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Bad results for all the mainstream parties

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ACCUMULATED BITTERNESS with Labour and alienation from the main parties burst out in last week's elections. For the first time more than half of those who voted did not back one of the two main parties.
Issue 1906

ACCUMULATED BITTERNESS with Labour and alienation from the main parties burst out in last week’s elections. For the first time more than half of those who voted did not back one of the two main parties.

Labour’s share of the vote in the European elections plummeted to 23 percent. The Tories also lost support, their vote falling to only 27.4 percent. Over 25 percent of the vote in the European elections went to ‘others’-parties other than the main three.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) picked up most of that. But in London, the centre of the huge anti-war movement, the left made a major advance. Respect got nearly 5 percent.

Similarly Respect got 7.4 percent across Birmingham. The Liberal Democrats barely improved on their result from the European elections five years ago.

They got 15.1 percent. That’s despite the national media falsely claiming they were the main anti-war voice and would pick up the anti-war vote. The Liberal Democrats were able to pick up a protest vote in the local government elections, particularly in areas like Newcastle, Doncaster, Swansea and Cardiff where Labour councils had pushed through cuts.

Labour became the first governing party in living memory to come third in local elections nationally. But the Liberal Democrats and the Tories did not make the breakthrough in councils they hoped for.

And in the European elections the Liberal Democrats were beaten by UKIP, which got 16.8 percent. It got 7 percent five years ago. But they weren’t the only ones to do well. In key areas Respect was able to attract a very significant new vote to the left, and the Greens’ vote was only slightly down compared with five years ago.

A message from George Galloway

‘I would like to thank the organisers, candidates and volunteers of my campaign who have performed miracles. Just 20 weeks ago we did not exist. Now we are a major threat in parts of London where I promise New Labour some surprises ahead. This should be a warning to New Labour.

Until they ditch the warmongers, they will never draw a line. They dragged us into a swamp in Iraq, and you cannot draw a line in quicksand. We have been ignored or traduced by the media but we are a growing power in the land. I promise that in Leicester South, where a by-election is coming up, we will take the fight to New Labour. We have achieved a stunning result in areas like Tower Hamlets, Newham, Leicester and Birmingham. Tonight we are the runners-up. Tomorrow we will be the winners.’

Let’s make the most of our achievement

By Chris Bambery, Respect executive committee

Respect’s performance shows the potential ahead of us. New Labour is in a deep mess with Blair refusing to apologise for Iraq and claiming all will be well there within weeks. Across the country Respect supporters are holding constituency or local Respect meetings over the next week and half.

Most are combining a well known speaker with a film showing or social event. Those meetings can elect a local steering committee reflecting the diversity and imagination of the campaign.

Thousands of people have become active in the campaign and they want to develop Respect as an alternative to New Labour. Respect is building the 30 June protests over the ‘hand over’ in Iraq and will be campaigning over war and other issues.

The election revealed big concentrations of support. Now is the time to start targeting key council seats. We can add to Respect’s total of council seats if we start local campaigning. It also means building into those areas where we’ve only just begun to get support -areas untouched by the left for decades, if ever. Together we have achieved something the left has waited a long time to achieve, But it is just a start…


Who are they?

THE UK Independence Party (UKIP) was formed 11 years ago by former Tories who fell out with John Major over Europe. It got £2 million in donations for this election from the likes of millionaire former Tory Eurosceptic Paul Sykes. It was a fractious grouping of right wingers until Robert Kilroy-Silk and a media blitz gave it huge publicity.

Its politics are essentially those of people like Norman Tebbit on the right wing of the Tory party. It presents itself as a ‘people’s party’ standing up against the politicians.

So it feeds off the right wing propaganda campaigns pumped out daily in the Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express-over Europe, asylum, law and order, and taxation. Its core politics are viciously right wing. Its official position on immigration is racist to the core.

