By Sabby Sagall
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 404

Shift to the right?

This article is over 7 years, 1 months old
Issue 404

Sally Campbell is right to point out that Labour’s general election vote improved on the previous election for the first time since 1997, gaining nearly three quarters of a million votes (Why Did the Tories Win? June SR).

She is also right to point to the factor of fragmentation among the British electorate and that “overall there was no shift to the right’.”

However, the evidence from recent elections suggests that sections of the working class have moved to the right in the last ten to 15 years.

Clearly, it is ludicrous for the Blairites to argue that Miliband’s manifesto was too left wing — it was committed to a watered-down version of austerity.

Miliband also failed to challenge the Tory narrative that Labour’s overspending caused the 2007-08 financial crash.

However, the overall election figures mask a crucial factor — the swing to the right among sections of the working class outside Scotland and the south east of England.

It is clear that many of UKIP’s 3.8 million votes came not just from the Tories but from working class former Labour voters in the midlands and the north.

Moreover, recent British Social Attitudes surveys indicate an increase in the number of people who think benefits are too high and deter people from working.

Support for increasing taxes and spending more on wealth, education and social benefits fell from 63 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2010.

There has been a long-term decline in the working class Labour vote: 4 million votes lost since 2005.

The crucial reason for the rightward drift of sections of the working class is the low level of resistance to austerity since 2010 coupled with a much longer period of weak resistance stretching back to the Thatcher years.

Typically, Labour leaderships draw the wrong conclusion: instead of fighting for a radical reformist programme, they accommodate to the rightward shift of those less conscious sections.

Labour have generally done well electorally when the working class is confident — and when that confidence is a product of successful collective struggle.

So we saw Labour win the 1945 landslide after victory against fascism; Wilson’s victories in 1964 and 1966 following a decade of growing trade union strength at local level; and in 1974 with the upturn in industrial struggle from 1968 to 1975. Even then the Tories won in 1970.

It is when workers are defeated, such as in the 1980s, that they lose heart and become even more subject to ruling class ideas and influence.

So when Kinnock denounced the miners in 1984, he helped to send the miners down to defeat, making it more likely that Labour would lose the 1987 election.

It’s true that Blair won a landslide victory in 1997, but it was on New Labour’s pro-market programme. Had the post-Thatcher years seen an upsurge of mass struggle, the Blair government would have been far more left wing.

The SWP is right to intensify support for mass struggles.

That alone will increase confidence, eventually prompting workers to move leftwards politically.

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