim workers, who are among the most oppressed sections of society in Britain. At the same time we must actively oppose Islamaphobia against all Muslims, regardless of their class background.
However, a new workers’ party will not be built be appealing overwhelmingly to one section of the working class. Nor does that mean putting forward policies which run contrary to interests of the working class as a whole in order to gain the support of a section of Muslims. Unfortunately, a number of leading Respect candidates, including George Galloway, have done so by supporting expanding faith schools and opposing abortion. While George Galloway and others are, of course, entitled to a personal opinion on these issues, given the lack of any other point of view coming from the Respect leadership, it appears to be Respect policy, and could alienate broad sections of workers and youth who are looking for an alternative.
A new party of the working class will be built primarily as result of important sections of the working class entering struggle and seeing the necessity of building a political alternative to the capitalist parties. To be successful a new party will need to bring together forces such as socialists, trade unionists and the anti-war movement in an open, democratic structure. We hope the election of George Galloway as Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow will mark a positive step on the road to such a party – but to do so Respect will need to change the approach it has taken up until now.
The ‘most boring election’ in history ended with a far-from boring election night. Two main factors drove the election process – a burning desire to punish New Labour and Tony Blair in particular – and a horror of Howard winning the election.
For Socialist Party members up and down the country this was the best election campaign we have ever been involved in. In four weeks we raised over £11,000 for our fighting fund. This money was made up of tens of thousands small donations from workers and young people who wanted to assist our campaign. We sold record numbers of The Socialist in many parts of the country. Most importantly of all our raised profile meant that more people found out about socialist ideas – our leaflets reached more than 700,000 households – and many people – especially young people – have joined us in the struggle for socialism as a result.
Electorally, we achieved some creditable results. In Coventry North East Dave Nellist received 1874 (5%). Standing in Lewisham Deptford, Socialist Party councillor Ian Page got 742 votes (2.4%). In Coventry South Rob Windsor received 1097 (2.7%). In Newcastle East, standing for the first time, Bill Hopwood gained 582 votes (1.8%). In Walthamstow Nancy Taaffe received 727 (2.4%). But our vote in no way reflected the support we found for our ideas. Anxious to give Blair a bloody nose, people who would have liked to vote for us instead looked for a party that they felt could inflict damage on New Labour nationally. The Liberal Democrats – as one of the three mainstream parties (and in some areas the Greens) – were seen as the most viable means to do so by many. Other workers voted Labour out of fear of a Tory victory, despite agreeing 100% with our description of New Labour as a party of the fat-cats.
However, where people felt free to vote on the basis of whose ideas they liked best, we came out extremely well. In a Newsnight piece where candidates were interviewed be members of the public without their parties being known our candidate came second out of fifteen. And in a number of debates in schools, the Socialist Party came first or second in the vote. But it wasn’t only amongst young people that we struck a chord. Pensioners also approached us inspired to see a new generation of young people take up the struggle for socialism. For example, one woman, the wife of a Labour councillor, came up to us to say how happy she was to discover that socialism hadn’t died when Blairism destroyed it in the Labour Party – and that, in fact, socialist ideas were being adopted by a new generation.
This election marks a turning point in Britain. The next Labour government will be far weaker and more unstable than previous ones but this will not prevent launching an onslaught of privatisation and cuts on the working class. In seat after seat, as other candidates limited themselves to pleasantries, our candidates warned New Labour that workers are going to fight back against their Tory policies – and socialists will be at the fore of those struggles.
Socialist Party results
Leicester West, Steve Score 552 (1.7%)
Lewisham, Councillor Ian Page 742 (2.4%)
Walthamstow, Nancy Taaffe 727 (2.1%)
Newcastle East, Bill Hopwood 582 (1.8%)
Wythenshawe and Sale East, Lynn Worthington 369 (1%)
Bootle, Peter Glover 655 (2.5%)
Brighton Kemptown, Phil Clarke 113 (0.3%
Bristol, Graeme Jones 565 (1.2%)
Swansea West, Robert Williams 288 (0.87%)
Cardiff South, Dave Bartlett 269 (0.7%)
Coventry South, Rob Windsor 1,097 (2.7%)
Coventry North East, Councillor Dave Nellist 1,874 (5.04%)
Coventry North West, Nicola Downes 615 (1.4%)
Birmingham Northfields, Louise Houldey 120 (0.38%)
Stoke-on-Trent Central, Jim Cessford 246 (0.9%)
Sheffield Heeley, Mark Dunnell 265 (0.77%)
Wakefield, Mick Griffiths 319 (0.7%)
Reduced majority takes shine off Blair’s third term
IT WOULDN’T have come as much of a surprise to most people when they woke up on Friday 6 May and found that New Labour had been elected for a third time. For several weeks the opinion polls had been predicting a Labour victory.
