Labour won a by-election in Rotherham last week—but the vote showed the danger that right wing parties pose.
Labour’s majority was halved in one of its safest seats as disillusioned voters punished its failure to lead a fight against Tory cuts. But such is the hatred of the Tories that Labour did not suffer as much as it feared. Its percentage of the vote increased slightly.
Anger at the coalition’s austerity policies was reflected in the fact that the Tories came fourth. And the Liberal Democrats came eighth—the lowest ever for a party in government—and lost their deposit.
There was a deep dissatisfaction with all political parties. Turnout dropped from 59 to 33 percent. But Ukip was the main beneficiary of that disillusionment.
It got its best ever parliamentary result—over 20 percent. This was because it sucked in very right wing Tories and some former Labour voters by exploiting a local fostering issue and an anti-immigration stance.
More worrying was the fact that the Nazi British National Party (BNP) narrowly beat Respect to third place. Although the BNP’s vote was down to 1,804, from 3,900 in 2010. The English Democrats also got 703.
But the English Defence League’s Clint Bristow—who didn’t identify his fascist affiliations on the nomination form—got a humiliating 29 votes.
Surprisingly Respect failed to make as much ground as expected, winning 1,778 votes. But it certainly raised the debate about voting Labour. Interestingly, a local vicar who stood on an Old Labour anti-corruption platform got 582.
Although the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’s (TUSC) focus on fighting cuts, corruption and racism did not translate into votes, in a field of 11, it polled 281 (1.3 per cent).
The TUSC candidate Ralph Dyson’s lively campaign was reflected in over 2,000 signatures collected against 750 job losses at Rotherham Hospital.
Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed that the by-election victory showed his “One Nation” stance was popular. The Rotherham result doesn’t show support for a Tory slogan. Workers feel a deep class bitterness directed against politicians, bankers and bosses.
Worse than that, the result is a warning that Labour’s capitulation to the bosses could allow forces to the right to grow. We have seen this happen in Hungary, France, Greece and elsewhere in Europe.
As the Tory attacks intensify, we need a political alternative that is willing to fight against the government.
Mainstream parties lose out
Labour held its three seats in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North in by-elections last week. But the results, and low turnout, show declining support for the mainstream parties. The Tories came fifth in Rotherham and fourth in Middlesbrough.
The Liberal Democrats lost their deposit in Rotherham and Croydon North. Ukip came second in Rotherham and Middlesbrough and third in Croydon North.
It represents a danger that can drag all the parties to the right as they pander to racism. But it is too simplistic to argue that Britain is drifting to the right.
The bitterness against the Tories is still expressed as class anger such as the protests to defend the NHS or anger about tax avoidance. If this anger was mobilised it would offer a real challenge to the Tories.