British county elections: Capitalist parties rejected

Time for a new mass workers’ party

The results of the county council election on 2 May marked a new low for all three major parties in Britain.

For the first time ever not one of them got 30% or more of the vote, Labour scored 29%, the Tories 25% and the Liberal Democrats a dismal 14%.

This is yet another illustration of the hollowing out of the base of support of all the major capitalist parties.

As austerity continues to bite, the coalition parties are becoming increasingly unpopular. Labour, the ’official opposition’, is not turning anger at the Con-Dems into support for itself.

The county council elections are not the most favourable terrain for Labour, but its performance – only taking control of two councils – was poor.

Even in the parliamentary byelection in South Shields, which has been a Labour stronghold since 1935, Labour’s majority halved compared to the 2010 general election.

No wonder – the Labour candidate, Emma Lewell-Buck, was a local Labour councillor that had unwaveringly defended the closure of day care centres for the elderly and disabled, along with other cuts in local services.

Labour implemented pro-rich, anti-working class policies in government. The deregulation of the City of London, begun under Thatcher, continued apace under New Labour.

Now in opposition Labour is continuing to trail behind the Tories; refusing to promise to reverse the Con-Dems’ vicious austerity policies.

The inevitable result is that – while many workers will reluctantly vote Labour to try and defeat the government – there is no enthusiasm for Labour’s ’austerity-lite’ – or not so lite.

TUSC protest outside Camden town hall, March 2013, photo Neil Cafferky

Disillusionment

At this stage, the most common response to profound disillusionment with all the major parties is to stay at home and not vote at all.

However, in last Thursday’s elections a substantial minority, 23% of those who voted, showed their anger by voting for Ukip.

Ukip voters include many disillusioned Tories, but also a section of working class ex-Labour voters, as is indicated by the 5,988 people who voted Ukip in South Shields.

The Guardian quotes David Bell, a South Shields voter who helped push the party to second place: "I was very disappointed that Labour made no effort whatsoever to stand up for ordinary working people’s rights… But I’ve found a party now that represents some of the views that I would like."

Ukip poses as the party ’for the little man and woman’, brushing over the fact that its leader Nigel Farage is the son of a stockbroker who used to be a commodities trader himself.

Ukip’s treasurer, Stuart Wheeler, is a multimillionaire old Etonian who lives in a Jacobean castle. And Ukip’s current income tax policy is for a ’flat rate tax’ where everyone – from a cleaner to a commodities trader – would pay exactly the same tax.

Ukip is a right-wing nationalist populist party that offers no way forward for the working class. It poses as being against corruption and yet has lined up Neil Hamilton – who was forced out of parliament in the face of public disgust because he accepted brown envelopes full of cash from Mohammed al Fayed – to head its list for the European elections! Nonetheless, on 2 May 2013 a section of working class voters used Ukip as a stick with which to beat the government.

Ukip’s vote in this election has been aided by the enormous amount of publicity the party received. Despite not having a single MP, in the four years until the end of 2012 Nigel Farage was on Question Time eleven times, more than any other politician except Lib Dem Vince Cable.

Farage was also given a platform on the programme the week before the election – virtually promoted as the opposition.

There has been a semi-conscious policy by the capitalist class to encourage votes for Ukip as a ’safe’ outlet for voters’ anger, as compared to the far-right racists of the British National Party (BNP) and, in particular, to try and prevent the development of a mass workers’ party with a socialist programme.

Whether Ukip continues to be promoted by the capitalist media, and also whether it can make further electoral breakthroughs, remains to be seen.

Socialist response needed

It is already clear, however, that Ukip’s vote has deepened the crisis in all of the major capitalist parties, particularly in the Tory party.

After Ukip’s vote in the Eastleigh byelection the Tories responded by increasing their anti-Europe, and particularly anti-immigration, rhetoric.

The same is likely to happen again now. The Tories are consciously using workers’ fears about the consequences of increased immigration in order to justify attacks on universal access to essential services and benefits.

The workers’ movement needs to warn that this is the thin end of the wedge; and the result will be the destruction of public services that are vital for all workers.

Labour, however, is once again echoing Tory propaganda rather than standing up to this blatant attempt to set one worker against another.

The need to build a new mass party of the working class has never been more urgent. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is beginning to lay the foundations for the creation of a powerful electoral voice for working class people.

TUSC brings together trade unionists, including the transport workers’ union the RMT, and socialists, including the Socialist Party.

TUSC stood in 120 seats in the county council elections, more than the left have been able to contest in this round of elections in living memory.

It also stood a candidate for mayor of Doncaster, receiving a creditable 1,916 votes. This vote, along with the 750 votes received by an independent socialist in the South Shields byelection, give a glimpse of the possibilities to begin to win electoral support for a socialist alternative to endless austerity.

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