Simmering anger at years of New Labour policies that promote war, privatisation and inequality boiled over last week as Gordon Brown presided over his party’s worst local election results in decades.
In solidly Labour seats, families who have voted for the party for generations decided either to stay away or to switch their allegiance. Voting for a Labour Party that punished the poorest by abolishing the bottom rate of tax, while cutting corporation tax for big business was just too much to bear for many.
That sense of abandonment allowed the Tories, who have managed to regroup themselves after the fiascos of the last decade, to appear as though they had the wind in their sails.
The result was that millions of people awoke on Friday morning to discover that the Tories had been the major victors in the election. That was compounded on Saturday as it emerged that Tory Boris Johnson had been elected as London’s mayor.
And there was worse news – the Nazi British National Party (BNP), who won a net gain of ten council seats nationally, had also secured a place in the London assembly.
Many commentators have been quick to draw the conclusion that all this is proof that Britain has moved decisively to the right. It is a mistaken view.
On most issues – from the disasters of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the need to keep the NHS in public hands, or the anger over growing inequality in Britain – most voters are to the left of all three major parties. Privatisation and tax cuts for the rich have never been less popular.
And, while it is true that in some areas the BNP has tapped into the bitterness with the government and helped turn it against
“immigrants”, the vast majority of people in Britain still regard living in a multicultural society as a positive experience.
Rather than reflecting a popular surge of right wing feeling, Labour’s defeat is the result of its unrelenting war on its own supporters, and its failure to offer alternative policies to the Tories.
In recent weeks we have seen teachers and other public sector workers taking strike action, with millions more now being balloted on the government’s below-inflation pay offers.
Around 100,000 joined the Love Music Hate Racism carnival in east London last month – creating the basis for mass opposition to the BNP.
Across the country there are hundreds of local campaigns over everything from post office and hospital ward closures to those opposing racism, war and privatisation.
The task for the left in the wake of the election results is to link all of these struggles and to encourage their growth.
In the process we can forge a resistance that can not only defeat Gordon Brown’s right wing policies, but can become the basis for a political alternative to New Labour.