Socialist Worker

After the election – what next?

Figures on the left spoke to Socialist Worker about their reactions to last week’s general election result

Issue No. 2201


Gary Younge – The electorate’s divided and inconclusive verdict was, in a sense, ‘none of the above’

The election period itself sent out very contradictory messages. It felt like there was a dislocation between the electoral and the political.

So the election was an interesting spectacle that bore little material consequence – and in which relatively few people appeared to be at all invested.

Travelling around the country from Stevenage to Bromsgrove, Scarborough and Leeds, I saw only one poster in someone’s garden.

Whatever excitement I did sense about the campaign – primarily from other journalists – seemed to centre on who would win rather than what would change.

Clearly it was a resounding defeat for New Labour.

But it was also a definite rejection of the Conservatives.

Given the economy, internal splits in the government and Labour’s terrible campaign, the Tories should have won easily.

Indeed their victory was supposed to be a foregone conclusion.

The fact that they could not win suggests a considerable breadth and depth of anti-Tory feeling.

So, in a sense, the electorate’s divided and inconclusive verdict was “none of the above”.

There was widespread disaffection with politics and politicians following the expenses scandal and the Iraq war – but then turnout increased significantly.

Moreover, the campaign seemed to bear little relation to the actual results.

The Lib Dems broke through, suggesting an electoral realignment in pretty much every poll apart from the one on polling day.

Finally, the massive spending cuts and attacks on public services on which all the main parties agreed was both widely anticipated and rarely mentioned.

As such, it felt like a prelude to a much bigger, more meaningful story.

Gary Younge is a journalist on the Guardian newspaper


Katy Clark MP – People want change but aren’t really offered any

Labour did well in Scotland, where there was a clear rejection of the Tories. It’s clear that Scottish people want a left-of-centre government.

But I’m disappointed that Labour didn’t do so well nationally.

My real concern is about the cuts in public sector spending that every party is outlining. It’s important that Labour MPs fight against these plans.

I think Labour is still damaged by the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan. I also think people didn’t really see any difference in what was on offer from all the main parties.

People want a change, but aren’t really offered any.

A lot of people can’t remember what it was like when the Tories were in power before. Theirs is a party run by elites for elites. If they manage to form a government, people will regret voting for them.

And I think the people who voted Liberal Democrat see it as an anti-Tory party, so it will be damaging for them if they go into coalition with the Tories.

I think left wing Labour MPs like myself have an important role in standing up for the things we’ve always believed in. I see my role as fighting for policies that help ordinary people.

Katy Clark is the Labour MP for North Ayreshire and Arran


Tony Benn – The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still had an impact – undermining support for Labour

I think we saw some impressive votes for Labour MPs – particularly left MPs like John McDonnell. And seeing Green leader Caroline Lucas getting elected is very impressive.

In general, people get support if they are known to take a principled position.

Undoubtedly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still had an impact – the anger continues to greatly undermine progressive support for Labour.

New Labour was a political mistake. It got Tony Blair in on a Thatcherite programme and kept him in.

Brown is more decisive, he has picked up support that has potential.

Labour lost the election, in the sense that it had a majority before and the Tories didn’t win an overall majority. The Liberals are hovering somewhere in the middle.

I think the Lib Dems will find it very difficult to go along with David Cameron, who wants to make massive cuts. Liberal MPs will find it difficult to stomach keeping a government in power that is engaged in Greek-style cuts.

I am not sure that Cameron will be able to sell full electoral reform to the Tories either.

The Liberals are split between their Thatcherite wing and decent progressives who would be much more comfortable working with Labour.

I support a potential progressive alliance with the Lib Dems.

We can agree on a number of questions like Trident, a more fair policy on income and taxation, and resisting the control of the IMF and European central bank.

It could be a liberating alliance that could open up possibilities for the left.

The trade union movement will respond to the attacks to come. Labour could intervene decisively as part of such a coalition.

But in the end, it is principles that win you elections and public support – and that is going to be even more important.

Tony Benn is president of the Stop the War Coalition


Michael Rosen – Tory triumphalism doesn’t match people’s experience

You can’t make sense of the election the way the mainstream media is looking at it. It’s not a uniform picture across the country.

In some places near where I live in London, Labour’s vote actually increased.

So when we hear Tory triumphalism in the press it doesn’t match ordinary people’s experience.

If the Liberals go into coalition with the Tories it will prove what we’ve thought all along – all their progressive talk is simply window dressing and they are quite happy to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

Labour’s strategy of wooing bankers and bosses has blown up in their faces.

There’s already a party for bankers and bosses – we don’t need another one.

Whatever happens, we need an anti-capitalist alliance.

We need to convince union leaders to come in with it, but it must be rank and file too.

All the main parties want to turn the clock back – we are defending what we have gained since 1945.

The media talk as though the cuts are inevitable and say we should take the hit for the economic crisis.

But people will ask: why should we have fewer schools and hospitals and lower pensions because of bankers’ gambling?

Michael Rosen is a children’s author and campaigner for education


Sabby Dhalu – This is first major defeat for the Nazi BNP since 2001

The 2010 elections culminated in the first major defeats for the British National Party (BNP) since 2001.

This was somewhat unexpected because of two factors in the campaign. Firstly, the false debate which wrongly blamed “immigrants” for the economic crisis. In reality that meant all black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Before polling day this seemed to legitimise the BNP.

Secondly, the media – the BBC in particular – gave the BNP unprecedented coverage.

However, on polling day people made their voice heard.

