Socialist Worker

New Labour takes a hammering in council elections, May 2008

Issue No. 2099

Local council elections across much of England and Wales yesterday saw Labour’s worst electoral results for 40 years. The party polled just 24 percent of the vote and came in third, losing around 300 councillors.

Labour has suffered losses in every round of local elections since Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Many Labour party members hoped that Gordon Brown would turn that around. But it is clear that rather than rescuing New Labour, Brown is overseeing its demise.

The scale of Labour’s fall is shown by a comparison with Blair’s worst local election, in 2004. Then the party secured just 26 percent of the vote – one of its poorest ever showings. Under Gordon Brown Labour has dropped a further two percentage points.

It was in Labour’s heartlands that it fared particularly badly. In wards where the party won had more than 45 percent of the vote in last year’s elections, its vote was down by around 5 percent. In the key wards that Labour expected to retain or win, their vote dropped by 3 percent.

Many traditional Labour supporters can no longer face voting for the party of war, privatisation and pay cuts – a problem exacerbated by the fact that it no longer has sufficient members in core working class communities to mobilise its vote.

More than a decade of betrayal by Labour has led to disillusionment but also to a growing determination to fight back – as shown by last week’s public sector strikes. Rather that signifying a shift to the right in popular attitudes, the election results actually show how out of touch all three mainstream parties are with working class people.

But as Labour has moved rightwards it has created space for the Tories.

Indeed the attacks from the government are so right wing that David Cameron’s Tories could pose as the party more likely to defend the poor. This can be seen in the way the Tories said that they opposed the abolition of the 10p tax band, and called for hospital ward and post office closures to be put on hold.

On the far right, the fascist British National Party had gained 12 council seats at the time of writing. Although serious, this is still well short of the gains that it hoped for.

The election results have underlined the urgent need to create a radical alternative to New Labour.

In some places candidates from the Left List polled well, gaining 23 percent in Sheffield, 37 percent in Preston, 15 percent in both Cambridge and Bolton and 13 percent in Manchester.

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