On the local government elections

Just under a year ago, Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as prime minister. An important part of his mission was to rebuild Labour’s credibility in the eyes of the voters. In the light of the 1 May local government election results, that mission lies in ruins.

In this election, Labour got the worst electoral drubbing in 40 years – a veritable town-hall bloodbath – and was relegated to third position with a mere 24 percent share of the votes polled. In comparison, the Tories were ahead by a whole 20 percentage points with 44 percent, while the LibDems secured 25 percent.

The Tories emerged from these elections having gained more than 250 seats, while Labour lost 330 seats and the LibDems gained 30. If these results were to be repeated in a general election, Labour would lose and the Tories form the next government with a majority of 23 seats.

In Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle, the LibDems have become the alternative or the majority party, while the Tories have made gains in what have been Labour’s heartlands. In Wales, Labour lost control of Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Caerphilly and Flintshire.

In the North East, the Tories gained control of North Tyneside for the first time. They even won Bury in the North West, and made gains in Birmingham and Sunderland. Labour also lost control of Wolverhampton, Hartlepool and Reading.

Thus, in most of England, the Tories have gained the major share of Labour’s losses, while the LibDems have gained at Labour’s expense in the four northern cities mentioned above.

With the Conservatives’ victory so complete and the defeat of Labour so total, seasoned political commentators are dubbing these election results as Gordon Brown’s “John Major moment”, by way of an allusion to the 1995 local government elections, which the Conservatives lost by a similarly huge 20-point gap and then went on, two years later, to lose the general election in May 1997.

London poll results

Only in London was the collapse in the Labour vote less steep, even though Labour lost the mayoral contest, In the elections to the London Assembly, the Conservatives won 11 seats (two more than in the outgoing assembly), Labour 8 (one more than before), LibDems 2 (no change), and the openly racist British National Party gained a seat on the assembly for the first time.

As regards the votes for the Mayoral candidates, while the Conservative Boris Johnson received 42 percent of the vote, Labour’s Ken Livingstone secured 36 percent. After taking second preferences into account, Johnson secured 53 percent to Livingstone’s 47 percent.

If Livingstone managed to secure a 12 percent electoral advantage over Labour’s national score, it is because Londoners showed preference for some of his policies, such as transport in particular, rather than the “rudderless triangulation on offer from Gordon Brown”, to use the words of Seamus Milne in the Guardian of 4 May. (‘The progressive premium’)

For all that, Livingstone’s arrogance, cronyism and his total support for the police (he refused to condemn, for example, the shooting of the innocent Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, by gun-toting members of the Metropolitan Police, showing that he could not be trusted to hold the police to account), must have alienated quite a few people.

It is a testimony to Labour’s plummeting fortunes that a dexterous and skilful operator such as Livingstone should have lost to an incompetent toff – a privileged, bumbling buffoon who could not be trusted to arrange the proverbial piss-up in a brewery, still less be charged with the task of running one of the greatest cities in the world with a £12bn budget, and who is unflatteringly characterised even by his admirers as a hedonist, a libertarian, a clown, a goof, and an inarticulate person with a good brain but hardly ever used.

What Johnson shares with Livingstone is his arrant selfishness, ruthless ambition and a total disregard for anyone else’s wellbeing.

Anti-Labour current

Livingstone, like Labour in the rest of England, fell to the wave of resentment against Labour that is sweeping across the country. Like doomed privileged elites the world over, the Labour leadership had no idea of the strength of this anti-Labour current, for it inhabits a make-believe world of its own.

It genuinely put a great deal of premium on the so-called ‘triangulation’ theory, according to which, with a bit of bribery and deft footwork, the electoral support of the middle classes can be secured and the working class obligingly stays loyal to Labour, for it has supposedly nowhere else to go, no matter how badly it is treated.

Well, it is payback time. Neither the middle classes nor the working class are staying with Labour.

Middle-class voters, who defected from the Tories to Labour in the mid-90s, are flocking back to the Tories, who have been sufficiently detoxified under David Cameron so as to cease to be the untouchable pariah of British politics that they had been since 1995. Even in London, where Livingstone secured more votes than in 2000 and 2004, and where Labour secured 12 points above its national vote, the suburbs took their revenge, with the Bromley and Bexley middle-class voter returning to the Tory fold.

With the ‘Blair Conservatives’ returning to their traditional home and suburban Britain falling back in love with the Conservative party, the end of what has come to be known as ‘New Labour’ is well and truly nigh. Even the relatively high turnout of 45 percent in London worked to the disadvantage of Livingstone, as the suburbs were effectively mobilised by the Tories to vote for Johnson, who won by a majority of 140,000 votes.

As for the working class, the abolition of the 10p tax band proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the back of the camel’s back, for it added to the public anger over soaring food and fuel costs, housing shortages, the difficulties of securing and servicing mortgages, real-terms cuts in the pay of millions of public-sector workers, attacks on pension entitlements, deterioration of health and education provision in working-class areas, and many other matters of concern to working people.

Labour’s vote suffered a precipitate drop in many of its working-class strongholds, as working people rebelled over the tax change which hit 5.3 million low-paid workers. Many of Labour’s core voters abandoned it; they either stayed home or even voted Conservative.

