Labour’s pro-austerity ‘opposition’ no alternative
The Rochester and Strood byelection on 20 November result, which saw the election a second ex-Tory Ukip MP, was an expression of one of the major developments of the post-economic crisis world we live in. The growing anger of the 99% is starting to find expression at elections and the utter inability of the defenders of capitalism to offer any way forward is revealed. Maybe it is enough to quote the Ukip leader on the general election: "all bets are off".
Mark Reckless won with 42% of the vote, 16,867 votes. The Tory vote fell by 14 percentage points on 2010, Labour by almost 12 and the Lib Dems by over 15 to 300 odd votes.
Reckless, a pampered, anti-working class Tory, outrageously claimed the legacy of protest of the Levellers, Chartists and Suffragettes in his 4am victory speech. Ukip can attempt this trickery only because of the absence of a mass workers’ party today that genuinely stands in those traditions. The trade union leaders who have hesitated from taking action to build a new party bear heavy responsibility for contributing to this process.
Research has found that 81% of Ukip supporters believe "big business takes advantage of ordinary people" but they will be bitterly disappointed by Rochester’s representative and the entire Ukip leadership and decision makers. Reckless voted strongly for reducing the rate of corporation tax as a Tory MP. The millionaires and other members of the 1% who fund Ukip agree with him.
Main parties plummet
Rochester further reflects a trend in politics away from the two-party domination, what has been called the ’new fragmentation’. It is an expression of the crisis of legitimacy that has beset all the former pillars of capitalist society – governments, mainstream press, banks, police etc.
Today only 10% of voters think that British ’politicians’ are out to do their best for the country. Since 1979 the share of the vote going to Labour and the Tories at general elections fell from 81% to 65% in 2010 and has plummeted since then. That period corresponds with three decades in which a doubling of the numbers living in poverty, vast numbers of workers included, coincided with a doubling of the size of the British economy.
The Socialist Party has explained that low turnouts have not been due to voter apathy but huge anger. The turnout in the Scottish independence referendum was a dramatic example of that when working class people, and the youth especially, saw an opportunity to punish Westminster for austerity. In doing that 1.6 million people defied the Lab-Con-Dem attempts to terrify them with the threats of ‘Project Fear’ – of bank closures, job losses and currency crises.
In England, Ukip has been the main, but not the only, recipient of protests on the electoral plane. Researcher Matthew Goodwin found that in the first ten months of 2013 there were 23,000 media mentions of Ukip in the papers. But it is not only the press that promotes Ukip. A writer in the right-wing Spectator summarised the Tory approach to their electoral challengers as: "Ukip are right – don’t vote for them". Cameron, faced with an insurgency on the right of his party, appears to be running to keep up with Ukip’s policies on Europe and immigration.
Labour has only mirrored this. New research has found that concerns about immigration are often motivated by worries about the impact on jobs and public services. But instead of committing to a meaningful increase in the minimum wage, supporting trade unions that take action to defend the rate for the job to stop the race to the bottom etc., shadow ministers announce that Labour would restrict benefits which jobseekers from the EU can claim, including child benefit.
In reality, instead of showing ’respect’ for the working class, with all its variations of race and ethnicity, Labour leader, David Miliband is aping Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron and Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, who use immigration to distract from the responsibility of big business, the finance industry and capitalist politicians for the economic crisis and the attacks on the working class in the name of austerity.
But it was the tweet and subsequent resignation of Emily Thornberry, a shadow Labour front bencher, that caught the (short) attention of journalists in the capitalist press reporting on the byelection. Thornberry’s tweet of a photo of a house bedecked in England flags sent Labour’s high command into paroxysms of panic as it was claimed by the right-wing tabloid rags that this was evidence of Labour’s snotty approach to the working class.
Labour’s attitude to the working class is revealed every day in much more meaningful ways – repeated commitments to carry on Tory cuts if Labour forms the next government, implementing cuts and privatisation at local council level and during 13 previous years of the last Labour government, and their refusal to remove the Tory anti-union laws from the statutes when in power.
With half a year to go to the general election, Labour is hardly ahead in the polls. However, the response to Thornberry’s tweet is nothing compared to the fear the Labour leadership has of being seen as ’Red’ – although they are clearly not.
Irish workers fight water tax
In Ireland the attack dog defenders of capitalism in the big business-owned press have mined new depths of vitriol to attack the Socialist Party TDs (MPs) who are playing a central role in the mass movement against water charges that has erupted. The Irish working class has gone from being derided as "sheeple", supposedly unwilling to raise a peep against the austerity wolf, to ’rising like lions’ to resist this latest vicious tax. Everywhere that government ministers, including Irish Labour, dare to show their faces they are greeted by mobilisations of local people from the working class communities who are saying, "Enough is enough!"
Although we have not seen protests of this scale in Britain – 200,000 demonstrated on one day out of a population in the Republic of Ireland of less than five million – the same conditions of austerity for the 99% and recovery for the 1% are preparing the ground for eruptions of anger here. The existence of Socialist Party TDs, partly down to the Proportional Representation electoral system, as well as the superb record of struggle of the Socialist Party in Ireland, has meant that the movement has a voice in the Dáil (Irish parliament).
UK Labour’s Douglas Alexander has deigned to acknowledge that anger is transforming the "entire business model of UK politics". But the point is that Labour offers no ’working class model’ – instead striving to act in the interest of big business.
The only way to end the politics of ’business as usual’ is to build a new vibrant, democratic, mass party based on struggle and the organisations of the working class. The Ukip bandwagon can be stopped by the labour movement stepping up now to call for the building of a workers’ political voice.
As part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Socialist Party is campaigning for 1,000 no-cuts council candidates and 100 parliamentary candidates in May, next year, to show in action what is needed and to involve those working class people who have already drawn the conclusion that there must be an alternative.