But a drastically reduced majority will have taken the shine off Blair’s ’historic’ third term. Blair himself could well be forced to go before he has seen that term out. He has been enormously weakened and had to be propped up by Brown at every stage of the election campaign.
This will be a crisis government coming into major conflicts with the working class. New Labour’s manifesto was a declaration of war on the public sector. If they get their way privatisation of public services will be stepped up another gear. Huge swathes of the NHS and education will be opened up further to the ’market’ through a massive extension of City Academies, Foundation Hospitals, private treatment centres, PFI etc offering a massive bonanza worth billions of pounds to big business. During the election campaign even doctors and surgeons appeared in the national press with dire warnings about the threat Labour’s policies pose to the NHS.
The threat of strike action by over one million public sector workers before the election to defend their pensions was an indication that workers will not be prepared to accept these attacks without a fight back.
In particular, economic storm clouds are gathering which threaten to shake this government, whether led by Blair or Brown. "I think Tony Blair’s choice of 5 May was apposite" wrote economic adviser Roger Bootle in the Observer (1 May). "If he had delayed it until the autumn, he could have been in serious trouble".
Events can change very rapidly as John Major and the Tories found when they were elected in June 1992. Within just three months Black Wednesday struck, when Britain was forced out of the European exchange-rate mechanism, and the Tories have still not recovered from the damage that disaster inflicted on them.
IT LOOKS as if the turnout in this election was slightly up on 2001, mainly because of the 400% increase in postal vote applications. Nevertheless, this was still one of the lowest turnouts since the First World War and in no way could these results be interpreted as a ringing endorsement for Blair and New Labour’s policies.
It was clear from campaigning in the election, talking to working-class people on the doorsteps, that for many Blair had become a hate figure, much as Thatcher was in the 1980s. 62% of people thought he had lied about the war in Iraq. ’If he could lie to us over something as important as going to war how can we believe anything he says?’ was how many people felt.
He was seen as such a liability by some Labour MPs, especially those in marginals or where there was particular opposition to the war in Iraq, that they kept his photo off their election material and kept their fingers crossed that he wouldn’t visit their constituency!
But it was not just anger at Blair as an individual. Opinion polls showed that on health, on education and on Iraq more people thought Labour had failed than succeeded. According to Mori, 52% disagreed that "in the long-term the government’s policies would improve the state of public services".
But the dilemma that people faced was who do you vote for when the three main parties are competing over who can privatise the most services, who can cut the most public-sector jobs and who can manage capitalism best for big business?
The anti-Labour vote was fragmented with no one party benefiting. The Tories made some gains, especially in London, but they they could not take sufficient advantage of the discontent with New Labour. For much of the election they ran a dirty campaign, concentrating on asylum and immigration and whipping up racism which encouraged Bob Spink, the Tory candidate for Castle Point in Essex, for example, to produce a leaflet saying "send them back".
Howard and his advisers believe that the Tories had no choice but to employ new strategy. New Labour long ago took over their territory and stole most of their policies. Asylum and immigration was seen as the one issue where they had an ’advantage’ and which they could use to galvanise their core vote and win over a layer of working-class voters.
But in the end they found that not enough people were ’thinking what they were thinking’. Asylum and immigration was an issue in the election but on its own was not enough to win it for the Tories.
