Labour faces electoral meltdown

Labour is on course for a massive defeat at the next general election after its candidate for the Crewe and Nantwich by-election saw her inherited majority of 7,000 turn into a massive 8,000 defeat on 22 May. Tory Edward Timpson, heir to a £50m fortune, trounced Tamsin Dunwoody, daughter of the late Labour MP Gwynneth Dunwoody with a 17% swing. Labour’s defeat follows on from its disastrous showing in the 1 May council, London mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections. The election coalition that supported Labour through three general election victories is disintegrating.

The local elections were the first test at the polls for Labour since Gordon Brown took over as prime minister. They were held during the row over the abolition of the 10% income tax band, in the midst of two unpopular wars, rising fuel prices, the nationalisation of the bankrupt Northern Rock bank and an increasing credit squeeze. You could almost hear the middle classes and the labour aristocracy crying out the words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, yet we are not saved.’

Overall Labour won 24% of the vote, 1% less than the Lib Dems, making it, for the moment, the third party. Labour lost 334 council seats and with them control of nine councils – it now runs 18 councils compared to the Tories’ 65. It lost six councils in Wales, most until recently considered rock-solid.

Its highest profile local election defeat was in the London’s mayoral contest as Ken Livingstone lost by a substantial margin to Tory Boris Johnson with a gap of 6.1% on first-preference votes.

The Lib Dem candidate in the mayoral election was ex-cop Brian Paddick. Paddick claimed to be the best qualified to fight crime. What he did not mention was that in a three-month period in 2001 whilst he was police commander in Brixton three civilians were killed and a teenager maimed for life by the police. In fact the Lib Dems, Labour and Tories fell over each other boasting about how many cops they would put on the streets, buses and underground. Crime statistics do not drop with more cops, they rise because the extra cops find more ‘crime’.

Boris Johnson is a racist bigot who has called black children ‘piccaninies’ and complained about the ‘the tyranny of black majority rule’ in South Africa. He described the MacPherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence as a witch-hunt when it concluded that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist. He hates working class people, expressing this in tirades against people from Liverpool and Scotland. This Eton and Oxford-educated toff is bad news for London’s working class and oppressed.

Livingstone, for the eight years he was mayor, loyally served the City grandees and Labour government. In 2004 when the RMT tube workers were on strike over pay, Livingstone said that if he were an RMT member he would cross the picket line and break the strike. In 1999 he hailed the NATO bombing of Belgrade. In 2000 and 2001 he demonised London May Day demonstrators; the marchers were attacked by cops and over 1,000 people were illegally held captive for over nine hours at Oxford Circus. He justified the cold-blooded killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, the most heinous crime of Labour’s domestic ‘war on terror’.

Labour won the last three general elections because it was able to create an electoral coalition which included the ruling class, large sections of the middle class and affluent layers of the working class. Now the better-off feel that their privileged position is under threat. House prices are projected to fall by 7% this year and 9% in 2009, with The Times (21 May) warning that it is looking ever more possible that these falls may be in double digits. The price of oil continues its relentless rise, with Goldman Sachs predicting it will exceed $200 a barrel. These more affluent sections are looking to the Tories as they no longer believe that Labour can manage the economy for their benefit. They are being joined by sections of the poorer white working class. Livingstone won the support of the large number of ethnic minority voters in London, but lost heavily in the white working class estates, where there was huge anger at the loss of the 10p tax band and the reality of continuing inequality, increasing concern about the NHS and widespread opposition to immigration which is portrayed as costing jobs and housing opportunities.

There is little that Labour can do to change the trend. The economy is threatened with recession. Oil prices continue to rise. It cannot stop the fall in house prices, particularly now the Bank of England says it will maintain interest rates at the current level through next year. Nor should socialists bemoan its possible fate. As George Monbiot says, this is the most right-wing government since the Second World War (The Guardian, 20 May). It does not deserve the slightest support.

However, as the general election approaches, we will doubtless witness the spectacle of self-proclaimed socialists coming to Labour’s rescue. Already Guardian columnist Seumas Milne is urging the government to adopt policies which ‘reverse its haemorrhage of support and lay the ground for a better future’. (The Guardian, 22 May) In the London mayoral election, the Galloway wing of Respect called for a vote for Livingstone and had his picture on its leaflets. The SWP wing of Respect, the Left List, stood a candidate, Lindsay German, but supported Livingstone as a second preference. Helpfully, Socialist Worker explained where you had to put your cross to do this. SWP leader John Rees agrees with Milne, saying we should ‘insist that Labour can help to save itself if it begins to defend those who elected it. Even now Gordon Brown can reverse Labour’s decline by making three announcements – that the troops will come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, privatisation will end and a programme of council housing will begin’ (Socialist Worker, 24 May). We remind Milne and Socialist Worker that at the centre of the coalition that brought Labour to power was corporate and banking capital.

The left will also use the bogey of the BNP to re-build Labour’s fortunes. That the BNP has done well electorally over the last few years is not in doubt. It now has 100 councillors nationwide compared to 16 four years ago, and it has a seat on the Greater London Assembly because it got just over the 5% threshold. It has attracted support from both the poor white working class and the newly-threatened more affluent layers. But its political influence is extremely limited: it is the government which sets the racist agenda with a succession of terrorism and asylum acts, and the creation of an atmosphere of hostility towards immigrants wherever they come from.
Jimmy German & Robert Clough

FRFI 203 June / July 2008


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