Socialist Worker

Local elections show disillusionment with establishment parties

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2404

Just over a third of those eligible used their vote

Just over a third of those eligible used their vote (Pic: Flickr/Paul Wilkinson)


The government took a drubbing in the local elections. The Tories and Liberal Democrats crashed. But the anger hasn’t gone to the left. At the time of writing, Friday afternoon, the Tories had lost 176 council seats. The Lib Dems had lost 225. Labour had gained 235 but the racists of Ukip had gained 137 seats.

Ukip ate into a series of Tory strongholds. In Essex and Kent in particular, the Tories lost control of eight key councils including Maidstone, Southend-on-Sea, Basildon and Brentwood.

The Liberal Democrats have also suffered heavy losses across the country. Nick Clegg's party lost control of Kingston in London to the Conservatives. 

Labour has gained Hammersmith and Fulham, Croydon and Amber Valley from the Tories.

However, Labour struggled some places. For instance, they lost control of Thurrock council because of a surge in Ukip votes. Thurrock is number two on their target list for next year's general election.

Labour is still the main home for those opposed to the government. But it leaves many voters uninspired.

With a wealth of publicity and a political climate where it is apparently compulsory for a mainstream politician to be against immigration, Ukip benefitted.

Ukip is clearly dragging politics to the right. It prospered through its fake but carefully-cultivated image as the outsider.

There is less of a Labour collapse to Ukip than some of the media are suggesting or hoping for. And even in Rotherham (see below) where Ukip did make gains, Labour remains firmly in control of the council, with 50 of the authority's 63 councillors.

Offer

But Ed Miliband said voters looking to Ukip showed “a deep sense of discontent” which may be true but doesn’t offer much hope.

Labour MP Andy Burnham has said Labour needs a tougher line on immigration to stop its northern working-class voters defecting to Ukip. He said, “The talk on the doorstep was about immigration - there’s some thinking for all of the parties to be done there, ourselves included.”

Instead of chasing the racists of Ukip by talking up anti-immigration everyone in the Labour movement needs to build a fight against racism wherever it is raised.

The election didn’t inspire overall with just over one in three people eligible using their vote.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates fought good campaigns, although the results were often below what they had hoped. A lack of media coverage and the move to back Labour to stop Ukip played their part in squeezing the vote.

However in Southampton a former Labour councillor, Keith Morrell, who resigned over the cuts was re-elected. Dave Nellist won 30 percent in Coventry and Dave Gibson secured 17 percent in Barnsley.  

Nonetheless, the coalition government is rocked. They have no mandate and no plans except to hit workers harder and to divide ordinary people through racism and scapegoating.

The problem is that in response the attitude seems to be to pander to the right wing ideas of Ukip.

The results of the European elections are due on Sunday. Ukip are again expected to poll well. Though campaigners are predicting that Nazi Nick Griffin will lose his seat.

Racists have fed off the despair people can feel in the face of austerity and constant attacks for too long.

Building resistance—and the possibility of stopping the attacks—gives a real alternative to that despair. The potential for stepping up the fight against the Tories is there in July with the prospect of a million strong public sector strike,

 

'This is a massive shot across Labour's bow'

In Rotherham Ukip won 10 of the 21 seats up for grabs in the borough, taking seven from Labour, two from the Conservatives and it held the seat it won in a by-election last year.

Ged Dempsey is a print worker who lives in Wath, Rotherham. He’s also on the print section of the Unite union’s national executive and a member of the Labour party.

He spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “It’s regrettable that Ukip has made such inroads into Rotherham Council – but not surprising,” said Ged. “It’s a wake up call.

“For too long the Labour Party and the council have failed to listen to people and communities. They have not campaigned against vile austerity cuts enough, or the bedroom tax.

“They have outsourced services and brought in the Private Finance Initiative at will over the years. They have also closed services to vulnerable people and children instead of fighting back.

“Hopefully they will now listen to this massive shot across their bow. It’s time they stood up to the government instead of carrying out their plans. It’s time they fought back with progressive and radical policies that offer a real alternative.”


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