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‘Be active, build on what we achieved’

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Issue 1753

Moving forward after the election

‘Be active, build on what we achieved’

AFTER THE election Socialist Worker spoke to Liz Davies, former member of the Labour Party national executive, about her views on what socialists should do next

“TONY BLAIR claims that after the election he has a mandate to implement his privatisation policies. But if that is so, how come the turnout was so low? Less than 11 million people voted for New Labour, and that doesn’t give him a mandate.

Blair was so insistent in pushing the case for privatisation in the New Labour manifesto because that is central to his second term. That means there will be a sharp attack on public services. No socialist should think that New Labour’s second term will be any better than the first one. Both on public services and civil liberties all the indications are that it will be much worse.

The main job of socialists in the second term is to be active, and to be organising against privatisation whether in health, education, housing or transport. The Socialist Alliance did very well for a political party standing for the first time in a general election. We saved two deposits and put the Socialist Alliance on the map as a player in British politics.

The Scottish Socialist Party result was brilliant, and is what the Socialist Alliance needs to work towards. We are two years behind them in terms of our history.

The Socialist Alliance now has an excellent base to establish itself as a serious electoral force. We should campaign in council, European, Welsh Assembly and Greater London Authority elections.

In this way we can gradually make inroads. Building an electoral alternative to the established political parties is going to be a long term project. But we have made a good start. Over the last two to three weeks what has struck me is the number of activists getting energised by the Socialist Alliance.

Meetings I spoke to were often double the numbers people expected. People turned up and saw us as a new and positive force which was providing a space on the ballot paper for progressive and egalitarian ideas. There will obviously be discussions in the coming months about the structures of the Socialist Alliance.

The key thing is that we have individual members, and that those members have rights, including the right to be involved in policy making and selecting officers.

That is one of the most important things for those of us who have come from the Labour Party, where democratic decision making was wrenched away from us. I feel very positive that socialists have a base to go forward.|

Election analysis

Class anger

LABOUR’S VOTE collapsed most among working class people and the poor. Blair now rests more heavily on middle class voters than at any time. Statisticians divide the population up into social categories A, B, C1, C2, D and E.

This is a very rough measure of social class, with the As at the top end and the Es at the bottom. According to a BBC/ ICM poll, Labour’s support was 5 percentage points up in the AB group. It fell 3 points among the C1s, 9 points among the C2s and 10 points among the DEs.

New Labour still gets the bulk of its votes from the working class, but it is no longer seen as a party that stands up for ordinary people. A poll for the BBC found that 57 percent of people think the Labour Party looks after the interests of working class people. In 1997 the equivalent figure was 89 percent.

Too right

Two thirds of people who voted Labour in 1997 but did not vote at all this time said the reason was that the party was “too right wing”. Three in four people who did not vote said there was little difference between the Tories and New Labour.

Barely 40 percent of under 25s voted. The fall in turnout was greatest among those between 25 and 40, people who have voted in previous elections.

No substitute

The alienation of people from official politics is enormous. New Labour has moved so far to the right that even the Liberal Democrats appear left wing. They have deliberately played on this by putting forward some policies marginally to the left of New Labour, competing for a left of Labour vote. But they have not seriously tapped the growing discontent. Their share of the vote was up 1.8 percent -but their total number of votes was down on 1997.

They improved their support among the poorest sections of the population by 5 points, but they are still slightly more likely to attract middle class votes. The overall message from the election is clear. There is a deep rejection of official politics, as millions of people feel they are ignored.

That has not led to increased apathy, but to greater anger. The biggest socialist election campaign for 50 years gave some expression to that. It is a bridgehead to build on-at further elections certainly, but also as that anger erupts in protests, strikes and campaigns over all the issues the official election ignored.

In a hole

The gap between the incoming New Labour government’s neo-liberal policies and what the majority of people want has widened to a chasm. Privatisation, particularly in schools and hospitals, is at the heart of New Labour’s plans.

But just 30 percent of people want to see more private companies run schools, and only 26 percent want them in the NHS. Election expert John Curtice writes: “Voters have acquiesced in the re-election of Mr Blair’s government rather than enthused for it. They have not been persuaded of the merits of some of his key ideas, most notably those for reforming the public services-just as her landslide victory in 1987 did not indicate that Mrs Thatcher had persuaded the public about the merits of the poll tax.”

Success in Scotland

By Alan Mccombes, editor, Scottish Socialist Voice

THIS WAS a spectacular election result for socialists in Scotland. If you compare the results to 1997, when our forerunners the Scottish Socialist Alliance stood, they won 10,000 votes in 16 seats. In 2001 the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) stood in every seat and won 72,500 votes, a sevenfold increase in the socialist vote.

This is against a background in Scotland where Labour lost a quarter of a million votes, the Tories lost 160,000 votes, and the SNP lost roughly the same amount. The Lib Dems increased their vote, which was hailed as a big success, by 13,000.

The socialist vote increased by over 60,000! We are a serious political force and have made a big advance. In Glasgow our vote was an average 7 percent, and outside Glasgow we are beginning to make advances we couldn’t have imagined two years ago. We got almost 5 percent in the Orkneys, a rural area but with very low paid workers.

In his second term Blair is going to continue his project of privatisation in the health service. This has gone much further in England, but it’s going to accelerate in Scotland. This is despite the fact that all polls show massive opposition to private sector involvement in health and education.

We’ve got a big election to the Scottish Parliament in two years time. In the meantime socialists have to spearhead activity in opposition, particularly against privatisation, which will be a huge battleground. Blair’s second term is going to be much more difficult for him. The portents on the economy are ominous now, and Blair could face severe economic problems. It’s going to be much more turbulent.

The elections to the Scottish Parliament come slap bang in the middle of Blair’s second term. We believe we can achieve a very powerful position, with a possible eight or nine MSPs elected. They could have a huge effect as figureheads for the struggles outside parliament.

We have had thousands of people expressing an interest in joining the SSP during the election campaign. We had nearly 1,500 enquiries from the election address leaflet. If you add the names collected in local areas, there are thousands more. We could be talking of 2,000 to 3,000 new people in the orbit of the SSP. We now face a huge task to consolidate that interest, and turn people into members and keep them involved.

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