Labour’s spin doctors have been trying to minimise the aftershocks of the 1 May town-hall earthquake by variously asserting that only a minority of the electorate took part in these elections, that only local issues were at stake and that Labour also performed dismally in the 2004 local government elections only to win the general election a year later.

There are, however, two important differences between then and now: the Tories were still in total disarray, and the economic outlook was much rosier. In fact, Johnson’s mayoral campaign was a pilot project for a nationwide Tory strategy of combining traditional rhetoric on crime with vague noises about social justice and the environment.

Judging from the fact that middle-class suburban voters, who defected to Labour in 1997, embraced Johnson with enthusiasm, the strategy seems to be working. It is no longer a stigma to be a Tory – even in London.

Labour members of parliament, seeing in the results what the future holds for them, with their parliamentary gravy train beginning to vanish right under their noses, are seething with anger at the Brown leadership presiding over this electoral disaster. Only the fear of a suicidal civil war is preventing them from publicly giving vent to their despair and doubts – at least for the time being.

False show of concern

Gordon Brown was forced to admit that the results were “bad and disappointing”, adding, “My job is to listen and to learn and that is what I will do”.

Alarmed by the almost unprecedented collapse of Labour’s electoral support, Brown made a cynical attempt to show empathy for the poorer sections of society hit by rising inflation, saying: “I do understand this and I feel the hurt they feel”.

This patently false and hypocritical show of concern impresses no one. Brown, along with Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, is the architect of the New Labour project; he is as guilty as Blair of war crimes abroad and attacks on the working class at home through privatisation, deregulation and repression in the name of fighting terrorism. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for 10 years before becoming Prime Minister last June.

During the past 11 years, neither he nor the government of which he has been a most prominent member has listened to the voices of people at home or abroad, let alone “felt their hurt”.

In defiance of the overwhelming opposition of the British people, the Labour government has been waging brutal predatory wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting Israel’s barbaric war against Lebanon and savage Israeli repression of the Palestinian people, while attacking the working class, especially its most destitute sections, at home.

While enabling the filthy rich to get even more filthy rich, this government has supervised the ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor. If now Gordon Brown has suddenly discovered the ability to understand and feel the hurt felt by the working class, it is to be explained by the fact that the latter has hit back in the only way it can for the moment, namely, by withholding electoral support from Labour and thus putting paid to the corrupt and cushy life of pelf and perks they have become accustomed to as the governing party.

Only this concern for its own wellbeing explains the government’s U-turn on the 10p tax fiasco and the panic announcement by Chancellor Alistair Darling on 13 May that he was putting up personal tax allowances to compensate those on low incomes hit by the abolition of the 10p tax band, when only a few weeks ago he was insisting that he could not possibly rewrite the budget.

This measure, while costing £2.7bn to the exchequer, still leaves 1.1 million poor households worse off consequent upon the abolition of the 10p starter tax band. Vast sections of the population will rightly perceive this relief as a forced concession, made in a last-ditch effort to avert a Commons rebellion on the part of Labour’s own backbenchers and to avoid a humiliating result in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election on 22 May.

The bourgeoisie has already denounced this measure as being inimical to a ‘prudent’ fiscal policy.

Coming troubles

The Crewe and Nantwich by-election, brought on by the death of Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, was a further dagger in the heart of New Labour, whose 7,708 majority was converted into a 7,860 majority for the Conservatives. This by-election gain – the Tories’ first in 26 years – sent shockwaves through the Labour Party.

Soon, the government will be severely tested over its proposal to extend from 28 days to 42 days the period of imprisonment without charge for ‘terrorist’ suspects. Much weakened by local election results and a series of scandals and U-turns, it may fail to get the measure through parliament if there are enough Labour MPs with even a minimum commitment to democratic norms, for, after all, this measure is merely a diversion from Labour’s culpability for the predatory wars against the Iraqi and Afghan people and the slaughter of well over a million Iraqis.

Although there is never a direct correlation between local government and general election results, the collapse of the Labour vote, hand in hand with the Conservative resurgence, suggests a close parallel with the local government poll collapse suffered by John Major’s government in. In a sign of rats deserting a sinking ship, hedge fund boss David Pitt-Watson confirmed on 2 May that he had quit his job as Labour’s new general secretary without formally taking up his new post.

In view of the foregoing, it is clear that Labour is in total disarray, trusted neither by the middle classes nor by the working class, and that it is on a path to defeat at the next general election, which must be held before the next two years are up.

The real tragedy, however, is that the defeat of Labour would make way for the equally nasty and imperialist Conservative party. There is no party to lead the working class out of the seemingly endless cycle of being buffeted between the two principal imperialist parties – Conservative and Labour.

What is needed is a genuinely proletarian party – a communist party – loyal to the principles of Marxism Leninism and proletarian internationalism; a party committed to the social emancipation of the working class in Britain and the liberation of the oppressed people in the vast continents of Asia, Africa and Latin-America; a party committed to exposing social democracy as the enemy within the working-class movement, instead of tailing behind it and portraying Labour as the party of the British working class.

To build such a party requires years and years of hard, dedicated and principled work in the working class, to win the latter away from all imperialist parties – including Labour.

This work cannot be left to the Troto-revisionist fraternity, who are irredeemably mired in the ideological and political filth and corruption of Labourism. It can, and must, be pursued with intensified vigour by our party – the CPGB-ML.