Ask most people why they are concerned about asylum and immigration and they say it’s because they are worried that the NHS, schools and housing are overstretched. But everytime Howard opened his mouth on these issues it conjured up memories of Thatcher, like Banquo’s ghost haunting the election campaign. And Blair was able to use that as a spectre to scare a section of voters who had been turned off Labour into reluctantly voting for them as the ’lesser evil’. In fact, Blair’s election strategy could be summed up as ’vote for us we’re not the Tories’
Having suffered a third Tory defeat, Howard may not survive long as party leader. But serious divisions are now likely to open up about where the party should go from here
Posing (falsely) as the anti-war party it was the Liberal Democrats who benefited most from the discontent with Blair and New Labour over war in Iraq in particular, with some very big swings from Labour to the Liberals in traditional Labour seats. But they did less well in seats they were expecting to take from the Tories, revealing the impossibility of facing in two directions at the same time. The Liberals made some gains but they have failed in their aim of replacing the Tories as the second party of big business.
Respect also made gains in constituencies with large Muslim populations, in particular in Bethnal Green and Bow where former Labour MP George Galloway beat Labour’s Oona King. In Brighton Pavilion the Green Party secured 22% of the vote and the Socialist Party and other anti-establishment parties gained creditable votes in many areas.
The results for left anti-establishment parties gave a glimpse of how a new workers’ party could begin to channel the anti-Labour mood and give a real voice to working-class people. At the same time, the results for the BNP (see page two) show how, in the absence of such an alternative, discontent can also be reflected to the far-right.
BLAIR WAS determined that the economy should be centre stage in the election campaign. He and Brown boasted of eight years of uninterrupted economic growth – the longest since records began. And there’s no doubt that this was one factor in Labour’s victory. It was one of the few issues which people gave New Labour a positive rating on.
But the collapse of MG Rover, with the loss of over 20,000 jobs, put the economy under the spotlight in a way neither Blair nor Brown wanted.
The closure of the last British volume car producer revealed the feeble state of British manufacturing – 600 manufacturing jobs are being decimated every day. And, in the words of the Financial Times, what happened at Rover unmasked the ’ugly face of capitalism’.
Of course, they would have us believe that there is a ’nicer’ face; that the Phoenix Four were particularly unscrupulous and greedy bosses in the way that they milked MG Rover to enrich themselves.
The Economist, however, was more honest when it wrote: "The idea that these wicked individuals are responsible for what has gone wrong may be comforting but it is also dangerous. It allows people to avoid pinning the blame where it really belongs – on the law of economics…".
Capitalism is by its very nature an exploitative system in which the capitalists compete to maximise their profits at the expense of the working class. Rover’s collapse is symptomatic of the underlying crisis of capitalism in Britain and internationally. And it is a pointer to future economic convulsions which will shake Brown and Blair’s optimism and the system they represent.
The British economy, as with the rest of the world, is heavily reliant on the health of the US ’economic engine’, but this is being fuelled by massive levels of debt which are unsustainable. "Circumstances seem to me as dangerous as any I can remember" said Paul Volker, who was chairman of the American Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, "and I can remember quite a lot".
An unravelling US economy will have a disastrous effect on the emaciated British economy. The warning signs are already there. Last year take-home incomes fell on average in real terms. Growth in the housing market is slowing down and house repossessions went up by 35% in one year. This is already impacting on people’s ability and willingness to spend, particularly given the high levels of personal borrowing and debt which is increasing at the rate of £1 million every four minutes! Retail sales are at their weakest for 13 years.
"The central charge is that the UK appears worst placed, if there were a global slowdown in the next few years"wrote Hamish McRae in The Independent (20 April) "… you could say that – on economic grounds – this is one [election] you want to lose."
But new Labour have won, and through them the capitalist class are preparing now, even before an economic downturn, for the battles ahead. They want to maintain their profits through attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and working conditions, and through the destruction of the post-war welfare state.
During the election campaign Digby Jones, head of the bosses ’union’ the CBI, summed it up when he challenged New Labour "to look voters in the eye and say ’you pay’" (FT 6 April).
Economists are almost unanimous in disagreeing with Brown’s optimistic economic forecasts. Taxes will have to go up or public spending cut or both because of the projected budget shortfall – £11 billion according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. And that is without a world recession – Brown’s ’black hole’ could turn into a black chasm.
The proposed attacks on public-sector pensions and jobs announced before the election were just a taster of what is to come, with the prospect of major clashes with public-sector workers in particular. Blair says he he wants his reforms to be as "irreversible"as Thatcher’s. Well, Thatcher famously said she was ’not for turning’ but both she and the poll tax were ditched when a mass movement of 18 million people refused to pay.
