Green Party: Rebels or reformists?

In March, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett came under attack in Britain’s right-wing media after a stuttering LBC radio performance where she struggled to explain how the party would pay for half a million new social homes. What followed was a grim character assassination in a demonstration of how bourgeois politics focuses on individual personality, with a predictable dose of Daily Mail sexism. This charade led to a nose-dive in Bennett’s approval levels, but The Independent’s Favourability Index still shows the Green Party neck and neck with UKIP and above Cameron’s LibDem coalition partners. The Green Party are clearly a rising force in British ‘democracy’, but as communists we have to analyse whether they can offer a real alternative to capitalist austerity and imperialism.

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Margaret Thatcher: a carnival of reaction

Writing on the eve of Mrs Thatcher’s resignation as Prime Minister in 1990 we said: ‘Political success and survival ultimately depend on economics. The deep, apparently insoluble crisis of British capitalism lay behind Thatcher coming to power and her failure to resolve that crisis, in the end, will see her off’ (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 98, December 1990/January 1991). Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet colleagues turned against her and drove her out of office. Now Thatcher is to be given a ceremonial funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 17 April at vast expense, with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in attendance. Parliament has been recalled to pay homage and the Union flag is being flown at half mast over the Palace of Westminster.

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Polling chaos: Thousands denied the vote / FRFI 215 Jun/ Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010

Amid the chaos, incompetence and sheer stupidity that marked the polling arrangements, what emerged most starkly was the total contempt in which the so-called ‘democratic’ system in Britain holds its electorate.

Across the country, thousands of voters in Britain’s inner cities were denied a vote. The Electoral Commission gives an initial figure of 1,129 but concedes that this estimate is incomplete, with many Acting Returning Officers unable to provide accurate information and no accounting of the hundreds who simply left when told they were unlikely to get to vote.

What is clear is that in many parts of London, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol, polling stations failed dismally to cope with a (widely predicted) turnout only 4% higher than in 2005.

Problems were reported throughout the day: people were turned away because polling lists had not been updated, hundreds of missing postal ballots, insufficient ballot papers and lengthening queues.

Then, when polling closed at 10pm, presiding officers in many areas simply closed the doors, leaving hundreds who had been queueing for hours outside. In Sheffield Hallam, 5,000 students were told to form a separate queue from ‘residents’, with some waiting three hours and still being unable to vote by 10pm. Some angry voters tried to prevent ballot boxes being removed from the polling station and police were called; others tore up their polling cards in disgust. Many went in person to protest at the Sheffield constituency home of Clegg.

Sheffield council's chief executive, John Mothersole, has since said that he will waive his fee of over £20,000 as acting returning officer. Will other acting returning officers who presided over voting fiascos (all well-paid senior council executives, who receive a bonus between £2,500 and £4,000 per constituency) do the same? For example:

• Paul Rogerson, acting returning officer in Leeds, where scores of people were left outside one polling station at 10pm. Fee: £27,654

• Sir Howard Bernstein, in Manchester Withington, where up to 250 voters were turned. Fee: £9,251

• Colin Hilton in Wavertree, Liverpool, where several polling stations ran out of ballot papers. Fee: £17,470

Voters were also turned away in Birmingham Ladywood, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Hackney South and Shoreditch, Islington North, Manchester Withington and Runnymede and Weybridge. In Hackney, at least 200 angry protesters occupied polling stations; similar scenes were reported in Manchester and Sheffield.

Only a handful of polling stations, including in Lewisham, where police were called after 300 people were told they would be unable to vote at Manwood Road, sought a democratic solution; they crammed everyone in, locked the doors, issued everyone with a ballot paper before 10pm – thus obeying the letter of the law – and allowed voting to continue.

The Electoral Commission has urged an immediate review ‘to ensure these problems are not repeated at future elections’.

Of course, the election would have been a farce even if the process had functioned smoothly, with voters reduced to choosing between three parties so similar that no clear choice could emerge. And, other than in marginal seats, each vote is virtually meaningless. Yet however compromised our bourgeois democracy may be, however irrelevant to the mass of the working class, we must defend such democratic rights as we have – and that includes the right to vote.

Cat Wiener

So farewell then… (and good riddance) /FRFI 215 Jun/ Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010

Many MPs stood down at the election, realising that their corrupt activities would lead to defeat at the ballot box. There were, however, a few ‘Portillo’ moments, when MPs who richly deserved to be defeated received their just deserts:

Jacqui Smith, Oxford graduate. A ‘Blair babe’ who remained loyal, she wept when Blair departed. As Home Secretary she tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days and declared war on immigrants. She introduced the ID cards system and stated that most people were in favour of it – a lie. Designating her sister’s spare bedroom in London as her main residence, she claimed more than £110,000 for her ‘second home’ in her constituency where her husband and family lived. Her husband claimed expenses for pornographic films and wrote letters to the press praising his wife’s activities without revealing their relationship. Smith said that she would not feel safe on the streets of London at night and that walking the streets at night was not ‘a thing that people do’.

