By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2200

Voters refuse a mandate for cuts

This article is over 12 years, 3 months old
After the general election no party has a mandate to impose cuts. And none of the major parties has been truthful about the scale of cuts they want to impose. Indeed it’s not clear they have a mandate to do anything.
Issue 2200

After the general election no party has a mandate to impose cuts. And none of the major parties has been truthful about the scale of cuts they want to impose. Indeed it’s not clear they have a mandate to do anything.

Neither of the main parties won the backing of more than one in four of registered voters.

Britain’s rulers wanted a stable and strong government in order to implement harsh cuts. They have not achieved it.

This is the first time since the Second World War that Britain has woken up with such uncertainty about who will be in the government. It’s true that in 1974 there was no party with a clear majority, but it was obvious that Labour had the capacity to form a government, even if not a stable one.

This time there is no easy route to a government.

Since the polls closed, nobody is sure who will form the government or who will be the prime minister or whether any combination of parties can actually stitch together a majority in parliament.

The Tories don’t want electoral reform, but Nick Clegg is under enormous pressure to insist on it. And Labour plus the Lib Dems falls well short of the 326 MPs needed for a majority. Hence there is turmoil.

There may even be another election shortly.

The Conservatives went into the election with massive advantages. Millions of people were bitter and angry after 13 years of a warmongering Labour government that savaged its own supporters.

The vast majority of newspapers were prepared to lie that David Cameron was “the only hope for Britain”. The Tories spent huge sums of money on billboard posters – sums that the other parties clearly couldn’t match.

In some places, fury at Labour MPs who had filled their pockets with expenses also claimed victims – most notably in the annihilation of former home secretary Jacqui Smith at Redditch.

Yet in the end the gut hatred of the Tories, and the memory of how Margaret Thatcher assaulted working class people, was stronger for many people than the desire to kick Gordon Brown. The identification with Labour still runs strongly through wide swathes of the working class – and the unions’ link with Labour also delivers a bedrock of support.

That’s why seats which the Tories expected to win, such as Birmingham Edgbaston and Tooting in south London, stayed in Labour hands.

It’s also notable that Left Labour MPs including John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Katy Clark bucked the trend of a declining vote.

The Tory challenge stalled – but Labour could not win either. The onerous baggage of its record in office and the party’s abject failure to wage a campaign that appealed to working people meant it lost seat after seat.

Millions will never vote Labour again after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Others are angered by more recent issues.

One example was Redcar, in England’s north east, where Vera Baird lost after she failed to offer any serious opposition to the closure of the town’s steel plant. Labour’s share of the vote fall by 19 percent.

As for the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg made the serious error of shooting to public prominence early enough for the public to examine with the party actually stood for.

Many people liked the idea of a fresh and different party with cleaner hands and innovative policies. Instead they found a very traditional party with a posh leader that had policies eerily similar to the other two – and ran away whenever it was challenged over its slightly more radical ideas.

After all the hubbub of “Cleggmania”, the Lib Dems ended up with fewer seats, and only 1 percent more votes, than in 2005.

The concentration on the two main parties, and the return to Labour to keep out the Tories, made it hard for left and campaigning alternatives to get votes.

Labour rebel Dai Davies lost in Blaenau Gwent and health activist Richard Taylor was defeated in Wyre Forest.

Respect lost its MP, George Galloway, though the party achieved a number of good votes. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition had some excellent campaigns and created networks that will endure after the election, but the votes were generally disappointing.

Everyone should celebrate the fact the BNP has not broken through. The Nazis remain a threat, but it was a joy to see the BNP’s share of the vote fall in Barking rather than rise to bring the Fuhrer Nick Griffin to Westminster.

Gordon Brown may try to rule on with the Lib Dems as partners. And the Tories may cosy up with the bigoted unionists in Northern Ireland. But we do not need a cutters’ collation. We need policies that put workers first and make the bosses and bankers pay for the crisis.

The only coalition we support is one of workers and campaigners and students and pensioners. That’s what the Right to Work conference on 22 May is trying to build.

In the longer term, whether we can have revolts on the scale of Greece – and more – will be far more important than who won which seat on 6 May. We need to learn those lessons of resistance.

As our rulers clash and argue, fighting back can be even more effective than usual – from British Airways to the college strikes to the fight against job losses.

Their side is weak; it’s time for our side to be strong.

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