By Matthew Cookson
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Labour’s choice is to cut or fight

This article is over 11 years, 6 months old
Labour’s resounding victory in last week’s Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election showed the depth of the government’s problems just eight months into its term of office.
Issue 2235

Labour’s resounding victory in last week’s Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election showed the depth of the government’s problems just eight months into its term of office.

Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams won, increasing the party’s share of the vote from 32 to 42 percent.

While the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote slightly increased to 32 percent, almost 3,000 less people voted for them than did in May.

The Tories saw their vote fall from 26.4 percent to 12.8 percent.

Overall the coalition parties lost more than 10,000 votes in the by-election.

Other good news came with the fascist British National Party candidate getting just 1,560 votes (4.5 percent), down from 2,546 (5.7 percent), and losing their deposit.


The by-election came after a court ruling against disgraceful former Labour MP and immigration minister Phil Woolas.

This found that his election campaign had made three untruthful allegations against his Lib Dem challenger and he should be barred from office.

Woolas put out a leaflet in largely white areas claiming that “extremists are trying to hijack this election”.

It said that his Lib Dem opponent courted Muslim extremists who had advocated violence against the MP.

In an internal email, Woolas’s agent Joseph Fitzpatrick said, “If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.”

Despite these desperate attempts to whip up racism, Woolas won by just 103 votes.

With Woolas gone and the mood hardening against the government’s attacks, Labour won a comfortable victory.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will have breathed a sigh of relief after the result, as it did not fully reflect his party’s decline in popularity due to their embrace of the Tories.

Their relative success only came about because the Tories ran a lacklustre campaign in Oldham.

Some Tory voters likely switched to the Lib Dems to shore up the coalition, after David Cameron dropped a few hints to that effect.

Unfortunately, instead of building on this win to pile pressure on the government over the cuts, Labour leader Ed Miliband accepts many of their arguments.

He said last weekend that he criticised Gordon Brown’s government: “We should have acknowledged earlier, after the financial crisis happened, that eventually there would have to be cuts under Labour.”

He told Andrew Marr on the BBC that he was “appalled” at the idea of strikes on the day of the royal wedding. Miliband said, “Strikes are a last resort, a sign of failure on both sides.

“They are a legitimate last resort means of workers making an industrial point, but they are not the way you change governments. The way you change governments is through the ballot box.”

Labour councils around the country are pushing through severe cuts.

Just last week Labour-run Manchester council announced it would cut 2,000 jobs.


But not everyone in the Labour Party accepts Miliband’s case.

More than 250 people came to the annual general meeting of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), a Labour left group, in London last weekend.

John McDonnell MP spoke of the need to show solidarity for everyone in struggle and how the inspiration of the student struggle had changed the situation.

He said, “The LRC is not just going to wait for the arrival of a Labour government, though we will work to win an election.

“We will be mobilising to bring this government down.”

The overwhelming majority of delegates at the meeting believed that Labour councils should refuse to implement the Tories’ cuts. Instead they should be mobilising to resist the attacks.

But Charlynne Pullen, a councillor in Labour-run Islington, north London, disagreed. She said, “We are actively campaigning against cuts but I will not be voting against our budget.

“If we do, communities minister Eric Pickles will write our budget for us, and our cuts will be fairer.”

Responding, Graham Bash, from Hackney in east London, said, “The political price we pay for making cuts will be higher. Labour should not take the responsibility for them.

“How can we be at the forefront of fighting the cuts and at the same time implementing them? We need to defend the welfare state from the government.”

The LRC, in contrast to Miliband, is committed to creating a united anti-cuts movement and supporting workers’ strikes against the cuts.

The trade unions will need to organise quickly to strike in defence of jobs, conditions and services as the cuts onslaught gathers pace.

United, powerful strikes and direct action—against Labour councils if necessary—is the only way to stop councils implementing the government’s programme.

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