But UKIP is not a fascist party like the BNP and much of its vote came from a confused lashing out at the mainstream parties rather than a firm commitment to hard right policies.

A confused protest

The stage-managed announcements of celebrity support for UKIP from people like Joan Collins have been crafted to present UKIP as a kind of ‘anti-politics’ party.

One survey before last Thursday, for example, showed one in four Tory and Labour voters intended to switch parties at the election as a protest. UKIP picked up some of those protest votes.

Election expert John Curtice wrote at the weekend, ‘The presence of a UKIP candidate in a local ward on Thursday seemed to hurt the Liberal Democrats more than anyone else. And while UKIP does seem to have hurt the Tory vote in London, it cut into the Liberal Democrat vote there too. For many voters UKIP is probably a convenient vehicle of protest. In this it is doubtless an alternative to the Liberal Democrats.’

The party does not represent a social layer in British society, but depends on disillusionment with those parties that historically have-Labour and the Tories. Most of the vote UKIP got is very loose. A serious challenge to Blair from the left would draw those people in.

In parts of London, Birmingham and other areas Respect has begun to do that electorally.

The media circus

UKIP GOT the biggest amount of media coverage since four right wing Labour MPs founded the short-lived Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1982. The SDP were puffed up as a supposed mass force by every newspaper and television channel.

The Eurosceptic papers presented UKIP and Robert Kilroy-Silk as a way to punish Blair and also get the Tories to adopt a more strongly anti-EU position. New Labour and its supporters built up UKIP in the hope it would damage the Tories.

Liberal papers such as the Guardian and Independent gave Kilroy-Silk and his party acres of coverage. At the same time they all but ignored Respect and the left wing challenge it was mounting to New Labour.

All the media hype helped the UKIP to tap not just anti-European Tory votes, but also some of the deep anger at the government.


The polls buried support

RESPECT’S RESULTS, particularly in London, forced sections of the media to take notice. Before the election the media had either ignored Respect or, in the case of New Labour supporters, tried to smear it in the last few days of the campaign.

Pollsters who had claimed Respect had virtually zero support were shocked when it got nearly 5 percent across the capital and just missed a seat on London’s assembly.

They tried to rubbish Respect

‘A vote for Respect is a vote for totalitarianism in an unconvincing left wing costume.’

Johann Hari, The Independent, Friday 4 June

‘Respect, the George Galloway party, is an unholy alliance of the far-left and reactionary Islamist fundamentalists.’

The Observer leader, Sunday 6 June, calling on readers not to vote Respect

‘Respect is a motley collection of extremists trying to exploit Mr Blair’s discomfort; they are not serious contenders, nor do they deserve to be.’

The Independent leader, Thursday 10 June

But they had to think again

‘London voters yesterday rebuffed the Green Party’s hopes of improving its position in the capital, but produced an unexpectedly strong showing of support for the anti-war Respect coalition.’

The Guardian, Friday 11 June

‘George Galloway’s Respect Coalition outperformed expectations in the capital.’

The Independent, Saturday 12 June

‘Labour may need to look over its shoulder in another direction-George Galloway’s Respect coalition. One little-noticed feature of the result was that Respect nearly managed to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to win an assembly seat. Indeed, it won 16 percent in the City and East constituency.’

Elections expert John Curtice, The Independent on Sunday, 13 June

The left vote in Scotland

Catriona Grant, Scottish Socialist Party candidate in the European elections.

We got 5.2 percent and are now the seventh party in Scotland. We are pleased but we felt we could have done better. The anti-war vote was split between four parties-us, the SNP, the Greens and the Lib Dems.

The press is full of how badly the mainstream parties did, but Labour got a shake up here rather than the kicking it got in England. Our core support turned out. We know that the nursery nurses who were on strike recently and the firefighters voted for us.

But in working class areas, where lots of our support comes from, the turnout was really low. But our core support still comes from the big working class areas in Glasgow and Edinburgh. And we are the only socialist party in Scotland.


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