Blair temporarily found his reverse gear just before the election when the threat of strike action by over one million public-sector workers forced him to retreat over his pension plans. Just one issue like that could become a lightning rod for the discontent which is accumulating against low pay and inequality, job losses, privatisation, council tax increases, attacks on incapacity benefit and all the other grievances that working-class people have.
The campaign to defend public-sector pensions also showed the role that socialists can play within the trade unions in articulating workers’ anger, developing a strategy and pressurising union leaders into preparing for strike action. That work will become even more important now in preparing and organising for the battles to come, including the building of a new working-class party.
The majority of trade union leaders campaigned in this election for a Labour vote. They refuse to make the break politically or organisationally with the party, desperately clinging to the false hope that when Brown replaces Blair at Number 10 the pro-market, anti-working-class policies will be reversed.
This is wishful thinking on their part. At the press conference to launch Labour’s manifesto, Brown was at Blair’s side enthusiastically supporting the extension of privatisation in health and education. He was there to back Blair when the Attorney General’s advice on Iraq war was published, saying that he would have done the same if he were Prime Minister, in effect ’aiding and abetting’ Blair’s lies.
Tony Benn was completely wrong to suggest as he did during the campaign that New Labour is "returning to what it was". Blair can be confident that his ’legacy’ is safe with Brown who is 100% signed up to the same big-business agenda. The language and style might change slightly under a Brown government but the substance will be fundamentally the same.
It was the experience of privatisation and strike action over pay, combined with socialists and trade unionists raising the issue, that led to the RMT and FBU severing their link with New Labour. Under the impact of future struggles, which could develop quite soon into this government, workers will conclude not only that they need to make that break but that they need political representation and begin the task of building a new party.
The Socialist Party stood in this election to use the opportunity to speak to thousands of people about the need for such a party as well as to promote socialist ideas.
After MG Rover went into administration the Financial Times wrote in its editorial (9 April) "The only comfort is that so few people are calling for the government to step in to save Rover". In fact, as the BBC acknowledged, the Socialist Party was the only party in this election calling for the nationalisation of Rover to save workers’ jobs.
In a third-term Labour government, as the so-called economic miracle is seen to be the mirage that it really is, our demands, including public ownership of the major companies under democratic workers’ control and management and the need for a planned economy will increasingly be taken up by working-class people as they correspond with their own experiences of the anarchy and brutality of the capitalist system.
Loyalty to Labour snaps
Time for new Left party
Press statement from the Socialist Party
The election clearly showed growing numbers of working-class people have had enough of Tony Blair and his New Labour government and want something different. The big swings that saw prominent government ministers lose their seats, and Labour’s overall majority dropping by around 100 seats, clearly reveal the smouldering anger against Blair, which threatens to further ignite at any time.
Had there been a more coherent, viable alternative for working-class people to vote for in many areas Blair’s government would have been finished. Although there was a bigger than predicted swing against Labour, Blair was fortunate to face the Tories led by Howard. Time and again Labour desperately resorted to the only trick left up their sleeve – the fear of ‘Hatchet Howard’ and the Tories coming back to power.
The big swings to the Liberal Democrats in formerly solid Labour areas – posing as an anti-war party that would abolish tuition fees – shows how desperate some former Labour voters were to give Blair a bloody nose.
The many credible votes for anti-establishment and anti-war candidates who gained a higher media profile over the Iraq war – particularly Reg Keys and George Galloway – along with Labour’s humiliating defeat in its strong heartland of Blaenau Gwent shows how a century of loyalty to Labour could be rapidly overturned.
In formerly solid Labour areas some big drops in turnout – such as in David Blunkett’s constituency – and even bigger swings against them shows the loyalty that existed towards Labour has snapped.
But the potential for a working-class alternative is only partially shown by the votes in this election result, though many anti-establishment and socialist candidates achieved creditable votes.
But, as well as the loosening of Labour’s support the welcome election of George Galloway and other results shows the potential for a viable and serious Left challenge to Labour at the next election. Inevitably, a Blair or Brown government will come into collision with working people – particularly those organised in trade unions – and through those class battles significant sections of workers will push their union leaders to better defend their interests by building a new mass party of the working class.