Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/544/6317
Glasgow East by-election: New Labour's support evaporates
LABOUR'S CAMPAIGN was a series of mistakes and blunders. The preferred Labour candidate pulled out at the last minute and their campaign launch was delayed for three days until they found a replacement.
Philip Stott, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), Scotland
In the middle of the campaign the plan, supported by Gordon Brown, to give Margaret Thatcher a £3 million state funeral was announced. This is an insult to working-class communities across the UK who suffered and still do from the brutal legacy of Thatcherism.
It was also another potent reminder of how far New Labour has gone to embrace the policies of neo-liberal capitalism, which was seized on by the SNP.
A new wave of rises in fuel bills were also announced, as was the news, in the last week of the campaign, that Glasgow was to become a laboratory experiment for the effective abolition of incapacity benefit. Glasgow East has 11,000 people on incapacity and this attack on the sick and the poor outraged many.
After all this it was a wonder that Labour almost held onto the seat. There was no tidal wave of enthusiasm for the SNP. Independence for Scotland did not feature as a key issue - nor was it an issue that the SNP campaigned on.
Instead they concentrated on the unpopularity of the Brown government and the prospect that a defeat for Labour would force a change of policy at Westminster over price rises and fuel costs.
The desire to give Labour a kicking was the overwhelming mood and the SNP, who stood a well-known local candidate, were the main vehicle in which to do that.
Nevertheless, 11,000 people still voted Labour. Among an older generation there is still a faint echo of a tradition that Labour was the party that working class people voted for. This was reinforced by a fear that a Labour defeat would lead to an increased likelihood of the return of a Tory government at Westminster - as well as opposition to independence.
The prospect of the nightmare of the election of a Tory government could still be a powerful factor in the outcome of the next Westminster elections.
What the Glasgow East campaign and outcome shows is the potential to build a powerful socialist alternative to all the big business parties - including the SNP.
The campaign of Solidarity [the recently formed broad socialist party] was impressive and by far the biggest of any party outside of Labour and the SNP.
In just three weeks, Solidarity managed to organise 40 street stalls in various parts of the constituency speaking to literally thousands of people.
Over 40,000 leaflets were delivered to homes in the area by the post office with a further 20,000 distributed by Solidarity members. 5,000 leaflets advertising public meetings in Shettleston and Easterhouse were used as well as 6,000 special polling day leaflets.
Solidarity received a very warm and sympathetic response to our key policies of a living minimum wage and pension, radical wealth redistribution, public ownership particularly highlighting the need for nationalisation of the energy, oil and food companies; an end to the war and the scrapping of nuclear weapons, a ban on the public sale of airguns and for an independent socialist Scotland.
Solidarity's candidate Tricia McLeish (a local government worker and active trade unionist in Unison) was the only person standing who has lived in the East End all of her life.
Alongside Tricia, Tommy Sheridan played a central role in the campaign and is still clearly seen as a popular figure among the working class in Scotland.
Solidarity's public meetings, the only party that organised any public meetings, were very well attended with 45 in Shettleston and 20 in Easterhouse. 12 new people joined Solidarity during the campaign.
Solidarity's 512 votes (2%) was, under the circumstances, a good result. The extremely polarised nature of the election (more than 86% of those who voted either voted Labour or for the SNP), made it difficult for a smaller socialist party to convince people they should vote Solidarity.
Many people told us that they would have backed Tricia McLeish but that they wanted to protest at New Labour and would back the SNP instead. All parties were affected by this squeeze.
Although the Tories came third their vote fell compared to the last general election and they only polled just over 6%. The Lib Dems fared even worse and they lost their deposit, polling 915 votes compared to 3,600 in 2005.
The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)actually achieved a slightly higher vote than Solidarity polling 555 compared to Solidarity's 512. But the fact that the Labour candidate had the same surname as the SSP candidate (who appeared before the Labour candidate on the ballot paper) did result in an artificially inflated vote for the SSP.
This was underlined by the fact that the overwhelming majority of spoilt ballot papers involved voters marking a cross beside both the Labour and the SSP candidate.
Even with the confusion over the name and the fact that the SSP stood their national co-convenor and former MSP, Frances Curran, they still saw their vote fall by half compared to 2005 [1,011 votes].
On the ground, in terms of the numbers of activists, street stalls, leafleting teams and numbers of people spoken to, Solidarity was way ahead of the SSP.
In The Socialist 31 July 2008:
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news