Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/184/8012
What we Think
Socialist challenges break New Labour's grip
THE EXCELLENT victory for the Socialist Party in the Pepys ward by-election in Lewisham is another example of the potential support there could be amongst working people and their families for a credible and viable socialist alternative to the Labour and Tory parties.
This outstanding result, where Socialist Party candidate Sam Dias won 39% of the vote, was combined with good results for the Lancashire Socialist Alliance candidate Terry Cartwright in Preston (over 5%) and Scottish Socialist Party candidates in Glasgow Anniesland (over 7%).
The Socialist Party, a constituent part of the Socialist Alliance, now has five local councillors in Coventry and Lewisham and will work with other socialists to provide such a viable electoral socialist alternative.
The Socialist Party's campaign in Lewisham saw a higher than average turnout for a local authority by-election. This was especially so in the Honor Oak part of the ward, where Sam Dias comes from and where sitting Socialist Party councillor Ian Page won £12 million of investment for the estate.
The extremely low turnouts in the parliamentary by-elections, where thousands of former Labour voters stayed away have caused panic among the establishment parties. Media pundits on election night programmes were also forced to comment on the sizeable votes achieved by socialist candidates on Thursday 23 November.
Even they had to recognise that anger with New Labour is causing huge swathes of former Labour voters to abstain, while a significant section of working-class people are looking for a credible alternative to the Left of Labour to vote for.
Incredibly, New Labour strategists tried to either blame the low turnout on the Tories - because they're so ineffective as an opposition Labour voters couldn't be bothered to turn out - or they tried to claim that voters stayed away because they were happy with New Labour.
The votes in last week's by-elections make a May 2001 general election more probable. They also confirmed that New Labour is likely to retain power with a large but diminished majority on a much reduced turnout.
Though, as the events around the fuel crisis in September showed, nothing can be ruled out. Particularly if there is an economic downturn in the USA and other banana skins appear, Labour could still lose the election. It's doubtful, however, that the Tories are capable of winning back enough votes to secure electoral victory.
THERE ARE significant lessons socialists can draw from last week's parliamentary and local by-elections.
Firstly, that there is a constituency to the Left of Labour who will vote for a credible socialist alternative. Secondly, where that group has sunk roots in the local community it can not only prove a viable alternative but, as in Lewisham, can actually beat Labour.
In Preston and in Scotland the Lancashire Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist party were seen as providing a viable alternative and consequently gained a creditable result; as opposed to the increasingly marginalised vote for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party.
Yet, it is Lewisham that gained the most success because of the years spent building up a solid base in a local area. As the Socialist Party has argued in the current debates in the Socialist Alliance, campaigning in a broad propaganda sense, while important, cannot be a substitute for building an electoral base from the bottom up and leading campaigns in the local community.
The Socialist party is confident that the Lewisham victory and the good votes in the other elections can see the beginnings of an electoral challenge to New Labour that provides a propaganda alternative to New Labour and can actually defeat them.
As has been seen in Coventry and Lewisham, where Socialist Party councillors have been elected they will be an extremely effective force for achieving change that improves working-class people's lives.
In The Socialist 1 December 2000: