"Opinions differ as to whether this should be called Labour's worst defeat since 1973 or 1968 or 1066" (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer, 04/05/08)
Last week saw New Labour battered in the local elections and the victory of the Thatcherite Boris Johnson in London’s Mayoral elections. Labour has gone from 11,000 councillors in 1997 to 5,000 today. With the Conservative Party taking 44% of the vote nationally, the nightmare of a Cameron-led Tory government after the next general election is now posed.
Many working class people are rightly horrified at this prospect. But the choice between New Labour or the Tories overseeing public service cuts and attacks on our pay & conditions is little more than being asked to choose between cancer or heart disease – neither is particularly appealing and the end result is the same!
Politicians and commentators have been lining up to pass judgment on the results – many of them blaming the fact that New Labour has no ‘foot soldiers’. Of course they don’t; New Labour has haemorrhaged members over the past decade and many of those who have quit the party in disgust are those who made up the active base of the party. If a party is pursuing neo-liberal, anti-working class policies it seems obvious that they’ll have trouble mobilising working class people to campaign for them!
In London, incredibly, Boris Johnson was able to campaign as a candidate of ‘change’ posing as a ‘fresh face’. He was able to do this without going into any real detail about his policies or politics. In a political vacuum when a clear alternative is not posed, cosmetic differences and ‘personality’ can be pushed to a greater extent and Johnson capitalised on this. However, the woolly comedy character that Johnson put forward in the election is a cover for an out-and-out Thatcherite who wants a strike ban on the London Underground and an extension of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy.
Across the country, the London result has been reflected with councils falling to the Tories in former ‘Labour heartlands’ and those parties that have collaborated with New Labour, such as Plaid Cymru in Wales, taking a hit as well.
But in areas where a clear working-class alternative was posed an indication was given of the difference that a nationally organised left-wing challenge could have. In St Michaels, Coventry, Socialist councillor and CNWP national chair Dave Nellist was returned with a 300 vote majority. In Barrow, Michael Stephenson, standing for a campaign against academies, ousted Tory council leader Bill Joughin in the local elections. Fire-fighter Phil Jordan came second in Tuffley ward in Gloucester City. With 594 votes (33.4%), he beat both Labour and the Liberals.
Arrogant Labour politician have bluntly argued that there’s no alternative to them to beat the Tories. But these elections have shown that New Labour are now so hated there’s a real prospect that they can’t beat the Tories. Moreover, they have shown that genuine left campaigning candidates can win or do very well where that choice is given. We can’t settle for the so-called ‘lesser evil’ – death by a thousand cuts or death by the guillotine is still death!
The fight for a new mass party based on working people, the trade unions and community campaigners is now more urgent than ever. If you agree, join the campaign for a new workers’ party today, come to our national conference on 29 June and help in the fight for a political alternative to the bosses’ parties.