Prepare now for next election challenge
ANALYSIS AND comment on the local and European election results will be carried in next week’s issue of The Socialist. However, in advance of the outcome, some aspects are widely predicted, in particular that the turnout could be low and the main political parties will be shunned by a large number of those who do bother to vote.
The fact that more people voted in the final of television series Britain’s got talent than will vote for any of the main political parties in the European election shows the disregard that now exists towards politicians in those parties.
New Labour faces an especially acute crisis. Without the MPs’ expenses scandal, it would have been punished in the polls on the basis of the economic crisis alone. The outrageous expenses claims of MPs will make this punishment worse, and will affect all the parties represented in parliament to some extent, but Labour in particular.
Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, speaking at the London No2EU election rally, photo Paul Mattsson
Smaller parties appearing to be ‘anti-establishment’ are likely to benefit from this, which is particularly ironic in the case of the right wing UK Independence Party. Its leading MEP, Nigel Farage, has claimed £2 million in expenses claims and some Ukip MEPs have been involved in outright corruption.
The European parliament is an even bigger gravy train than the UK parliament, with MEPs receiving more in salary, expenses and pensions than UK MPs, but this is less well known at present (not least because MEPs have prevented publication of their expenses).
A pre-election ICM poll showed Labour on just 22%, the Lib Dems on 25% and the Tories on 40%. Labour faces the possibility of losing control of its remaining four county councils and could lose hundreds of its council seats. Labour controlled more than 200 councils and had almost 11,000 councillors when it came to power in 1997, numbers that reflected workers’ hopes. Before this 2009 election it had just 41 councils and less than 5,000 councillors.
No amount of reshuffling cabinet ministers by Gordon Brown after the elections – including the home secretary and possibly the chancellor, both of whom are facing allegations over their expenses – will make New Labour substantially more attractive. It cannot be excluded that Brown himself could be forced out of office in the coming period. Preparing for defeat in the general election, Labour MPs are queuing up to beg for their next gravy train: peerages in the House of Lords; over 52 are said to have put their names forward.
London No2EU election rally, photo Paul Mattsson
THE EUROPEAN election does not inspire people to go out to vote, as the European parliament appears distant, obscure and not relevant to them. This is hardly surprising when they see little, or more usually nothing, of their MEP, and given that the European parliament has hardly any powers.
The ‘No2EU – Yes to Democracy’ coalition, initiated by the RMT union and including the Socialist Party, has been up against this general lack of interest as well as the discrediting of politicians caused by the actions of the main parties. It has had very little time to establish itself and build support and election funds. It has also had the obstacle of ostracisation by the capitalist media. Television, radio and newspapers alike have concertedly excluded No2EU from debates and other coverage, despite it standing in every area of Britain and being an entirely new departure in that it is led by a national trade union leader.
Publicity beyond the main parties has instead been given to Ukip, the BNP, the Green party…. any other option rather than publicising No2EU, such is the fear of advertising any element of a socialist alternative.
These factors will be reflected in No2EU’s election results. But no matter how many votes the coalition receives, the decision of the RMT union to initiate No2EU and to stand candidates was completely correct. It marks the start of a challenge in workers’ interests that is long overdue and extremely urgent, and has been warmly welcomed by many workers who have come across it.
After the 4 June election, this must be built on further. There are no more than 12 months to a general election, and with parliament mired in the expenses scandal, it could be called at almost any time. The voice of workers and the unrepresented millions must be heard in that election and not crowded out by ‘celebrities’, ‘independents’ with individual and limited programmes and small right-wing and other so-called anti-establishment parties.
Millions have been hit hard by the recession and Labour and Tory policies. Trade unionists are battling enormous job losses and pay cuts. Community campaigns have fought closures of services and facilities. And young people fighting for their rights, and against the BNP, need a political voice.
Increasingly talked about, is the need for political representatives to live on a worker’s wage, something consistently promoted by the Socialist Party and its forerunner Militant, whose three MPs illustrated this by example.
There are community campaigns and trade unionists already discussing standing for election in 2010. The Socialist Party is also intending to stand and will encourage and take part in discussions nationally and in every area on how a broad, democratic, workers’ challenge encompassing as many people as possible can be built. The earlier such discussions take place, the better, so that there is enough time to prepare a serious and determined campaign.
Building working-class alliances appealing to the unrepresented millions and promoting the idea of workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage and workers’ councillors and MPs who don’t join the expense-account culture, would be a significant step towards mass working-class political representation.