Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/299/13865
Blair's 'Baghdad Trounce'
TONY BLAIR hoped his Iraq 'victory' would help New Labour in the 1 May elections. But rather than a 'Baghdad bounce', it was more like a 'Baghdad trounce'. New Labour lost votes nationwide due to anger on the war. In particular, they lost several councils in areas with large Muslim populations such as Birmingham, Coventry and Leicester.
A layer of voters remain in opposition to the war. Still more - two-thirds of people according to a poll - think Blair's warmongering has increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the UK. New Labour even had difficulties motivating their own election activists as a result of the war.
New Labour's loss of over 750 seats was also due to great anger over domestic issues, such as the recent 13% average council tax increase, the rise in National Insurance, cuts in services and the level of crime.
The Liberals gained their highest share of the vote in a local election but their net gain was only 185 seats and four councils. They are the traditional protest vote against Labour and the Tories but in this election also gained votes for not fully endorsing war on Iraq. Their results show that once in power they quickly repel people when it becomes clear they offer no real alternative.
The Tories gained 560 seats and 29 councils, mainly in rural and suburban areas. Tory shadow minister, Crispin Blunt tried to trigger a leadership challenge to Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith (IDS) by attacking him and resigning his position.
But it was an ill-timed move, made just hours before it was clear the party had won enough seats to save IDS for the time being. And despite IDS's lack of support amongst Tories, they have no credible alternative at present. Incredibly, Blunt's preference was to return to the failed leadership of William Hague!
The Tories are also well aware that they achieved nowhere near the votes they would need to win a general election.
Speculating on what the results would mean in a general election is a fairly futile exercise. With only a third of voters turning out, the 'snapshot' of views on 1 May gives no indication of how the bulk of the electorate will vote. And in any case, attitudes can alter considerably as a result of events over even short periods of time.
THE TORIES were heralded as the largest party in local government, having gained 35% of the vote, as against Labour's 31% and the Liberals' 30%. But rather than significant increased support for them, their seat gains were mainly due to the fall in Labour's vote.
Taking into account the low turnout and the fact that 12% of the electorate was not involved in elections on 1 May, all three main capitalist parties received the votes of around only 8% of the total electorate! This is the inevitable response by ordinary people to their similar polices of cuts and attacks on living standards.
All three parties had major problems in even finding candidates for many of the 10,427 council seats contested. Labour had candidates in only two-thirds of the seats being fought for in England.
As well as showing disillusionment in the main parties, the low turnout reflects the view that voting will not change anything, particularly in local elections as councils have had many of their powers taken away by central government.
New methods of voting such as all-postal ballots, phone and e-voting boosted the vote in some areas. However, they will not change the present fundamental disenchantment with voting, particularly of working-class people. These methods could also encourage vote-rigging, and they create a passive role for the electorate rather than an active one.
There is a continuing trend for independent candidates and small parties to gain seats, which disturbingly has also included the far-right BNP (see article opposite). The Green Party now have 53 councillors in England and Wales, their highest ever number.
Socialist Party councillor Karen McKay was re-elected in Coventry - we have four councillors nationally. The Socialist Alliance gained one councillor in Preston.
The Scottish Socialist Party's gains in the Scottish parliament are excellent and there will be questions about whether socialists in England and Wales can achieve similar results. However, their gains were due to the system of proportional representation which is not used in England and Wales.
Nevertheless, steps towards left unity need to be taken in England and Wales, though these must be on a principled basis. The vacuum on the left and the successes of anti-cuts candidates and small parties, including the Socialist Party, shows the potential for a new mass workers' party. With more government attacks imminent, this is urgently needed.
AS THE economy worsens, the government will strive to protect big business which will mean no respite for ordinary people. There was a small economic 'Baghdad bounce' when the FTSE 100 share prices increased by 15% since their pre-war level but economic growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.2%.
Chancellor Gordon Brown recently underestimated government borrowing by £1.2 billion and has overestimated future growth rates. A massive accumulation of debt has been fuelling consumer spending, but this is unsustainable.
With house prices now levelling off and unemployment likely to rise, spending will slow, pushing the economy into recession. The Ernst and Young Item Club predicts that Gordon Brown will need tax increases of as much as £15 billion to plug the gap in his figures.
Blair and those around him are preparing to counter future workers' struggles against further attacks. He said recently: "We will not give in, in any shape or form, to any resurgent trade union militancy". John Prescott has tabled emergency legislation to try to force firefighters to accept a pay settlement and worse working practices.
But it is only a matter of time before a section of workers enters into struggle, whether it be further action by the firefighters or others such as health workers, council workers or teachers. Easter's National Union of Teachers conference voted to refuse to implement the SATS exam system next year - SATS underlies much of the government's education strategy.
Public-sector union leaders are reflecting the discontent from below on low pay by calling for a minimum wage of £6.50 per hour. While the new HSBC chief executive, William Aldinger has set a new UK record of greed by taking a pay and perks package worth £37 million, average earnings have been rising at below the rate of inflation.
Socialist Party candidates on 1 May condemned the capitalist system for such an obscene wealth divide. But rather than echoing those who just bemoan it, we include in our programme the need to take into public ownership the top 150 companies and banks that dominate the economy, under working-class control and management.
Almost every Socialist Party candidate gained an increased vote on previous elections, showing growing support for a genuine socialist alternative.
In The Socialist 10 May 2003: