- Created: Tuesday, 18 February 2014 15:47
- Written by Louis Brehony
The recent byelection in my home district of Wythenshawe and Sale East in South Manchester, was won easily by the pro-cuts, pro-war Labour Party following the death of its MP Paul Goggins on 7 January. In the runup, FRFI received messages and phonecalls from friends, worried about the supposed threat carried by BNP and UKIP racists, electioneering in Wythenshawe civic centre, as their leaders Nick Griffin and Nigel Farrage came to spew out their lines about Islamic 'terrorism' and EU bogeymen. But in a 'safe seat' for Labour, Mike Kane won with 55% of the vote. The more seasoned racists won easily. Immediately, bourgeois political discussion focused on UKIP beating the Tories into second place. The turnout was 28%. The real discussion should be about why the vast majority of people in this poverty-stricken, working class area refused to vote.
The byelection turnout was down from a 2010 'high' of 54.3% at the general election. Still, Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, claimed, 'Our vote has come out firmly and strongly.' Really? Wythenshawe and Sale East have a combined post-16 population of 71,000. Just 13,216 people voted Labour – democracy in action! UKIP came a distant second with 4,301 (17.9%), pushing the Tories into third.
Along with the Lib Dems, BNP lost their deposits, getting 708 votes and prompting Unite Against Fascism to congratulate itself 'and other anti fascists for campaigning hard.' They had pledged to 'bring the anti-Nazi message to as many voters as possible... Labour councillors who are out campaigning have said they'll try to join us.' This was nothing short of political opportunism, as SWP stalwart Mike Killain led the charge for a Labour vote in a ward where it has won every election since 1997. The dead MP Paul Goggins, hailed as a 'hero' by the Manchester Evening News, had been an adviser to David Blunkett when the Labour home secretary locked up asylum seeking families and ignored human rights legislation to push for longer prison sentences. The 72% of registered voters who refused to turn out showed themselves to be more politically astute than Unite Against Fascism.
The winner Mike Kane has already proved to be as dodgy as the Labour politicians we all know and hate. Kane is chief executive for David Miliband's organisation 'Movement for Change', which was fined by the Electoral Commission for accepting £345,000 of donations from billionaire Labour supporter Lord Sainsbury. Still, Kane has the gall to claim that his election result was a victory against the ConDem government's austerity programme, 'And on the unfair and disproportionate cuts to local services – Wythenshawe and Sale has said tonight: enough is enough.' In reality, it has been Manchester's Labour council wielding the axe, meaning Wythenshawe has seen the closure of children's centres, a mental health centre, the Law Centre, and drastic cuts to library hours. On top of the £250m already cut from public services across Manchester, £50m more in cuts are planned this year. While Kane lines his pockets, towns like Wythenshawe and Sale are on the front line.
Launching a £30,000 advertising campaign in 2010, Labour leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese (on £50,000 a year) claimed 'regeneration' meant that Wythenshawe had taken 'strides' to get over its image as a deprived area, saying, 'A poor image of where you live can be detrimental to individuals, communities, business and sustainability.' As usual, real life is somewhat different to the progress claimed by Labour politicians. Across Wythenshawe and Sale East, 11.8% of adults have no qualifications and 16,600 are classed as 'economically inactive' (not including pensioners). One in five social housing tenants in Wythenshawe have been hit with the bedroom tax, including 565 disabled people.
Child poverty in Wythenshawe and Sale East stood at 31% in 2013.* But this figure understates the problem. Under the Labour government in 2007, Woodhouse Park had a child poverty rate of 45.4%, which had risen on 2006. Seven years on it remains at 43%. In neighbouring Sharston, 42% of children live in poverty. Child poverty in Manchester is 38%. Manchester Central, including Moss Side and Hulme, has the highest child poverty rates in Britain, standing at an obscene 47%. In Wythenshawe, 21.7% of children have a special need. While the Wythenshawe forum was given a £20 million makeover and a (private) nursery, less than a mile away the Family Action Benchill children's centre was shut down – it now has a 'for sale' sign outside and is surrounded by weeds. This is what Labour politicians mean by 'regeneration.'
Election results continue to show that working class people across Britain have no illusions in bourgeois politics. Socialists have to tap into this disillusionment and organise to build a movement against capitalist cutbacks.
Don't vote – organise!
* Children are classed as living in poverty if their household income is 60% below the national median