Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

1 June 2015 Edition

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Tory victory but not a landslide

There are those in the Labour Left, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens, and trade unions and social movements who want to take up the fight against austerity

THE general election result in England, Scotland and Wales (and the slim Tory majority which caught most by surprise) was the product of two factors. 

First, it was a clear tactical success for David Cameron, who ensured that his coalition allies, the Liberal Democrats, bore the vast brunt of the losses as a result of the unpopularity of the Government. 

As John Ross points out in the Socialist Economic Bulletin:

“The unpopularity of Coalition policies was shown in a dramatic 15% fall in the share of the vote for its parties . . . but the Tories ensured Liberal Democrats suffered 100% of the loss.”

The Tories are now returned to power but on their lowest share of the popular vote ever. This is not a landslide, nor an endorsement of Tory politics. And, despite the Tory triumphalism, the underlying trend in British politics remains a decline in support for British Conservatism. The Tory net gain of 0.8 is within this overall context.

But the second crucial factor was the inability of Labour to capitalise on this rejection of austerity, with a huge collapse in Scotland and an overall increase of just 1.5%. Assertions by right-wing commentators and those on the Labour right-wing that Labour was ‘too left-wing’ and must move to the Right are, as Diane Abbott MP points out, the exact opposite of what is needed. She argues that anyone who thought Labour’s campaign was ‘too left-wing’ simply weren’t paying attention.

In reality, conceding ground to the Tories over cuts and sticking to Tory spending limits, alongside regressive anti-immigration positions, clearly lost Labour support and failed to mobilise voters who wanted a clear alternative to austerity. 

In Scotland, this lesson could not have been more explicit, where voters chose the Scottish National Party in droves and Nicola Sturgeon’s championing of the anti-austerity message saw a historic landslide result for the party. The popular support she gained in England, after the televised leaders’ debates, reinforced this argument. 

Similarly, the Green Party saw their vote increase, and Labour did far better in areas like London, where its message was more to the Left. 

It is evident that Labour has to win both middle-income as well as working-class votes and those of the poorest in society, but its policies in this election and those advocated by the right-wing (including a failure to put forward an alternative to austerity) did not do this. 

Labour lost because the majority of voters did not believe that their living standards would be improved and defended. As Labour MP Jon Trickett points out in a recent New Statesman piece, many of the working-class voters who failed to be mobilised by Labour just did not vote and they need to be won back, alongside middle-income voters.

In London and other cities where Labour candidates stood on a more progressive platform (many removing the disastrous anti-immigration pledges), the party did far better. Far from being the ‘metropolititan elite’, this vote represents lower- and middle-income people, and the diverse range of support that is Labour’s core vote. 

In areas where Labour failed to fully stand up to the myths perpetrated by the right-wing (such as immigration), it only served to see the UKIP vote increase. The lessons here are clear, as writer Seumas Milne points out in his election analysis – any return to Blairite policies, which actually lost Labour millions of votes, would be disastrous.

As a result of these factors, and despite the clear opposition to austerity, there is now the prospect of five years of Tory rule with an intensification of attacks. Conservative Party leader David Cameron has now put together a Cabinet described by some as more Thatcherite than anything Margaret Thatcher could have dreamed of – moves to cut spending back to 1930s levels, further attacks on trade union rights to weaken people’s ability to resist, deepening of privatisation, and a referendum on Europe which is bound up with a reactionary agenda on race and immigration.

For the North of Ireland this means a sharpening of the already devastating cuts planned. Even the so-called ‘protected’ areas are really code for spending freezes, which mean de-facto cuts. 

The months and years ahead are going to see a very sharp fight around these issues, in both Ireland and Britain. On a positive note, the results in Scotland, London and other places show that there are those who do want to take up the fight against austerity – in the Labour Left, the SNP, the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and in the trade unions and social movements and mobilisations. 

Advancing a clear economic alternative to austerity, defending equality and opposing racism, and building those alliances to do this will be crucial in the time ahead.


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