Socialist Worker

Charting the way ahead after 1 May elections

by Chris Bambery, editor of Socialist Worker
Issue No. 2101

“Where do we go from here?” is the question being asked by tens of thousands of people on the left, in the movements and in the trade unions after the 1 May elections.

The prospect of the return of a Tory government, heralded by New Labour’s dreadful performance in the elections, and the gains registered by the fascist BNP have left people asking how we can stop the right.

But although they had a successful election on 1 May the right’s results do not mean that people in Britain have overwhelmingly accepted reactionary ideas.

The majority of the British population continue to oppose the war and there is a mighty rejection of privatisation, hospital closures, the axing of post offices and other free market measures.

Two issues buck this trend. One is the continuing attacks on immigrants coming from the media and echoed by New Labour politicians.

The other is around gun and knife crime.

When it comes to conventional electoral politics people see things in “common sense” terms. Electoral politics focuses on individual choice, not collective action.

Many people tell left wing campaigners standing in elections, “I’d vote for you but you can’t win, so it would be a wasted vote.”

If the left cannot present an effective, broad-based alternative then people will either not vote or look elsewhere.

In Scotland last year the Scottish National Party benefited from this feeling.

On 1 May, in England and Wales, former Labour supporters cast their votes for a wide range of options, with the left in all too many places not registering on their horizon.

That might seem an argument for concentrating on the growing trade union resistance to Gordon Brown’s pay curbs, campaigning against the Nazis and over other issues, and dropping any electoral challenge.

Yet that would be a profound mistake. If the left vacates the electoral field we will desert millions of working class people who see voting as key and will look elsewhere for someone to represent them.

A warning comes from Italy where the anti-immigrant Northern League has been able to benefit from the collapse of the left to pick up discontented working class voters.

Respond

Now it is in a position to launch street marches through immigrant areas in northern Italy, to organise campaigns to shut down mosques, and to attack Roma and migrant camps.

The debate on how the left should respond to the political situation following the 1 May elections needs to start now.

This debate has to involve Left List supporters, Labour Party members, those who quit Labour and those who belong to no party.

Within that discussion Left List supporters need to argue for the construction of a broad-based coalition uniting those who have come together to oppose war and neoliberalism.

That coalition will not be built in the short term.

The forces that can form such a challenge will come from the anti-war movement, the hundreds of thousands of workers in dispute over pay, and the huge, diverse crowd who joined the anti-Nazi carnival in London on 27 April.

What was noticeable about the strike by hundreds of thousands of teachers, lecturers and civil service workers on 24 April was how the demonstrations and rallies had the feel of earlier anti-war and anti-capitalist protests.

Many of those taking part could see the connections between their fight over pay and wider resistance to war and neoliberalism.

The media and politicians attempt to portray white working class people as bigots. That is patronising and wrong.

These, like the rest of the working class, are people who have been dumped on for three decades by the Tories and then New Labour.

In the 1950s and 1960s Labour was a mass membership organisation with up to half a million members.

In working class areas people would know their Labour councillor and even the local party agent.

That presence was connected to effective tenants’ organisations, workplace shop stewards organisations and trade union branches.

Shield

Labour traditionally played a dual role. It provided a shield against some of the most right wing ideas in society and it acted to contain working class anger in conventional channels.

Today, in many areas of working class Britain there is no left presence, no effective tenants’ organisation and little effective trade union presence.

This needs to be addressed.

On a small scale, the Left List has been able to organise successful meetings in communities blighted by gun and knife crime.

These meetings involved people directly affected arguing that the solution was not to criminalise young people but to address what creates gang culture.

Over the coming weeks and months we need maximum unity against the BNP.

But we also need to ensure that the left takes up issues such as housing, health and education in the areas that the BNP is active in.

Our answer to the problems we all face is to unite working class people in fighting for affordable homes, against hospital cuts and for better living standards while combatting racist ideas.

The left needs to throw itself into fighting on all fronts – against the pay limits, war and the BNP while also stressing the need to forge a powerful electoral challenge to Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

This can be the beginning of the left filling the political vacuum that exists in too many places in Britain.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.