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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 November 2014

Editorial of the Socialist, issue 835

Rochester: 'Business as usual' politics falling apart

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." William Butler Yeats wrote these words in the aftermath of World War One.

The Rochester and Strood byelection on 20 November may seem an undeserving event to expend Yeats' words on, but the result was an expression of one of the major developments of the post-economic crisis world we live in. The growing anger of the 99% is starting to find expression at elections and the utter inability of the defenders of capitalism to offer any way forward is revealed. Maybe it's enough to quote the Ukip leader on the general election: "all bets are off".

The Rochester vote resulted in the expected election of a second ex-Tory Ukip MP. Mark Reckless won with 42% of the vote, 16,867 votes. The Tory vote fell by 14 percentage points on 2010, Labour by almost 12 and the Lib Dems by over 15 to 300 odd votes.

Reckless outrageously claimed the legacy of protest of the Levellers, Chartists and Suffragettes in his 4am victory speech. A pampered, anti-working class Tory and Ukip can attempt this trickery only because of the absence of a mass workers' party today that genuinely stands in those traditions. The trade union leaders who have hesitated from taking action to build a new party bear heavy responsibility for contributing to this process.

Research has found that 81% of Ukip supporters believe "big business takes advantage of ordinary people" but they will be bitterly disappointed by Rochester's representative and the entire Ukip leadership and decision makers. Reckless voted strongly for reducing the rate of corporation tax as a Tory MP. The millionaires and other members of the 1% who fund Ukip agree with him.

Main parties plummet

Rochester further reflects a trend in politics away from the two-party domination, what has been called the 'new fragmentation'. It is an expression of the crisis of legitimacy that has beset all the former pillars of capitalist society - governments, mainstream press, banks, police, etc.

Today only 10% of voters think that British 'politicians' are out to do their best for the country. Since 1979 the share of the vote going to Labour and the Tories at general elections fell from 81% to 65% in 2010 and has plummeted since then. That period corresponds with three decades in which a doubling of the numbers living in poverty, vast numbers of workers included, coincided with a doubling of the size of the British economy.

The Socialist Party has explained that low turnouts have not been due to voter apathy but huge anger. The turnout in the Scottish independence referendum was a dramatic example of that when working class people, and the youth especially, saw an opportunity to punish Westminster for austerity. In doing that 1.6 million people defied the Lab-Con-Dem attempts to terrify them with the threats of Project Fear - of bank closures, job losses and currency crises.

Scotland Referendum rally, photo SP Scotland

Scotland Referendum rally, photo SP Scotland   (Click to enlarge)

In England, Ukip has been the main, but not the only, recipient of protests on the electoral plane. Researcher Matthew Goodwin found that in the first ten months of 2013 there were 23,000 media mentions of Ukip in the papers. But it is not only the press that promotes Ukip. A writer in the right-wing Spectator summarised the Tory approach to their electoral challengers as: "Ukip are right - don't vote for them". Cameron, faced with an insurgency on the right of his party, appears to be running to keep up with Ukip's policies on Europe and immigration.

Labour's austerity

Labour has only mirrored this. New research has found that concerns about immigration are often motivated by worries about the impact on jobs and public services. But instead of committing to a meaningful increase in the minimum wage, supporting trade unions that take action to defend the rate for the job to stop the race to the bottom, etc, shadow ministers announce that Labour would restrict benefits which jobseekers from the EU can claim, including child benefit.

In reality, instead of showing 'respect' for the working class, with all its variations of race and ethnicity, Miliband is aping Cameron and Farage who use immigration to distract from the responsibility of big business, the finance industry and capitalist politicians for the economic crisis and the attacks on the working class in the name of austerity.

But it was the tweet and subsequent resignation of Emily Thornberry, a shadow front bencher, that caught the (short) attention of journalists in the capitalist press reporting on the byelection. Thornberry's tweet of a photo of a house bedecked in England flags sent Labour's high command into paroxysms of panic as it was claimed by the right-wing tabloid rags that this was evidence of Labour's snotty approach to the working class.

Labour's attitude to the working class is revealed every day in much more meaningful ways - repeated commitments to carry on Tory cuts if Labour forms the next government, implementing cuts and privatisation at local council level and during 13 previous years of government, and their refusal to remove the Tory anti-union laws from the statutes when in power.

With half a year to go to the general election Labour is hardly ahead in the polls. However, the response to Thornberry's tweet is nothing compared to the fear the Labour leadership has of being seen as 'Red' - although they are clearly not.

Irish workers fight water tax

In Ireland the attack dog defenders of capitalism in the big business owned press have mined new depths of vitriol to attack the Socialist Party TDs (MPs) who are playing a central role in the mass movement against water charges that has erupted. The Irish working class has gone from being derided as "sheeple", unwilling to raise a peep against the austerity wolf, to 'rising like lions' to resist this latest vicious tax. Everywhere that government ministers, including Irish Labour, dare to show their faces they are greeted by mobilisations of local people from the working class communities who are saying, "Enough is enough!"

Water tax demonstrators in Limerick, October 2014

Water tax demonstrators in Limerick, October 2014   (Click to enlarge)

Although we have not seen protests of this scale in Britain - 200,000 demonstrated on one day out of a population in the Republic of Ireland of less than five million - the same conditions of austerity for the 99% and recovery for the 1% are preparing the ground for eruptions of anger here. The existence of Socialist Party TDs, partly down to the Proportional Representation electoral system as well as the superb record of struggle of the Socialist Party in Ireland, has meant that the movement has a voice in the Dáil (parliament).

Which 'model'?

UK Labour's Douglas Alexander has deigned to acknowledge that anger is transforming the "entire business model of UK politics". But the point is that Labour offers no 'working class model' - instead striving to act in the interest of big business.

The only way to end the politics of 'business as usual' is to build a new vibrant, democratic, mass party based on struggle and the organisations of the working class. The Ukip bandwagon can be stopped by the labour movement stepping up now to call for the building of a workers' political voice.

As part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Socialist Party is campaigning for 1,000 no-cuts council candidates and 100 parliamentary candidates in May next year to show in action what is needed and to involve those working class people who have already drawn the conclusion that there must be an alternative.

Reckless claims to have stood in the tradition of the Chartists. What rubbish! The Chartists were a working class movement for political representation in the 19th century.

But it gets worse. Reckless's constituency contains the home town of William Cuffay - Old Brompton. Wikipedia explains that Cuffay was "the son of a Kent woman and a black man who was previously enslaved and originally from Saint Kitts (then a British colony)."

A trade unionist, Cuffay was one of the most militant Chartist leaders. He would not have made a political home in Ukip - or any of today's main parties.

Most likely he would have been a champion for TUSC!

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Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 26 November 2014:

Socialist Party news and analysis

14 day deadline to breadline

Hands off our NHS

Rochester: 'Business as usual' politics falling apart

World economy - heading for the junkyard

Them & Us

International socialist news and analysis

Anger erupts in Ferguson over acquittal of killer cop

Ireland: establishment attacks water tax protests

Anger grows over missing Mexican students

Socialist Party features

Housing crisis! What do socialists say?

Education: "a hurricane of ill thought initiatives"

Socialist Party youth and students

Students march for free education

Victories against sexism in Leeds

Fast Food Rights campaign

Socialist Party workplace news

Health workers walkout in second NHS pay strike

UCU pensions: reinstate the action!

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Are you a socialist?

Council beaten on austerity tax

TUSC says no to cuts in Notts

Way to go, Watford!

Socialist Party reviews and readers' comments

Assassin's Creed Unity

The People Speak: Democracy is not a spectator sport

NHS campaigners must fight all cuts


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