As well as excellent campaigning by Unite Against Fascism, Barking Labour Party and others, the key reason for the BNP’s poor performance was the massive increase in voter turnout.

Despite the BNP’s setback, it would be wrong to be complacent.

The BNP stood in a lot more seats, polled over half a million votes and doubled its number of saved deposits.

The breakthrough in last year’s European elections has allowed the BNP to spread itself geographically and establish itself as the fifth largest party in number of votes. If PR is introduced as part of a deal to form any coalition government, the BNP could make a parliamentary breakthrough.

Sabby Dhalu is the joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism


Wendy Savage – It is ridiculous that what matters is the market

I’m not sorry that we have a hung parliament.

I’m irritated by all the fuss about the markets and how they will respond to the election results.

It’s as though the only thing that matters is whether the markets are happy with a hung parliament or not.

What a ridiculous situation to be in.

If you look at Germany, the most successful economy in Europe, they’ve had many successful coalition governments.

Labour did relatively well in many places, including in London where I think people recognised what Labour had done to improve things for them.

In the end, Cleggmania didn’t seem to have any real impact on the ground, which I’m cheered about.

It seemed to be media spin and little else.

I think some people voted tactically to keep the Tories out.

I’m hoping against hope that Nick Clegg doesn’t end up doing a deal with the Tories.

I know that Labour has done some bad things, but it’s also done some good things – and has the largest number of women MPs, which is important.

The lack of women in this election period has been depressing.

I hope Labour will be able to pull enough people together to lead a government.

Wendy Savage is a doctor and campaigner for abortion rights


Zita Holbourne – A hung parliament is better than a Tory government

The first thing that struck me as a positive thing about the election was that the British National Party (BNP) didn’t get elected, and in fact lost many council seats.

This is very good – but the fascist presence still worries me. We can’t be complacent and forget about the BNP until the next election.

We have to continue with the work we’re doing to stop the fascists and racist organisations including not just the BNP but the EDL and others.

Overall, a hung parliament is possibly better that what we could have had with an outright Tory victory. Despite all the hype the Lib Dems didn’t do that well.

The people who voted for them didn’t expect them to be making deals with the Tories. The Lib Dems are just taking care of their own interests.

And it’s also a fiasco that some people were denied their right to vote.

The PCS knew that whoever got into power they’d be attacks on public services – “efficiencies”, job losses and relocation of work.

We’ve known for a long time that all three parties planned to attacks us the parties are out to get us.

We have a battle on our hands and a tough time ahead of us, whatever the make up of the government eventually turns out to be.

Zita Holbourne is a PCS union national executive member


John McDonnell MP – The real struggle will take place outside on the streets

We’ve got a hung parliament because we weren’t presented with any alternatives at the ballot box.

All three parties presented neoliberal policies and all three want working people to pay for the crisis instead of the financiers.

The real political struggle starts now.

The left and trade union movements need to get together and determine their strategy – we need a combination of industrial action, direct action and political campaigning to prevent cuts.

The role of left wing Labour MPs is the same as that of everyone else.We need to work together and become part of a broader coalition.

We need a people’s coalition.

I expect the Tories to take power with some sort of support from the Liberals and then Vince Cable and George Osborne to drive through an assault on working people.

All the things we rely upon – benefits, pensions, schools, hospitals – are under threat.

We have a real opportunity on the left to build a coalition against the cuts.

It needs to be a Europe-wide and global one.

We have to link up with the workers who are fighting back in Greece.

I’ll work in parliament against these cuts but the real struggle will take place outside it on the streets.

John McDonnell is the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington


Lee Barron – Time to dust off our banners

I think the reason we have a hung parliament is that most of the policies put forward by each of the main parties were very similar.

In terms of public finances, the only argument between them was when to start the cuts.

The reality is that the cuts are coming whichever party is in government and there’s an obligation on trade unions to fight. It looks like the Tories and Lib Dems may form a coalition and that’s bad news for postal workers. Both parties back privatisation in Royal Mail.

We’ll be dusting down our banners and getting back on the streets to defend our service.

Some trade unions put an argument to their members that they should vote Labour because they’re “the best of a bad bunch”. But that argument wore pretty thin.

I think Labour’s problem was it didn’t put enough radical policies forward that could have won votes among working class people.No party has any mandate to carve up public services.

Less than one in four people voted for the Tories and the Lib Dems did worse than they did in 2005. Any government will be fairly weak and that gives us an opportunity to mobilise against the cuts.

The other thing I’ll say is – I’m sick and tired of “the market” issuing ultimatums and putting pressure on parties to rush into fake deals.

The market shouldn’t be able to circumvent our democracy.

Lee Barron is regional secretary of Midlands CWU


Tony Kearns – Solidarity is the priority

It is no surprise to me that so many voters deserted the Labour government in this election.

After all, over 13 years, it has deserted working class people and the issues they care about.

Gordon Brown spent his time pandering to the banks and big business.

But what is also clear is that most people did not make a decisive leap to David Cameron and the Conservative Party.

In fact, most people remain sceptical about the leaders of all the main parties.

One thing we can be certain about is that a future government – regardless of who leads it – will launch a vicious attack on workers and public services, and all those who rely upon them.

That means that all those who are part of the working class movement need to make solidarity their priority.

We have to be prepared to stand up alongside all those who fight back.

Tony Kearns is senior deputy general secretary, CWU union


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Article information

Features
Tue 11 May 2010, 17:13 BST
Issue No. 2201
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