Socialist Worker

Why don't they listen to voters' voice?

Issue No. 1696

Prescott pushes privatisation... Livingstone courts millionaire...

Why don't they listen to voters' voice?

DEPUTY PRIME minister John Prescott has brushed aside last week's message from London voters and is determined to push through tube privatisation. New Labour has already wrung a concession from London mayor Ken Livingstone. He has referred the tube's future to an "independent panel of experts". Prescott said on Sunday that he intends to continue with New Labour's "public-private partnership" for London Underground.

This is despite the humiliating defeat for New Labour's Frank Dobson in the London mayor elections. It was precisely the combination of bowing down to business and contempt for ordinary people's views that saw Labour humiliated in London. Tony Blair's chosen man took the votes of fewer than one in 20 Londoners. The vote for Ken Livingstone was overwhelmingly a left vote, driven by the desire to punish New Labour. There were other signs of a radical mood.

The Green vote, 184,000 across London, was a powerful demonstration that many people want change and are fed up with traditional parties. Livingstone's vote, the Greens' success, and the 88,000-strong vote for socialists to the left of Labour are reasons for hope. But, instead of focusing and building on this, Livingstone has immediately made huge concessions to forces to the right of him. He is following in Blair's footsteps by allowing the rich and the powerful to direct key policy areas, and has even offered a position to the Tory Stephen Norris.

Livingstone offered New Labour several top posts. It refused them unless he retreated over the tube. He then compromised by calling in the "experts". Livingstone wants New Labour's Nicky Gavron as the �51,743 a year deputy mayor. Not that she needs the bloated salary. She is already a millionaire and known as the "queen of the quangos". She sits on 16 of these unaccountable bodies which decide how huge chunks of public money are spent. Livingstone wants the chairman of police to be Lord Toby Harris. This choice completely outweighs his decision to draft in black activist Lee Jasper as an adviser.

Lord Harris is one of the most loyal Blairites. As leader of Haringey council he rammed through cuts. He also introduced the Private Finance Initiative into secondary schools. Whether the Tories, Liberal Democrats and New Labour clones accept these posts or not, it is a disgrace that Livingstone made the offers. Londoners voted for a fresh start. Instead Livingstone has served up a version of New Labour's "classless and non-party" politics.

Such measures will not stop tube privatisation, tackle poverty, or confront the racism and corruption of the Metropolitan Police. Livingstone won a great victory. The people who voted him in did so on the basis of wanting a break from New Labour's failures. We need to keep up the pressure to demand Livingstone listens to ordinary Londoners, not to business.

Turned off by system

THE TURNOUT in all the elections last week was incredibly low. In the council elections it was less than 30 percent. Even in London, despite a lot of publicity, it was not much better at 34 percent. This is a sign of the deep alienation that millions of people feel from the whole political system, one which does not reflect their views or give them a voice.

Labour supporters were the ones most likely to stay at home. Analysis by BBC/ICM showed that people who had said before the election that they would vote Labour were significantly less likely to vote than those who said they would back other parties. Potential Labour voters were also most likely to switch to the Greens, reinforcing the view that the vast majority of the Green vote was a left vote.

A breakthrough for the left

THE COMBINED vote of socialists to the left of Labour in London was 88,000-5.2 percent of the poll. The London Socialist Alliance was the biggest component of the socialist vote, winning an average 3 percent of votes across all 14 London constituencies. In some areas London Socialist Alliance candidates did even better, winning 7 percent in the North East constituency and 6.2 percent in Lambeth & Southwark. These are remarkable results, given that it was the first time the LSA had ever stood.

The 5.2 percent combined socialist vote was enough to win a seat. But the vote was split by the decision of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation, Peter Tatchell and the Communist Party of Britain to run their own candidates. Had the left vote been united, the LSA's Paul Foot would now be a member of the assembly.

He could have been a voice against any concession to tube privatisation, a challenge to the millionaires at the top of the administration, a person to focus attention on all sorts of struggles and campaigns. Many trade unionists and activists will demand that next time there must be no such disunity. Outside London there were other good signs for the left.

The Socialist Party's Rob Windsor took the St Mary's ward in Coventry with almost 1,200 votes. There are now three Socialist Party councillor in Coventry. Other Socialist Party council candidates won 17 percent in Newcastle Byker and 30 percent in Sefton on Merseyside. The Financial Times has recognised the mood shown by the elections. Last weekend it said, "Behind the claims and counter-claims from political leaders, the real message in this week's elections in London and around Britain is more subtle. Britain is in the grip of a new form of politics."

It says the old two-party or three-party system is breaking down, with votes going in all directions. It adds that the most significant event is Livingstone's election: "The success of a left wing rebel is a seismic event." However, although the main trend is leftwards, right wing forces are also trying to build on the disintegration of New Labour. The Tories are prepared to play on racism and fear of crime in order to take votes.

The Nazis of the NF and the BNP are also cheered by the collapse of New Labour and by the Tories' copying of Nazi-style policies on asylum. As we show on page seven, the Nazis can become a real threat. That makes it urgent that all those who voted left last week now unite to campaign together against racism and in defence of asylum seekers.

Tories' myths

IN COUNCIL elections across England last week the Tories won around 600 seats. Conservative leader William Hague claimed this was the result of his new right wing policies, particularly against asylum seekers. The evidence does not support this.

In Rossendale, Lancashire, the Tories took nine seats from Labour. The Guardian reports that "what line to take on asylum seekers never cropped up as an issue". Instead the key issues were the Labour council's failure to listen to local people over basic class issues-such as its decision to make the town centre a Victorian fantasy relaid with fake cobbles.

Labour also lost seats in Accrington. There was a Tory campaign over asylum seekers being moved into the Huncoats ward. But Labour actually won this ward.

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Article information

Sat 13 May 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1696
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