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All main parties in crisis: where will the opposition go?
"This is not working ... I mean all our financial institutions, government and power structures ... I came here [a library in Gorton, Manchester] this morning to a place where 39 per cent of kids are below the poverty line.
"It's the 21st century - all those years of Labour? I don't think this is working, everybody! I'm in a red-hot phase of meltdown. We're going to have to have a revolution."
Not Russell Brand attacking the political and economic elite this time, but wealthy Hollywood actress and former Labour supporter, Emma Thompson. These celebrities have captured the mood of a layer of young people and workers who are totally disillusioned with all the main parties, many feeling let down by Labour in particular.
This is reflected in the large numbers of people not voting in elections, and also in some workers using a vote for UKIP as a means to express their anger. While the leadership of Ukip are right wing millionaires, it is consciously trying to appeal to workers angry at endless austerity. Although taking support away from the Tories and winning the Clacton by-election with 60% of the vote, they also came within 600 votes of winning the Labour seat of Heywood and Middleton on the same day.
In the run-up to the 20 November parliamentary by election in Rochester and Strood, where a second Tory defector is ahead in the opinion polls, UKIP has maintained a national position of around 17%. One poll, published in the Observer on 25 October, suggested 31% of voters would back them if they thought there was a chance of UKIP winning in their constituency. Another showed a further spike in support after it was announced that Britain owed the European Union an extra £1.7 billion.
Both the Tories and Labour have responded to the Ukip threat by attempting to echo their ideas on immigration. Cameron has made the chair of Migration Watch into a peer for his services to the cause of blaming immigrants for all our problems. Theresa May even suggested that migrants who, in desperation, try to cross the Mediterranean in leaky boats should be left to drown. Miliband has announced that a Labour government would bring in an immigration reform bill. All this does is further legitimise Ukip's message.
There is no doubt that large parts of the population have concerns about immigration, which Ukip has played on. These concerns are felt by many workers who consider themselves anti-racist but see big business using super-exploited migrants to lower wages and services being underfunded. Simply calling Ukip racist and bland campaigns to 'stop Ukip' are inadequate. Jointly campaigning against Ukip alongside pro-austerity parties is totally counterproductive.
The central reasons for workers' anger at all the establishment parties is the endless diet they are being offered of low pay, insecure jobs and declining public services. Above all the collapse of living standards - an 8% fall in real wages since 2007. If a mass party existed that put an anti-austerity alternative, Ukip's support could be cut across in working class areas. Such a party would also be able to cut across racism and nationalism - making clear that the only way to prevent the 'race to the bottom' is a united struggle for all workers - non-migrant and migrant - to receive 'the rate for the job'.
All the main parties are in crisis. It remains to be seen if more Tory MPs jump ship to Ukip after the Rochester vote, but the splits within the Tories between Cameron and the more Ukip leaning wing are widening. The likelihood that up to 100 right wing Tories will revolt in Parliament and vote against the European Arrest Warrant is a reflection of that.
On the other hand the government coalition is also cracking up. The bill, backed by Cameron, to force a referendum on membership of the European Union collapsed after the Lib Dems refused to support it. The recent resignation of Lib Dem minister, Norman Baker, is yet another crack.
The Lib Dems themselves are staring at an electoral hammering, having never recovered from betraying its promises to voters in the last general election. A recent opinion poll put them on 6%, below the Green Party.
Labour also faces its own crisis. As reported in the Socialist last week, the impact in Scotland of Labour allying with the Tories and big business to front the No vote in the independence referendum has been massive. The mood for a Yes vote in the independence referendum among working class people in Scotland reflected an opposition to austerity and the anger at the main parties that fuels some of Ukip's support south of the border.
The resignation of Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader, describing the party as treating Scottish Labour as a "branch office", is a measure of their crisis. One poll suggests that Labour's vote in Scotland could collapse to such an extent that they could be reduced from 40 to four MPs at the next general election in Scotland. Even if it does not collapse to that extent, as some Scottish workers will vote Labour through gritted teeth in order to defeat the Tories, the fall of the Labour vote in Scotland could have crucial results on the general election outcome.
At the moment the main beneficiary from that anger is the Scottish National Party (SNP), currently on 52% and on that showing would get 54 seats. The SNP have built their support by positioning themselves to the 'left' of Labour and, following the referendum campaign, had a huge influx of new members looking for an alternative to austerity. However as we have previously pointed out, the first act of the SNP Scottish government was to pass on cuts of £500 million. They are as much a big business party as Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.
What is needed in Scotland, and south of the border, is a new mass working class party that opposes austerity. The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition conference, which took place in Glasgow on 1 November to discuss the standing of anti-cuts candidates, is a step in that direction. TUSC is aiming to stand 1,000 candidates across Britain in the local elections and 100 in the general election next year to raise the banner of a genuine working class alternative to austerity.
The result of the general election is uncertain. After years of savage attacks on living standards by this government, Labour should be miles ahead. Rochester is billed as a two horse race between Ukip and the Tories, but Labour previously held a seat in that area for 13 years up to 2010. However Labour's insistence on sticking to the Tories' spending cuts, and its own record in power, has resulted in polls that show only a tiny lead.
Whatever the result, we face another austerity government. The current mass movement against water charges in Ireland is an indicator of what is to come. Battles to defend living standards and services both in workplaces and communities are inevitable. Out of those struggles the potential for a new mass working class party will be forged. The TUSC election challenge aims to boost that process.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is an electoral alliance that stands candidates against all cuts and privatisation. It involves the RMT transport workers' union, leading members of other trade unions including the PCS, NUT and POA, as well as the Socialist Party and other left and anti-cuts groups and individuals.
In The Socialist 5 November 2014:
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