Tories and Lib-Dems join forces to make us pay for the crisis

Coalition stitch-up

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! was right to call the General Election a general fraud. Five days after it took place, millions of people who had voted Liberal Democrat because they were against any public sector cuts this year saw the Lib Dem leaders jettison this policy to form a coalition government with the Tories. As the party leaders negotiated their coalition agreement, the millionaire press ran stories about possible turmoil on financial markets if the discussions were not concluded quickly. This was no more than the ruling class putting pressure on its political hirelings to come to terms and establish a coalition in which it could have confidence. Robert Clough reports.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg (educated at Westminster private school; son of the chair of United Trust Bank) became deputy prime minister to David Cameron (one of 18 Old Etonian Tory MPs, three of whom are in the cabinet, personal fortune thought to be £30 million). 16 out of 29 cabinet members went to private schools; 20 went to Oxbridge. Multi-millionaire Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne (also Westminster School, former city banker and managing director and vice-chair of Fitch ICBA credit ratings agency, owner of seven houses), who negotiated the terms of the coalition, justified it by arguing that:

‘A fiscal problem of this scale is not resolved overnight. Indeed, no fiscal problem of our magnitude has ever been resolved in less than four years, and sometimes much more. If we fail to maintain the momentum of improvement, the markets could lose confidence in progress at any time ... Only a coalition can deliver certainty for the prolonged period we need.’ (The Independent on Sunday, 16 May 2010)

Along with Clegg, Huhne is one of five Lib Dem cabinet members as Secretary of State for the Environment; another was David Laws, short-lived Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The remainder are Tories. Such a coalition government had become necessary because the Tories, with 36.1% of the vote and 306 MPs, could not command a majority in the House of Commons, and an alliance between them and a hodgepodge of other parties and individuals would not have been credible or durable. With 57 MPs, the Lib Dems were the only serious partners. There was no way, however, that the Tories would concede on their plans for £6 billion public sector cuts this year, and with Lib Dem leaders aware that financial markets and the City of London would not brook uncertainty, they ditched their opposition to early cuts. In order to ensure the durability of the coalition, the parties agreed to put forward legislation for both a fixed-term parliament, and to require a 55% majority vote in the House of Commons to bring down the government.

Labour losses

Labour lost 91 seats ending up with 258 MPs. High-profile casualties included former Home Secretary Charles Clarke who lost Norwich South, former Home Office minister Tony McNulty who lost Harrow East, and Jacqui Smith, another former Home Secretary, who lost Redditch on 13.4% swing to the Tories, undoubtedly in major part punished because of her expenses fiddles. Others who fiddled their expenses but who decided against standing down at the election got off more lightly: there was a 15% swing against Hazel Blears but she managed to retain Salford. The anti-Blears candidate managed to take only 1.8% of the vote.

Labour was defeated in the General Election for two reasons: first, because the ruling class was not convinced that it would be able to contain possible trade union opposition to the spending cuts necessary to reduce the public deficit, and second, because it had lost the confidence of a large part of the better-off sections of the working class (the C2 social group) and sections of the lower middle class (C1). These social groups did not believe that Labour would be able to preserve their relatively privileged status in relation to poorer sections of the working class. The electoral coalition that had given Labour victory in three successive General Elections had broken down. In approximate figures:

• 1.5 million C2 voters deserted Labour; a third of them went to the Tories, another third to the Lib Dems, and a further third went mainly to UKIP and the BNP.

• A smaller number of C1 voters – about half a million – also abandoned Labour; they went either to the Tories or the Lib Dems.

• Although Labour lost support amongst poorer sections of the working class – the DE social group – overall turnout went up substantially in many inner city constituencies, by 10% or more in Liverpool and London for instance compared to 2005 – so that the numbers voting Labour in these constituencies also went up.

• Support for Labour amongst AB voters – loosely, professionals and the better-off sections of the middle class – went up fractionally from 28% in 2005 to 29% in 2010. 36% of AB voters backed the Tories, below the 39% of 1997. Between 1974 and 1992 it had ranged between 54 and 59%. Now with large numbers either directly employed in the state sector or in some way dependent on it, a significant proportion viewed Labour as more likely to protect their interests.

Fear of proletarianisation

What drove C2 voters to abandon Labour was not actual proletarianisation, but the fear of it and the sense that Labour either would not or could not prevent it from happening because of its perceived policies on immigration. Post-election, therefore, Labour politicians explained their defeat by saying the party had not been racist enough. Thus John Denham, former Communities Minister, argued that:

‘Dependence on the financial sector was not only unsustainable; it created an economy that simply didn't offer much to too many people. It produced a labour market that, for millions, brought stagnating incomes, insecurity and reduced pension rights. The same labour market demanded mass immigration, which, in too many places, increased competition for jobs, housing and public services, in ways that, again, seemed unfair. The genuine effort to tackle poverty created sharp fault lines that cut across the common sense of British fairness. Many could not see why they got little support for hard work, when others apparently received much more for less.’ (The Guardian, 12 May 2010)

Others took a similar view; former immigration minister Liam Byrne saying that Labour had nothing to offer ‘aspirational families’, adding that:

‘When Gordon Brown and Tony Blair set out New Labour’s principles, they put work, opportunity and aspiration centre-stage. We said: play by the rules and you’ll get your reward. But today, too many families – working in retail, manufacturing, the service sector, construction – feel they’re working as hard as ever and just not getting on. They’re not wrong. My research shows workers on between £20,000-£30,000 a year have faced huge forces in our economy, squeezing pay packets and the cost of living for at least five years. That’s why so many are so frustrated with welfare reform and immigration.’

Another former immigration minister, Phil Woolas, complained that Labour did not sufficiently broadcast its policies of restricting immigrants’ access to welfare benefits and social housing, or its withdrawal of welfare benefits from asylum seekers seeking indefinite leave to remain: in other words, Labour was adequately racist, just not sufficiently upfront about it. Meanwhile The Guardian reported that Ed Balls:

‘admits that on a host of issues – the minimum wage, tax credits, tuition fees, welfare eligibility, the education maintenance allowance – voters felt Labour appeared out of step ... Labour found itself on the wrong side of the immigration debate, and lost contact with a section of the semi-skilled working class. “We had people saying ‘we work hard, and pay our taxes, but there are people who live near us, and are not working, and get more, where is the fairness in that?’”’

Similar views were expressed by David and Ed Miliband. Labour, in their view, had not been reactionary enough.

By contrast to the C2 group, the poorer sections of the working class, who are the main net beneficiaries of public services, especially if they receive working tax credits, came out for Labour in the inner-city constituencies because they felt most threatened by the Tory commitment to cut public spending this year. In 2005, there were 37 constituencies overwhelmingly in the inner cities, where turnout was less than 50%; in 2010 there were only three. In six Liverpool inner-city constituencies, the increase in turnout ranged from 6% to 11% (national average 4%); the total Labour vote in these constituencies went up from 114,000 in 2005 to 143,000. It was a similar story in parts of London. In two Hackney constituencies the Labour vote rose by 20,000; in three Lewisham constituencies by 10,500, and in Holborn by over 10,000 with a near-10% increase in turnout, and in Tottenham by nearly 6,000, again on a 10% increase in turnout.

BNP lose as well

The Labour Party was not the only loser. BNP leader Nick Griffin’s promised ‘political earthquake’ in Barking and Dagenham did not materialise. All 12 BNP local councillors who had been elected in 2006 lost their seats as the Labour vote trebled in some wards following intensive canvassing by Unite Against Fascism and Hope not Hate supporters who urged voters to support one lot of racists – Labour – against another. During the BNP campaign its publicity director Mark Collett was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill Griffin and BNP London organiser Bob Bailey was filmed assaulting three Asian teenagers whilst canvassing in Barking.

Labour millionaire Margaret Hodge, whom Griffin challenged for the Barking constituency, won comfortably: there was an increased turnout of 13.2%, and with 54.3% of the vote, she saw Griffin into third position behind the Liberal Democrat, polling 14.6%. Overall the BNP did badly by its overblown expectations, finishing fourth in each of the three Stoke-on-Trent constituencies it contested with between 7.7% and 9.5% of the vote, and losing 27 out of 29 council seats it fought. Neither the BNP nor the UKIP approached their performance in the 2009 European elections, when the former gained two MEPs and UKIP came third ahead of Labour. However, together they still won nearly 1.5 million votes in the General Election, and were clearly supported by a substantial number of C2 voters.

Opportunist left is humiliated

The election exposed the irrelevance of the opportunist left. Its participation gave legitimacy to the completely fraudulent process. Overall its performance was abysmal especially given that we are living through the worst imperialist crisis for 80 years. Respect lost the single seat it had won in 2005, with support in Bethnal Green and Bow falling by nearly half as George Galloway moved to contest the adjacent Poplar and Limehouse constituency. He was only able to come a distant third (8,160 votes) behind the Tories (12,649) and Labour (18,679). Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham Hall Green did best, coming second to Labour with 12,240 votes. Respect also lost seven out of its eight council seats in Tower Hamlets.

Elsewhere, Respect, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), Socialist Labour Party (SLP), Communist Party of Britain and Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) candidates barely troubled the counters, three quarters of TUSC candidates receiving 1% of the vote or less. In Scotland the SSP and TUSC candidates together mustered a wretched 6,687 votes; in 2001, united in the SSP, they got 58,000 votes. Ignominy indeed.

FRFI 215 June/July 2010


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