Tony McNulty, elected in 1997, sometime Immigration Minister and Minister of Employment and Welfare Reform. A staunch supporter of the Labour government’s attacks on asylum seekers and its various wars. He was vitriolic against ‘benefit cheats’: ‘We are absolutely determined to stop benefit thieves stealing from the British taxpayer … we’re closing in on benefit fraud.’ Unfortunately his own free-loading activities became public. McNulty claimed a second home allowance of almost £14,000 a year on a house in his Harrow East constituency where his parents lived rent free. The property was 11 miles from Westminster and eight miles from his main home in Hammersmith, yet McNulty claimed he needed to stay overnight at weekends. Like Smith, perhaps, he thought walking the streets at night inadvisable. He resigned as minister and repaid nearly £14,000 – a benefit fraudster would have gone to prison for a lot less.

 

Charles Clarke, privately-educated, Cambridge graduate. Former Chief of Staff to Neil Kinnock and public management consultant. As Education Secretary he defended the elite Oxbridge universities and promoted top-up fees for students. Clarke is not a liberal thinker: ‘Universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change.’ As Labour Home Secretary he promoted ID cards, introduced control orders, attacked trial by jury and civil liberties in general.

 

Vera Baird, Solicitor General. Late on the political scene, Baird was rapidly promoted to join the attack on the legal aid system. As a Brown loyalist and self-styled socialist, she supported the Iraq war, extension of detention without charge to 90 days, ID cards, government intervention in inquests and attacks on asylum seekers. She probably lost her seat due to the closure of local steelworks in Redcar, but minor embarrassments have included an expenses claim for Christmas decorations worth £286 and a current charge for driving at 98mph whilst still the Solicitor General.

Peter Robinson, MP for 31 years, Northern Ireland Assembly member, successor to Ian Paisley as First Minister, well-known Loyalist bigot and born-again Christian. The Robinson family (known to some as the Swish Family Robinson) have been accused of financial dirty dealing. Wife Iris, also an MP and Assembly member, famous for attacking homosexuality as an abomination, suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ after it was revealed she had a 19-year-old lover and had raised £50,000 in loans for his business. Further accusations of corruption against Peter Robinson concerning development land have followed.

and one Law for the rich ...

With all the scandal about expenses you might have expected MPs to become more careful about their gob-smacking greed. Not so. Within two weeks of the birth of the Coalition, with neo-puritanism all the fashion, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, LibDem cabinet minister David Laws was exposed as claiming £40,000 of taxpayer’s money to feather his lover’s nest, in the shape of a rented bedroom paid for by us. He was quick to apologise, of course, promising to pay it back and arguing that he had only claimed the money in order to disguise his gay relationship. This is difficult to believe. Had he wished his relationship to remain secret, it would have been easy to rent a room elsewhere. Laws is a millionaire and ex-investment banker, so he didn’t need our money to fund his ‘second’ home with his lobbyist partner.

Laws supports cuts in public sector pensions, housing benefit and incapacity benefit, and was relishing his role axing the public sector. He is a closet Tory as well as a closet gay and tried to hang on as a minister. He fell on his sword within 24 hours. We say no second chances for expenses cheats ... Off with his head...

Carol Brickley

General election: ruling class remains in power

david cameron and nick cleggAfter five days’ negotiations, the Liberal Democrats have finally agreed to form a neo-liberal coalition with the Tories. The ruling class was never bothered about the political complexion of any incoming government so long as it was committed to axe public spending and make the working class pay for the crisis. The Liberal Democrats had always stated that such cuts should not start this year, but then conceded this to its Tory partners. Socialists however should have no regrets about the defeat of the Labour Party, sealed by the resignation of Gordon Brown as party leader. Its warmongering, its attacks on civil liberties, on asylum seekers and on immigrants made it no better than the Tories (see FRFI 214: General Election – General fraud). Had it been elected, it would have attacked public sector workers as viciously as the incoming coalition.

Overall turnout at the election at 65% was 4% higher than in 2005. However, the Tories failed to secure the absolute parliamentary majority that seemed likely after Labour’s electoral meltdown in 2007-09. Tory support amongst the AB social groups (higher and immediate managerial, administrative and professional) fell by 1% while that for Labour rose by the same amount. These groups include many who are employed within the public sector or depend on public sector outputs. Turnout in inner-city and predominantly working class constituencies in many cases went up by 10% or more so that in some places people were unable to vote because of a shortage of staff, equipment or even ballot papers. This increase in turnout compensated for a small swing away from Labour amongst DE social groups (semi and unskilled manual workers, pensioners and the poorest sections of the working class); 44% voted Labour compared to 28% for the Tories. Amongst the C2 social group – skilled workers – support for Labour fell by nearly half, from 40% to 22%. With limited increases in support from the C2 group (6%) and from the C1 lower middle class, the Tories were able to pick up 89 marginal seats from Labour and become the largest party in Parliament. In Scotland, Labour support rose overall by 2.5%, and it won back two seats it had lost in by-elections.

The BNP did poorly, polling only 14.6% in Barking where its leader Nick Griffin was standing, and 7.7% in its second target seat, Stoke-on-Trent Central. Elsewhere it averaged less than 5%. Its performance confirmed the point that the BNP are not a significant threat: Labour had given sufficient demonstration of its racist credentials with its attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers.

The real losers were the opportunist left. Most urged us to support Labour despite its record, claiming that the Tories would be worse. Where they stood candidates in the general election, they gave legitimacy to a completely fraudulent process. Overall their 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. Elsewhere most left candidates received 1% of the vote or less. Voters regarded them as an irrelevance.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has constantly argued that there has to be a clear and uncompromising break with Labour to forge a new socialist movement. This task will become more and more urgent as working class resistance develops against the forthcoming attacks on the state sector. Join us in building it.