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Blair Hit By Anger And Disillusionment
THE LOSS of the Brent East by-election is more than a mid-term blip for New Labour. The Labour majority of 13,047 in the general election was wiped out in its first parliamentary by-election defeat in 15 years and reflects deep-seated anger and disillusionment towards Labour's policies.
With a turnout of only 36% most people, including many who used to vote Labour, realised that there was no difference between the main parties and stayed at home.
Robert Evans, who was the Labour candidate, commented that Labour's policies of investment into public services "haven't yet filtered through to voters." What has filtered through is the fact that public services have been devastated by this government.
There is widespread opposition to top-up tuition fees, foundation hospitals and the privatisation of public services. Labour also appear to have just noticed that there is rising fury at council tax rises.
However, their response is to warn councils not to increase this tax but to reduce their budgets even further, thereby making local services for people even worse.
The Hutton inquiry reminds us daily of the lies and intrigue used by this government to go to war against Iraq.
All these issues were exploited by the Liberal Democrats who won the seat. They now have their highest number of seats in parliament since 1929.
This raises the issue of whether the Liberal Democrats could challenge Labour at the next election.
By-election victories often do not translate into a general election victory. People voted tactically in Brent East seeing the Liberals as being able to defeat Labour.
In Brent East they targeted the Muslim and Hindu community (who would once have loyally voted Labour) posing as the anti-war party, while also highlighting the appalling state of council services.
Yet the Liberals are just another big-business party and so have no solution to declining public services. Nevertheless, it's not ruled out that they could take over from the Tories as Labour's main opposition.
90% of their top 100 target seats are currently held by the Tories.
Such is the scale of this defeat and growing distrust towards this government, even senior Labour ministers are now discussing the possibility of Labour losing the next general election.
Blunkett declared: "If we don't change then we die" but insists that privatisation of our services must continue.
However, the woeful state of mainstream political opposition to New Labour means that, even with mass abstentions, they could still go on to win the next election.
The fact that over 10% of voters in Brent East voted for non-establishment parties shows the potential that a new mass workers' party could have.
This election defeat has increased the possibility of Blair being replaced. But even if Labour make some small concessions in the aftermath of this result, their core policies will remain, whoever leads the party.
Brown is facing a growing budget deficit which he can only rectify with more cuts or higher taxes.
Some leaders of the trade unions and others on the left believe that Labour can be reclaimed by the Left. However working class people need an alternative now; a political voice to counter Blair's policies and to organise campaigns and protests to channel this growing anger.
Such political representatives do exist. Joe Higgins and Clare Daly - Socialist Party MP and councillor in Dublin - are serving time in jail for leading campaigns in their community against the unjust bin taxes.
We need MPs and councillors of this calibre everywhere, backed by a new workers' party which can offer a real alternative to New Labour.
In The Socialist 27 September 2003: